New Mexico State versus Nebraska

Check out our latest game preview as the Nebraska Cornhuskers hoest Head Coach Hal Mumme and his New Mexico State Aggies.

Vince Campisi's College Football Game Preview
Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. New Mexico State Aggies

--by Vince Campisi

September 13, 2008
6:00 PM CT
Lincoln, NE
Television Coverage: Fox Sports PPV

NEW MEXICO STATE (0 - 0) (0 - 0)
NEBRASKA (2 - 0) (0 - 0)

Gametime Weather
Weather Report for Nebraska vs. New Mexico State

Latest Line - Nebraska by 25.5.


New Mexico State
09/04/08 - vs. Nicholls State - Cancelled
09/13/08 - at. Nebraska
09/20/08 - at. UTEP
09/27/08 - vs. New Mexico
10/11/08 - at. Nevada
10/18/08 - vs. San Jose State
10/25/08 - at. Idaho
11/01/08 - vs. Boise State
11/08/08 - vs. Hawaii
11/15/08 - at. Fresno State
11/22/08 - vs. Louisiana Tech
11/29/08 - at. Utah State

08/30/08 - vs. Western Michigan - W 47-24
09/06/08 - vs. San Jose State - W 35-12
09/13/08 - vs. New Mexico State
09/27/08 - vs. Virginia Tech
10/04/08 - vs. Missouri
10/11/08 - at. Texas Tech
10/18/08 - at. Iowa State
10/25/08 - vs. Baylor
11/01/08 - at. Oklahoma
11/08/08 - vs. Kansas
11/15/08 - at. Kansas State
11/10/08 - vs. Colorado

Player Breakdowns

New Mexico State Offense

New Mexico State's Air Raid offense was one of the best through the air in 2007. At the end of last season, the Aggies ranked 35th nationally in total offense (423.46 ypg), 5th in passing (331.90 ypg), 33rd in passing efficiency (134.85 rating), 109th rushing (91.54 ypg), 87th scoring offense (24 ppg), and 113th in turnover margin (-1.15 pg). All following statistics for New Mexico State are from 2007.

QB: Sr. Chase Holbrook (381 of 543, 3866 yds, 26 TDs, 18 INTs) returns for his senior campaign after an excellent 2007 season. Holbrook was one of the top quarterbacks in the nation in many statistical categories last season. Of course, in coach Hal Mumme's offense, it is pass first, so Chase will sling the ball all over the field every week. He completed 70.2% of his passes in 2007, with a solid 139.10 pass efficiency rating. Despite the large 6'5", 240 lb. frame, Holbrook has decent foot-speed, as he rushed for 148 yards last season. However, he was sacked often, which brought his net yardage down to 5 yards. Behind Holbrook is So. J.J. McDermott (47 of 77, 430 yds, 2 TDs, 4 INTs). McDermott was able to play in 8 games last season, seeing more time than expected in a few games (Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Boise State, Louisiana Tech) after Holbrook went down with injury.

RB: Jr. Brandon Perez (6 carries, 41 yds), a thick 5'8", 236 lb. back sees himself atop the depth chart to begin this season. He was a full back in the offense before Mumme decided to eliminate the position this season. Jr. Tonny Glynn (81 carries, 456 yds, 4 TDs) and Jr. Marquell Colston will also see carries. In the past, it has been a running back by committee, with at least two backs taking a bulk of the carries. Glynn shared carries with departed RB Justine Buries last season, and had the best average per carry (5.6 ypc) on the team (of backs with more than 5 carries). He could see the bulk of the carries this season, however, has had a lingering hamstring injury that seems to be keeping him from being at the top of the depth chart. Colston is a JUCO transfer that should prove to be a productive back in this offense over the next two seasons. Glynn showed his hands last season, catching 24 passes for 171 yards. Perez grabbed 4 passes for 16 yards and 1 touchdown last season. In this style of offense, a premium is held on backs that can catch the ball.

WR/TE: The Aggies are home to what is probably the best group of receivers in the WAC. Starters include Sr. A.J. Harris (81 catches, 611 yds, 2 TDs) at "X", Sr. Chris Williams (56 catches, 772 yds, 11 TDs) at "Z", So. Wes Neiman (44 catches, 423 yds, 3 TDs) at "Y", and Jr. Marcus Anderson at "H". Harris is a great possession receiver, while Williams is the team's fastest player and top deep threat. Anderson is a promising JUCO transfer that has great speed. This group of starters would like to have better luck with their health this season, as the three returning starters here missed a combined 6 games last year. Top reserves at receiver include Sr. Kenneth Buckley (29 catches, 413 yds, 5 TDs), RFr. Julius Fleming, TFr. LaVorick Williams, and TFr. Todd Lee. This is a smaller than most group of receivers, with only two of the top eight receivers listed at 6' or better. There isn't much experience at TE, as So. Kyle Nelson (2 catches, 6 yds) is listed as the starter, with So. Ryan Franzoy also expected to get playing time.

OL: New Mexico State's offensive line loses two starters from last year, but entering their third season in the system, the line should improve from their 2007 numbers. The line allowed for a fair average of 3.2 yards per rush, however, gave up 28 sacks and 103 tackles for loss last season. Starting at left tackle is So. Kyle Smith (6'6", 312 lbs), and So. Patrick Blount (6'3", 275 lbs) starts on the right. Both are new full-time starters on the line, however, Blount has one start credited from last year. So. Joel Buschmann (6'3", 289 lbs) is the top reserve at LT, and Jr. Joe Suder (6'6", 340 lbs) is the top back-up at RT. Starting at guard is So. Chuck Taylor (6'3", 345 lbs) on the left and Sr. Polo Gutierrez (6'2", 304 lbs) on the right. Both are experienced starters, with good upper body strength. Top back-ups at guard are Jr. David Norman (6'4", 300 lbs) at LG, and Jr. Joe Palmer (6'3", 308 lbs) at RG. Starting at center again this year is Sr. Richie Bolin (6'2", 291 lbs), with TFr. Mike Grady (6'3", 302 lbs) beginning his career as the top back-up. Given the experience at guard and center, this can be a solid line if the young tackles can learn quickly.

New Mexico State Defense

The New Mexico State defense was one of the nation's worst last season. At the end of 2007, they finished 94th nationally in total defense (429.92 ypg), 105th pass defense (261.92 ypg), 114th pass efficiency defense (149.28 rating), 75th rush defense (168 ypg), 107th in scoring defense (36.2 ppg), 92nd in fumbles recovered (7), and 109th in interceptions (7). New coordinator Joe Lee Dunn, who is best known for his 3-3-5 defense he brought to Memphis in 2003, will try to bring some life into the Aggies' defense this season.

DL: New Mexico State's defensive front lost much of the experienced veterans from a year ago, so it could be a tough season. Last year, they allowed 4.4 yards per carry, but were able to pick up 24 sacks. Starting on the ends will be Sr. Rhyan Anderson (12 tackles, 1 sack, 2 QBH, 3 PBU) on the left and Sr. Oren Long (5 tackles) on the right. Anderson is the top player on this line, and has a chance to be one of the better ends in the WAC this year. Long is an Alcorn State transfer that will see his first start on Saturday. Top reserves at defensive end are So. Ka'ua Adolpho (3 tackles) and TFr. Pierre Fils. Adolpho has moved to defensive line in the new scheme after playing linebacker last year. Starting at nose tackle is Jr. E.J. Cannon, with Jr. Justen Alford backing him up. Cannon is a JUCO transfer that red-shirted last season. Alford is also a JUCO transfer, and had a solid season last year for Feather River College (78 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 INT, 2 FF, 3 PBU, 1 BK). This isn't a very experienced group at the starting spots, and isn't expected to do much this year.

LB: The Aggies' linebacking corps is largely a question mark coming into this season. With the new 3-3-5 scheme, some players that were linebackers last season moved to other positions during the off-season. Starting at MLB is Jr. Nick Paden with Sr. Sam King performing back-up duties. Paden is a JUCO transfer that picked up 71 tackles and 5 sacks last season at Butte Junior College. King has played in just two games in his college career with the Aggies. On the outside, there is Jr. Ross Conner (18 tackles, 1 sack) on the left side, while Jr. Jason Scott will be on the right end. Scott is a JUCO transfer that earned 88 tackles and 4 interceptions last year at Pasadena CC. Sr. La'Auli Fonoti (63 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 FR, 2 PBU) is the top reserves for Conner, while Sr. Chris Nwoko (67 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 1 FF) is the top back-up for Scott. It was a bit of a surprise for Nwoko to be beaten out by Scott this year, considering the solid season Nwoko has last year, finishing 4th on the team in tackles. Fonoti's fall to second string is also somewhat unexpected after his very good performance last season.

DB: New Mexico State's secondary will have a new look this season, with 2 spurs, 2 corners, and 1 safety. Starting at the spur positions will be Sr. Brennen Baiamonte (12 tackles, 1 FF) at LBS (sometimes referred to as Nitro) and So. Alphonso Powell (8 tackles, 1 PBU) at RBS (sometimes referred to as Diamond). Expect to see plenty of Baiamonte and Powell, as the spur position is one that plays all over the field. Top reserves at spur will be TFr. Mark Waters and TFr. Ben Bradley. Starting at cornerback will be So. Davon House (37 tackles, 4 INTs, 8 PBU) at left, and Sr. Marvin Betts at right. House showed himself to be a ball hawking defender as a freshman last season, picking off a team high 4 passes, taking one back for a touchdown. Betts red-shirted last season, after a decent 2006, in which he earned one start. Top reserves at corner are Sr. Vincent Butler (29 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FR, 2 PBU) and Jr. Chris Buckner. Buckner moved to cornerback after playing his first two seasons at wide receiver. At safety, Sr. Derrick Richardson (108 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT, 1 FF, 1 FR, 1 QBH, 4 PBU) starts at FS, and TFr. Michael Zant is the top back-up at FS. Richardson is the leader of the defense, and has a good shot at All-WAC honors this year. Last season, opponents completed 58.5% of their passes with a large average completion of 14.5 yards per reception. The Aggies hope the new defensive formation will help fill some of the holes the secondary had last season.

New Mexico State Special Teams

New Mexico State's special teams were not the team's strong suit last season. The Aggies rank 95th in net punting (32.91 yd avg), 66th in punt returns (13.44 yd avg), and 118th in kickoff returns (17.29 yd avg).

K: So. Kyle Hughes gained academic eligibly for this season, and should help the lackluster kicking game from a year ago. He has a big leg, and hit 10 of his 11 field goal attempts last year at Hargraves Prep, with a long of 51.

P: So. Kyle Hughes will also serve as the Aggies' top punter this season.

KR/PR: New Mexico State's kickoff return game was one of the least impressive in the nation last season. Top candidates to return kicks are So. Wes Neiman (9 kick returns, 14.8 yd avg), Jr. Tonny Glynn (9 kick returns, 12.9 yd avg), Sr. Kenneth Buckley (8 kick returns, 15.5 yd avg), and Sr. Chris Williams (5 kick returns, 23.2 yd avg). As for punt return specialists, Sr. Chris Williams (6 punt returns, 16.7 yd avg) and So. Wes Neiman (3 punt returns, 7 yd avg) are both back this season.

Coverage: The Aggies' kick coverage team was not very good in 2007, allowing an average of 18.30 yards on 57 kickoff return attempts. The number wouldn't be bad, however, with an average kickoff of just over 48 yards, they gave up too much field position. The punt coverage team was also less than stellar, allowing an average of 12.1 yards per return from 28 punts.

Nebraska Offense

The Nebraska offense was mostly stagnant through three quarters last week against San Jose State. Just one offensive touchdown was scored up until the fourth quarter for a group that is supposed to be one of the strongest in the country. After two games, Nebraska ranks 49th nationally in total offense (399 ypg), 26th in passing (280.50 ypg), 39th in pass efficiency (146.53 rating), 82nd in rushing (118.50 ypg), 27th in scoring offense (41 ppg), and 53rd in turnover margin (0 mrg).

QB: Sr. Joe Ganz (37 for 61, 561 yds, 4 TDs, 3 INTs) really struggled last week against San Jose State. His passes were off the mark, and his decision making was not great. He forced a few more throws than he normally does, and wasn't as crisp as usual. Last week was the first time in his five starts that he was unable to throw for over 300 yards or a touchdown. Ganz showed solid foot-speed in the season opener, even running the option fairly well. Last week, however, he just wasn't making plays with his feet. He has rushed for 36 yards on 12 carries this season. Behind Ganz is RFr. Patrick Witt (1 for 2, 0 yd) and So. Zac Lee. Witt saw his first game action last week in the final offensive series. Lee has not stepped on the field as a Husker.

RB: Nebraska's group of running backs is a talented bunch. They are having trouble picking up yards, however, behind an offensive line that is struggling to run block. Sr. Marlon Lucky (19 carries, 66 yds, 2 TDs), So. Roy Helu (16 carries, 111 yds, 1 TD), and So. Quentin Castille (12 carries, 12 yds, 1 TD) are considered co-number 1's. Lucky is the most experienced back, but isn't seeing the kind of touches he has gotten used to in his career. Helu is looking solid, with his great leaping and cutting ability. Castille is the most powerful runner of the group, a solid option inside the 10. He did commit a costly fumble last week that stopped a promising scoring drive. RFr. Marcus Mendoza (2 carries, 12 yds) saw his first carries last week on the last offensive possession. Lucky (2 catches, 35 yds, 1 TD) is the best receiving running back in college football, but puzzlingly, is not seeing those excellent skills utilized this season. Castille (3 catches, 38 yds), Helu (2 catches, 32 yds), and Mendoza (1 catch, 0 yd) have also caught passes. At FB, Sr. Thomas Lawson starts, and is backed up by So. Justin Makovicka. Lawson had his appendix removed this week and will not play, putting Makovicka in the starting lineup.

WR/TE: Nebraska's receiving crew had an underwhelming game last week. It wasn't because of drops, but they were up against a very good San Jose State secondary, and their QB Joe Ganz was having an off day. Sr. Nate Swift (11 catches, 191 yds, 2 TDs) starts at "X", and is the go-to guy in this offense. He has consistent hands, and does a good job of getting open. He is just 29 receptions away from breaking Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers' career record mark of 143 catches. Starting at "Z" is Sr. Todd Peterson (7 catches, 93 yds). He is doing a nice job of being a dependable possession receiver. Top reserves at "X" are Jr. Menelik Holt (7 catches, 83 yds), So. Will Henry, and Jr. Chris Brooks. Holt has big play ability, and is also a physical blocker. Back-ups at "Z" are So. Niles Paul (2 catches, 27 yds) and RFr. Curenski Gilleylen. Paul and Gilleylen are probably Nebraska's fastest receivers, and Paul has shown some slippery moves in just 2 catches. At TE is So. Mike McNeill (1 catch, 3 yds, 1 TD) and So. Dreu Young (1 catch, 55 yds), with Sr. Hunter Teafatiller and RFr. Ryan Hill as the top pair of back-ups. McNeill was one that stuck out last week as having a miserable game. He missed a number of blocks that resulted in lost yardage, and also committed a few drive stalling penalties.

OL: Nebraska's offensive line had another disappointing performance last week. Not only was the run blocking less than adequate, but pass blocking wasn't as solid as usual, giving up 3 sacks. This season, the line is allowing for their backfield to gain just 3.9 yards per carry, which is not getting it done. Starting at tackle is So. Mike Smith (6'6", 285 lbs) on the left and Sr. Lydon Murtha (6'7", 315 lbs) on the right. Murtha has sat out both games this season, but could be back this week. So. Jaivorio Burkes (6'5", 325 lbs) is the top reserve at LT, while RFr. Marcel Jones (6'7", 310 lbs) is the top back-up at RT. Burkes and Jones are both promising young linemen, each capable of being dominant on the edge. Starting at left guard is Sr. Mike Huff (6'4", 300 lbs), while Sr. Matt Slauson (6'5", 320 lbs) starts at right guard. Huff has really struggled this season, while Slauson hasn't been as dominant as expected. So. Keith Williams (6'5", 305 lbs.) and So. D.J. Jones (6'5", 305 lbs) are Nebraska's top reserves at guard, with Williams seeing the most action so far this season behind Huff. Jr. Jacob Hickman (6'4", 290 lbs) starts at center, with RFr. Mike Caputo (6'1", 275 lbs.) backing him up. Play from the interior line has not been as good as expected through two games, and needs to improve if Nebraska wants to have a decent rushing attack.

Nebraska Defense

Nebraska's defense was sloppy last week, especially in the first half, where tackling was an adventure. After playing two games, the Huskers rank 68th nationally in total defense (351.50 ypg), 102nd pass defense (279 ypg), 63rd pass efficiency defense (117.69 rating), 24th rush defense (72.50 ypg), and 45th in scoring defense (18 ppg), 50th in fumbles recovered (1), and 23rd in interceptions (3).

DL: Nebraska's defensive line wasn't really deep to start the year, and just got thinner. Sr. Barry Turner (3 tackles, 1 sack) went down last week with a broken leg and will now miss the remainder of the season. He will be replaced by So. Pierre Allen (11 tackles, 1 PBU), who will now start at open end. Allen played well last week after Turner went down and led the defense in tackles for the day. Sr. Zach Potter (6 tackles, 0.5 sack, 1 INT, 1 QBH, 1 PBU) starts at base end, and is probably the most complete player on this line. He tipped a pair of passes last week and both were picked off. Sr. Clayton Sievers (1 tackle) is now the top reserve at base and open end. Starting at nose tackle is Jr. Ndamukong Suh (9 tackles, 1 INT, 1 QBH, 1 PBU), with Sr. Shukree Barfield (3 tackles, 1 sack) and RFr. Terrence Moore (5 tackles, 2 sacks) backing him up. He is a quick big man, as he took a tipped ball 49 yards for a touchdown last week. Sr. Ty Steinkuhler (14 tackles) is the starter at defensive tackle, with RFr. Jared Crick (1 PBU) listed as his top back-up. Steinkuhler has been solid through two games, and is on pace for an excellent season. Opponents are averaging 2.5 yards per rush this season. Considering the defense allowed 5.2 yard per rush last season, it is apparent that coach Carl Pelini is doing great things with this defensive line this season.

LB: Nebraska's linebacking corps has played better than expected after two weeks this season. There is still plenty of room for improvement, but they play hard and get after it. Jr. Phillip Dillard (12 tackles, 0.5 sack, 1 QBH) starts at MLB, and is the leader of the defense. Dillard is dependable in the middle, and the most experienced of Nebraska's linebackers. Behind Dillard is TFr. Will Compton and Jr. Colton Koehler (1 tackle). Dillard has played every defensive snap at MLB through 2 games. Sr. Cody Glenn (17 tackles, 1 FF, 2 QBH, 3 PBU) starts at WLB. A converted RB, Glenn continues to excel after making the transition to LB. He has arguably been the top playmaker for the defense this season. So. Blake Lawrence serves as his back-up, although he has not played this season. Sr. Tyler Wortman (2 tackles) starts at Buck, with TFr. Sean Fisher serving as his back-up. Wortman didn't see much action last week, as Nebraska played a lot of nickel against San Jose State. Keeping Glenn and Dillard healthy is critical for the success of the defense this season. It is hard to imagine what this group would look like if Glenn would not have changed positions.

DB: Nebraska's secondary is struggling this season, having difficulties with coverage as well as tackling. Sr. Armando Murillo (8 tackles, 1 PBU) is the starter at LCB, with So. Eric Hagg (7 tackles, 1 FF, 1 FR, 1 QBH, 3 PBU) backing him up. Hagg has played well as a reserve, also starting the opener in Murillo's absence. Murillo was healthy last week and able to make his first appearance of the season. So. Anthony West (6 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT, 2 PBU) starts at RCB, with So. Prince Amukamara (11 tackles, 1 QBH, 1 PBU) serving as his back-up. After two games, it is arguable that Amukamara has performed as well as West, if not better. At safety, Jr. Larry Asante (13 tackles) starts at SS, with Jr. Major Culbert (1 tackle) backing him up. Asante is a guy with plenty of potential, but is having trouble meeting it. He is not tackling well and is getting beat in the passing game often. Culbert returned to the lineup last week, and should see more action, especially if Asante doesn't step up his level of play. Jr. Rickey Thenarse and Sr. Matt O'Hanlon (10 tackles, 1 PBU) are slated to share time at FS this season, however, Thenarse has been injured to this point.

Nebraska Special Teams

Nebraska's special teams were spotty last week. While the return game was solid, the typically dependable punting game was not. The Huskers rank 77th in net punting (32.75 yd avg), 53rd in punt returns (10.67 yd avg), and 24th in kickoff returns (26 yd avg).

K: So. Alex Henery (4 for 4, 44 yd lng) is a stable leg, going 12 for 12 in his college career. So. Adi Kunalic handles kickoffs and extra-long field goals because of his powerful leg. Kunalic has one of the strongest legs in the country, and pushed 9 of 16 kickoffs for touchback this season, with a huge 67.9 yard average.

P: Sr. Dan Titchener has been solid over his career, however, hasn't had a great start to his final season. He is averaging 38.5 yards on 8 punts with a long of 54. Just 1 of his 8 punts has been downed inside the opponents' 20.

KR/PR: Nebraska's kick return game is made up of So. Niles Paul (4 returns, 40 yard avg, 1 TD), Jr. Larry Asante (2 returns, 15.5 yard avg), and TFr. Alfonzo Dennard (2 returns, 10.5 yard avg). At punt returner is So. Niles Paul (4 returns, 13.2 yard avg) and Sr. Nate Swift (2 returns, 5.5 yard avg). Paul looks like the game-breaker that the Huskers could use on special teams, as he broke a kickoff return for touchdown last week in the fourth quarter that sparked the rest of the team.

Coverage: Nebraska's coverage teams still need work, especially the kick coverage unit. The kick coverage unit is allowing an average of 29.7 yards on 7 kickoff returns. The punt return coverage team was has done well, allowing an average of just 6.5 yards on 4 punt returns.

Unit Match-Ups

Nebraska's Offense vs. New Mexico State's Defense

Nebraska's passing game surprisingly struggled last week, after a quality performance in their season opener. QB Joe Ganz was unable to find the endzone through the air against San Jose State, and was off-target throughout the day. Out of his five career starts, last week was the first time he didn't throw for over 300 yards. This week will be crucial for Ganz to get back on track, as the meat of their schedule is set to begin in two weeks and performing as he did a week ago will not get the job done come conference play. WR Nate Swift is the most reliable of the Husker receivers, and while he isn't the fastest player on the field, he's got plenty of moves to get open and downfield. TE play was horrendous for Nebraska last week, as the blocking was poor, they committed penalties, and didn't get the ball in their hands all day. New Mexico State's defensive backfield has two studs in safety Derrick Richardson and cornerback Davon House. House had an excellent freshman season, and with continued progression, should be one of the top corners in the WAC as an upperclassman. With the new 3-3-5 defense being implemented, it will be interesting to see how ready-to-go this unit will be in their first game. Many times, in first games, not everyone is on the same page, especially on defense. When changing philosophies, it could prove to be a difficult day against a typically explosive Nebraska offense. Getting ready for Big XII game speed will be a challenge, especially for a defense that didn't scare anyone last season. Nebraska has faced two solid defensive backfields this season, each with more talent than the Aggies' possess. The X-factor is the 3-3-5 defense and how much that will throw the Huskers off, if at all. One element of the Husker offense that seems to be missing is RB Marlon Lucky catching the ball out of the backfield. He was the best in the nation last season as a pass catching back, but for whatever reason, hasn't been put into a position to excel in this area through two games. New Mexico State allowed opponents to complete 58.5% of their passes last season. Nebraska QB Joe Ganz is completing 60.7% of his attempts this season.

Nebraska's running game has been disappointing thus far this season. Their ball carriers are not the problem, however. Marlon Lucky, Roy Helu, and Quentin Castille are all talented backs, but there just hasn't been much of any room to run to. Interior blocking has been especially lackluster, with a minute percentage of the yards coming between the tackles. Because of this, Castille's effectiveness has not been great, while shifty perimeter runner Helu has had the best stats. None of the backs have been able to get into a rhythm, and unless their offensive line starts opening holes, this will continue to be a very one-dimensional team. New Mexico State's rush defense didn't have a lot to be happy about last season. They gave up 4.4 yards per carry as well as 27 touchdowns on a ground, an improvement over 2006, but still not great numbers. There are a lot of JUCO players being infused not only in the two-deep this season, but immediately into starting roles. Both Chris Nwoko and La'Auli Fonoti are good WAC linebackers, however, they have both been beaten out for starting spots. Some of this could be due to coordinator Joe Lee Dunn's emphasis of speed on his 3-3-5 defense. The Huskers have had less than 150 yards rushing in each of their first two games, a statistic that is concerning, considering that the caliber of defenses will only get better as the season moves along. Their last game against a mid-major squad, if Nebraska can't run the ball this week, it certainly wouldn't look good going into conference play. Last season, the Aggies' defense allowed their opponents to convert a high 42% of their third downs, and allowed them to score on 86% of their red-zone chances. After playing two games, Nebraska has converted just 38% of their third downs, but remains a perfect 100% in red-zone scoring offense (7 TDs, 1 FG). For Nebraska to improve their third down conversion rate, they need to start moving the ball on the ground to shorten what has often become third and longs.

Up front, Nebraska's average offensive lineman is 6'5", 302 lbs, while New Mexico State's defensive linemen average 6'2", 272 lbs. The Aggies' defense will emphasize speed over size in the new system, and will try to confuse the Huskers' offensive front. With OT Lydon Murtha back from injury, the line should start putting up better numbers. Nebraska hasn't played against a 3-3-5 defense before, and will have to play assignment football, not allowing New Mexico State's defense to get into their heads. It's a different style of defense, but it is still eleven on eleven. The line will have to pay particular attention to blitzes coming from all directions. QB Joe Ganz will also have to pick these up prior to the snap, using his knowledge of his offense to prevent some difficult situations. Nebraska is averaging just 3.9 yards per carry this season, while New Mexico State gave up 4.4 yards per carry in 2007. Nebraska has given up 3 sacks (all last week), while allowing 15 tackles for loss on the year. The Aggies earned 24 sacks and just 59 tackles for loss last season.

New Mexico State's Offense vs. Nebraska's Defense

New Mexico State's Air Raid passing attack is among the best in the nation. Third year starter, QB Chase Holbrook has a great arm, and is one of the top quarterbacks in the country. He completed a spectacular 70.2% of his passes last season, while Nebraska's defense is allowing opponents to complete 59.8% of their passes this year. Holbrook's only glaring problem from last season is his 18 interceptions. Over 11% of his passes considered incomplete were picked off by the opposition a year ago. Holbrook will look to pick apart a struggling Nebraska secondary by letting his very good receiving corps go to work. Four solid receivers return for the Aggies, led by A.J. Harris and Chris Williams. Williams picked up 772 yards and 11 touchdowns through the air last season, despite playing in just 8 games. The Huskers have been up against top notch receivers in their first two games of the season, and while they have allowed 3 plays of 50 or more yards, opponents haven't been lighting up the scoreboard. There was an incredible amount of missed tackles by the secondary last week, especially in the first half, which allowed San Jose State to pick up some extra first downs. If Holbrook can get into a groove, the Aggies will definitely be able to put some points on the board. Expect plenty of crossing patterns to tangle up the young Nebraska secondary. Holbrook isn't a great dual-threat quarterback, but showed last year that he isn't incapable of running with the ball. However, isn't going to beat many of the Nebraska in a foot race, so keeping him protected in the pocket will be very important.

The Aggies' running game wasn't a big part of the offense last season. Coach Hal Mumme likes to throw the ball around, and runs the ball just enough to keep opponents honest. RB Tonny Glynn returns this season after averaging 5.6 yards per carry last season. However, former FB Brandon Perez will get the start at RB this week, despite only carrying the ball 6 times in 13 games last year. Glynn was a big play back for the Aggies last year, with at least one carry of over 20 yards in nearly every game he had more than 5 carries. Nebraska was outstanding against the run in their season opener, however, due to missed tackles, San Jose State was allowed to pick up some sizeable gains last week. Oddly enough, converted RB to LB Cody Glenn looked like one of Nebraska's better tacklers last week. The Aggies aren't going to look for a lot from the ground game, but will need it to have some success to keep the dogs off of QB Chase Holbrook. New Mexico State's third down conversion percentage is a decent 39%, with a 77% red-zone scoring average last season. Nebraska's defense has allowed opponents to convert on just 35% of their 3rd down attempts, and allowed a solid 70% red-zone scoring percentage this season. It is important to note that the Nebraska defense was very "bend-but-don't-break" last week, as they were quite stingy once San Jose State ventured into the red-zone.

Up front, New Mexico State's average offensive lineman is 6'3", 305 lbs, and Nebraska's average defensive lineman comes in at 6'5", 283 lbs. The Nebraska defensive line looks like the strength of the defense, and if Pierre Allen replaces the injured Barry Turner as well as he did last week, there shouldn't be too much of a drop-off. New Mexico State's offensive line lost two of their best players from a year ago, and could struggle this week given that it will be their first game together as a unit. The Aggies allowed 103 tackles for loss and 28 sacks last season, with Nebraska picking up 17 tackles for loss and 6 sacks in their two games this season. Also, New Mexico State averaged 3.2 yards per carry last year, while Nebraska is allowing just 2.5 yard per carry so far this season. Nebraska should be able to keep the Aggies' run game in check, provided they don't miss a many tackles as they did last week.

Keys to the Game

For Nebraska to Win:
1.) Offense Can't Sputter - played over 3 quarters last week with only 1 offensive touchdown.
2.) Limit Giving Up Big Plays - too many big passing plays are getting by the secondary.
3.) Find a Way to Utilize Skilled RB's - be more creative with how Lucky, Helu, and Castille touch the ball.
4.) Make Tackles - far too many tackles were lazily missed last week, cannot keep doing that.
5.) Limit Penalties - 18 penalties in two games is unacceptable.

For New Mexico State to Win:
1.) Defense Needs Stark Improvement - last year was abysmal, will the 3-3-5 be able to confuse and slow down the Huskers?
2.) Limit Turnovers - turning the ball over to an explosive offense against your question mark of a defense on the road is not a recipe for success.
3.) Give QB Chase Holbrook Time - he's got the arm to make the Nebraska DB's look silly, but needs the offensive line to help him against Nebraska's pass rush.
4.) Kicking Game Improvement - new kicker/punter Kyle Hughes needs to be as good as advertised. San Jose State was in position to lead Nebraska last week, but some crucial missed kicks kept them behind.
5.) Can't Be Too Rusty - without a game under their belts, rust is to be expected. But if it takes too long to brush off, it will be a long night.

Position Advantages:

QBs: New Mexico State
RBs: Nebraska
WR/TE's: New Mexico State
OL: Nebraska
DL: Nebraska
LB: Nebraska
DB: Even
Special Teams: Nebraska
Coaching: Nebraska

Injury Report

CB - Anthony Blue - knee - out indefinitely
DE - Barry Turner - leg - out for season
FB - Thomas Lawson - appendix - out for game
CB - Anthony West - day-to-day
S - Rickey Thenarse - shoulder - day-to-day

New Mexico State:
None reported

Game Breakdown & Outlook

Saturday marks the third all-time meeting between New Mexico State and Nebraska, with the last game being played in 1982. The games have not been competitive, as Nebraska won both games by a combined score of 125-0. Nebraska has an all-time record of 19-1 versus teams from the WAC, while New Mexico State posting a record of 2-18 against Big XII schools. Nebraska and New Mexico State had just one common opponent last season, Nevada. Nebraska defeated the Wolfpack 52-10, while Nevada beat New Mexico State 40-38.

New Mexico State enters Saturday's game without having played a game this season. Their scheduled September 4th game with Nicholls State was cancelled due to Hurricane Gustav. It is unfortunate that the game had to be cancelled, because the Aggies will show up in Lincoln with off-season rust that could have otherwise been worked off last week. Considering they are changing defensive philosophies, playing that game before stepping into a game against Nebraska would have definitely helped. Nebraska enters this week's game with a 2-0 record, following a hard-fought win over San Jose State last weekend (35-12). The Huskers led 14-12 early in the 4th quarter before Niles Paul returned a kickoff for a score, sparking a solid 4th quarter performance from the Huskers that put the Spartans away.

New Mexico State is led by head coach Hal Mumme (105-93-1 all-time, 8-29 at NMSU). Mumme is credited with creating the "Air Raid" offense, which he developed with current Texas Tech head coach Mike Leach. It is predominantly no-huddle, with plenty of quick outs. While he hasn't had much success at New Mexico State, it isn't because of his offense. What has held the Aggies back over his tenure have been lackluster defenses. Joe Lee Dunn was hired during the off-season to take over defensive coordinator. He brings his aggressive 3-3-5 defense to Las Cruces with hopes of getting the squad out of the basement nationally. Nebraska's head coach is Bo Pelini (3-0 all-time, all at Nebraska), in his first full season in Lincoln. A great defensive mind, it appears that he already has the Nebraska defense headed in the right direction, showing some improvements after the abysmal 2007 performance. Offensive coordinator is Shawn Watson, who runs a multiple style offense, with its heart being a West Coast attack.

New Mexico State QB Chase Holbrook is one of the best QB's in the nation, and should be able to have a nice day against a Nebraska secondary that has struggled in their first two games. Holbrook has a great group to throw to, but they aren't the prototypical tall sprinters that many teams seem to have. In fact, just one of the starters for the Aggies stands at six feet tall (A.J. Harris). This group of receivers relies on being slippery after the catch, something that could bother a Nebraska defense that struggled to tackle the opposition. Chris Williams and A.J. Harris are both game-breaking type of receivers. The Husker secondary will really need to play better, especially at the safety spots, after allowing a number of big plays over the past two weeks. The Aggies probably won't run the ball too much on Saturday, but the light-footed Glynn should be the best option, despite him being listed second on this week's depth chart. If Nebraska's tackling wasn't improved over the past week, Glynn's running style could allow for some nice gains, especially since the Huskers will be looking for pass-first from the Aggies.

Nebraska must find a way to start hot and stay hot offensively. In their season opener, the Huskers started the game on fire, but fizzled out in the second half. In last week's game, they were ice cold until the fourth quarter. QB Joe Ganz has seen two of the best secondaries that the mid-major conferences have to offer, but will face one of last season's worst, statistically, this week. Ganz was not on target last week, and should be able to get back on track against an Aggie secondary that ranked in the 100's in most passing defense categories last season. Nebraska is just not getting it done on the ground this season. There is plenty of talent at RB, there is just no where for them to run. The longer this offense remains one-dimensional, the easier they become to defend, making for a difficult season. They certainly can't have repeat performances from last week if they expect to contend for bowl games this season. What will be interesting to watch is how Nebraska decided to attack the 3-3-5 defense, a scheme that they have not faced before. The Aggies will be bringing pressure from everywhere and anywhere, which might cause some problems early. However, it is unclear how well the Aggies will execute this defense, given that they have yet to put it on the field.

Line these two teams up against one another on paper, and it would appear this has the makings of a blowout victory for Nebraska. However, that could have been said for their game a week ago against San Jose State as well. The Huskers are heavy favorites, but also have their share of vulnerabilities. It would not be impossible to imagine New Mexico State coming into Lincoln and stealing the game from Nebraska, considering the inconsistent level of play on both sides of the ball shown by the Huskers. However, unless the defense for New Mexico State had a magical turn around over the off-season, it is extremely unlikely. New Mexico State's best shot is if this game turns into a shoot-out and they get the ball last. Nebraska just needs to play smart football, not turning the ball over, and not shooting themselves in the foot with penalties like last week. New Mexico State will have the usual first game rust prevalent and even though Nebraska is not quite a finely tuned machine this season, the Husker offense shouldn't have too much trouble putting up more points than the Aggies. Barring a melt-down, Nebraska should be able to pull ahead and take the Aggies by 3 or 4 touchdowns.

New Mexico State - 24
- 48

Big Red Report Top Stories