(Imagine the phrasing above at three notches above comfortable conversation level, even if you're standing right next to each other. This is the only way to feel the full effect.)
Regular TRM'ers: no need for alarm. Please bear with me while I warm up things for the farmers in the house. Welcome y'all! For everyone's safety I've created some bold faced asides just to get my smack valve to operationally safe levels.
Welcome vatos (y primos y familia) to the 2014 preview of the New Mexico State Scab, er, Aggie football team on TRM's Lobo Points of Interest (aye). Glad to have you aboard pokes. Eeee...can you feel it? The impending doom/anticipation? It's time to send the teams at each other again and pull out that angst you've been saving for the year. The Rio Grande Rivalry can't beat the holiday season by itself but for some, it's just as good.
(It never gets old making fun of their school colors! They have permanent bruises for uniforms! Bruises that will never heal! Longest bowl drought in America! Yes, that 'Merica!)
I'm sorry....I'll at least ATTEMPT to keep the punches in the right areas. Tuck in the good stuff for the game day sideline and make it down there (6pm; ESPN 3; Saturday; do it!) while this preview holds you over. The oldies in our respective fanbases will evolve into the 21st century or get out to the stadium in Loss Cruces, as ESPN has the Sun Belt home game rights on lock-down. Internet streaming (or a Google Chromecast plugged into a modern TV's USB outlet) will have to do, as ESPN quickly relegated this game to ESPN 3 exclusive.
Don't feel too bad. Just looking at the ESPN schedule confirms how much football is sealed to this fate. Somebody has too many games to show at once, yet still continues to maintain the workload. Fancy that.
Perhaps there's a creative sports bar (or three) that have the TV streaming concept down. Then, perhaps, they can advertise and lure internet leery clientele to their establishment? Perhaps hurl some menus (and imminent chicken wings) their direction and make some cash? The operative word here is still "perhaps" unfortunately but the suggestion always bears repeating. I'm trying as hard as I can ABQ. You can do it. I have faith. Get it done.
Hey! You like money? Me too!
I also want to welcome everyone that's brand spanking new to this rivalry...even if you have a lot to catch up on. The young swag wandering into this NM lawn festival of dirty looks, ribbing & pride have hundreds of years to stand on....or at least, a century and some change. There are many more people to walk through your footprints after Saturday: be proud of that New Mexico! There will be many more fans to come and way too many to count in this games' history. That's very special.
This is football fracas #105 and there's still plenty of veterans around to sneer (with that special kind of competitive charm) when you bump into opposing colors in a hotel lobby.
This is football fracas #105 and there's still plenty of veterans around to sneer...when you bump into opposing colors in a hotel lobby
(Aggies suck! Snacks snacks snacks! Loob loob loob! Rinse and repeat and get it while it lasts...it comes but one game a year!)
I'll pin up as many layers as I can for the whippersnappers. Time to get you some wrinkles, ma'am. Boy howdy.
NMSU is in the second year of head coach Doug Martin, who was the Aggie OC in 2011. After spending seven years as the lead guy at Kent State (MAC), Martin took over for Dewayne Walker after a trek back to the NFL assistant coach ranks. Walker's fourth year (and unraveled 1-11 season in 2012) spelt his doom and skedaddle out of southern NM...all after one full recruitment class rotation.
Unlike Walker, Coach Martin has elected to spend the time in a rebuilding project conservatively and has strayed away from relying on junior college transfers hand-over-scholarship-offer-fist. Martin seems to peel the onion as fast as he can but at an agonizingly thin layer of progress at a time. The good news? The football infrastructure in Las Cruces is being rehabbed from it's charred and delicate erosion trend condition.
It's an agricultural school that has to take time and put in the investment. The roots - let alone the leaves and later the fruit - aren't going to sprout themselves and with time and careful planning this athletic island might support a football team sized ecosystem. Think wildfire tree planting rehab. That's a book with a lot of chapters in it.
Gregg Brandon is the OC for this squad and has previous head coach experience at Bowling Green. Gregg also was OC for some of the Christensen Wyoming years....at least before Dave took the reigns over himself in 2012. NMSU runs Martin/Brandon's version of the spread but with a middle America twist: lots of pass friendly combination packages that still show a whole lot of running initiative. It's an oddly balanced attack. Also like the MAC and B10 teams of the region, they still try to anchor the spine of the offense (the O-line) with enough size to break through a line. That's the difference...the size at the line.
DC Larry Coyer is a long, long time veteran and reflects his years in the business (74' @ Iowa) with a classic 4-3 scheme. It is very, very odd to see someone still pull out a 4-3 at this recruitment level but the simplest answer might be the defense with the less amount of bells and whistles to remember. Plugging a 4-3 without the right size of lineman points to a signature way to operate and Coach Coyer, along with his staff, are establishing a special kind of plan. Will it work?
Maybe. Definitely maybe.
Public service announcement for Lobo fans at the game. You shouldn't be on the field for any reason (that's a paddlin') but show yourself to be an outstanding fan base by warning the people of incoming mascot horses.
Yelling, "HORSE!" should now have a useful safety connotation and less of a statement about proper dental hygiene. Do me proud guys. It's the right thing to do. That poor girl was fine....although she didn't even have the courtesy of an embarrassment banner to hide behind afterward. Straight up got trucked. Ouch.
NMSU upgraded their field with modern field turf and Saturday is the first Lobo/Aggie contest on this specific new surface. It's very similar to the one installed in University Stadium, although the Lobos installed one for 300k cheaper. The field, as far as I know, isn't named after the prime donor. The 1.3m needed to complete this job had additional irrigation system work included in the project. You know we're in a drought right guys? Did the construction crew buddy/relative need to pay off a new set of romping tires or something? Non-existent access storm water can now be removed from the field with ease. In other news, I've decided that my glove compartment could use a cup holder.
Not a bad field though. Good for them. in fact, in 100% seriousness, player injury is no joke and the old grass was borderline dangerous for most people involved. If a grass field (at an agricultural school) can't be maintained, what chance do the rest of the CFB world have? Honestly: I'm glad to see it.
A weight room rebuff was also put in place by regional Coca Cola rep donors and anonymous pledges for the weight equipment itself (coaching staff with an interest in job security I'm guessing). The infrastructure of the facilities is slowly being grown from year to year under Coach Martin and rivalry competitiveness should increase because of it. For the health of the rivalry...you could look at this as a good thing.
So the field isn't named but the weight room definitely is...and after a soft drink to boot. Eh, you do what you have to? I suppose?
Be glad no one wears NASCAR patches in college football. Don't sell your soul Aggies! A cowboy double-fisting a pair of cokes doesn't look as good as a pair of pistols. With alcohol sales coming down the pipe, the helmet logo combinations scare me to the tune of your keg tapping fight song.
Let's take a look at the defense.
Coach Coyer has a fairly unorthodox 4-3 set up but not in the way that you'd think. You'd never distinguish the oddity by the way they line up or in the classic way this 4-3 stack protects the middle. No, the first part is taking a look at the line itself.
He's got converted linebackers for ends and tackles that look defensive end sized in the middle. It's almost like a 4-2-5 with the thin backer on the weak side. He looks like a safety but is playing as a backer. This 4-3 is very light and probably a little more quicker than most. Although the middle of the field is better protected from the pass (keep in mind the Aggies are switching to the Sun Belt this year) it's hard to see what they gain by playing conservatively. They don't have a lot of flexibility with their roster yet, so this might be a compromise to stay competitive.
Many of these folks are playing in their first FBS season and the defensive turnover is very apparent. Lots of freshman and sophomores are getting experience reps here: true sophomores have started at safety and linebacker the last three games. Some of the former freshman QB's now play in the secondary. This is a full transplant/patch up rebuild mode. Four starters return on defense and two of the four players are underclassmen. The QB roster has been plucked for defense and if Cole Gautsche was still a NMSU commit, he'd be a linebacker right now....so good call Cole!
Checking the roster, there's a lone JUCO Soph 305lb tackle in the bunch while the guy next to him is 30lbs (minimum) lighter. There's speed guys on the line that were linebackers last year (around 235) and an assembly of DE sized personnel in the 245-275 range. Without formally running out the secondary in droves, NMSU is protecting against the pass by keeping their base as rounded and useful as possible. You can't teach a freshman experience and hanging back and containing looks like the plan. In three games, four different players (3 DBs, 1 LB) has an INT....with one pick six. That could be attributed to this method.
This is a tough spot for the Aggies. Knowing the run is coming will definitely shift people closer to the line of scrimmage but they'll still not be able to attack easily. Here's something a little more predictable in the red zone.
The strong safety playing up is a little more likely and NMSU will have to count on their line to hold the middle. It's pretty much an impromptu 4-4 formation with the starting safety in (instead of another linebacker). I haven't seen a lot of blitz out of these packages and even if they wanted to, blitzing the option isn't going to help if the middle can't hold. We'll see what happens.
Personnel on this Aggie defense is led by youth. Two underclassmen linebackers lead the team in tackles, (R. Butler and D. Ibekwe) and the sophomore safeties are just behind them. Both backers themselves are under 220lbs.
The aforementioned Rodney Butler is the early season MVP of this defense: An INT and leading the team various categories as a true sophomore gives him this distinction. He's probably the best threat that they have at the moment.
One forced fumble this year. Two total sacks split between three people. That's it. Guys, this looks bad. In the interest of having strong competition after our specific contests, I'm not sure how much confidence I would put into NMSU's record looking at these concepts.
Filling in the D-line has eaten up the Aggies linebacker corps on the roster (which is understandable) but I'm not sure what they're going to do with so many DBs. They run a 4-3, but have more than 12 DBs (three deep @ four secondary positions) on the roster. NMSU can run a lot of nickle this year if they need to.... they have 17 total secondary guys! Why are you running a 4-3?! You have a three deep available for a permanent nickle defense and a lighter roster in general. Do you think your guys can't pick up a 4-2-5 or a 3-3-5? What are those secondary guys going to do besides redshirt or try to be a receiver on the offense?
Anywho. That's kind of it? There's not a lot more to identify and dissect. I sort of got off easy and I'm a little surprised myself. This roster doesn't have the breadth to do anything complicated. They're simply learning to ride a bike at this point and do the most damage they can.
Let's go over the offense next. That's much more interesting and has some potential weapons.
NMSU runs a particular variation of the spread that combines several corners to the offense's production puzzle. The first crucial ingredient to identify is their O-line.
Most traditional spreads don't insist on overly heavy linemen or tight ends north of 230lbs. You're getting rid of the ball in a hurry usually and if you do run the ball it's by utter surprise....not this squad. Anchoring the NMSU line are seven lineman over 300lbs and several that look rounded up to 295. That's not usually the norm for a "fling the ball around" offense.
Instead, the Aggies look to use the spreading of the defense to pick a point of attack and let the ball breathe in the gaps. This offense has a full 5 WR pass route package available but uses pass friendly forms to facilitate (and mask) a balanced offense.
Let's start with the basic combinations...all coming from a shotgun spread base
Note: One outside WR is out of frame on the bottom of the screen. This is a four WR package.
The Aggies are still using spread properties (the shotgun formation) to work this offense but it has a few twists. Using the size of the line to stabilize the offense, they use their receivers to stretch the defense out and make the running lanes wider. Lined on the appropriate side of the QB, NMSU can run the ball at the tackles while the rest of the defense is concerned with the receiver threat. Their chief running back, Larry Rose III, had 47 carries in 1 and 3/4ths games before getting injured against Georgia State. He should be available for Saturday's game.
Everything above says pass doesn't it? But the Aggies use that benefit to run the ball. They possess a few decent blocking tight ends to go with the receiver TE's. You'll see one line up on occasion. After using this method to work the clock, the playbook has some sister plays to come out of RB repetition.
Here's an example of a complement to the ordinary RB tackle run. Note the starting positions above then look down.
QB has the ball.
Instead of running at the right tackle on the draw, the RB runs play action to the same location, the gap between the guard and the tackle. The QB pulls the ball, bootlegging the other direction while the right guard is pulling to block. It's a mini convoy! The QB now has levels and decisions to make:
- the slot is running laterally to a bubble screen position
- the outside receiver (out of frame) is on a hitch ten yards down the field
- or the QB can follow the blocker for scrambling if the defense is matched up in man coverage.
Right now, only the contain DE (on the weak side) is drawing a bead on the play and everyone on the defense is going an opposite direction. The RB has carried the ball several times beforehand and the fake works perfectly.
Result: the right guard picks up the chasing DE. Georgia State is playing zone and the outside receiver settles into a gap between the corner and safety fifteen yards down field (hitch). The slot gets picked up by a corner playing short field coverage. The QB tosses the ball into the gap and hits the outside receiver for fifteen yards. First down.
This is a balanced offense that also happens to have a full spread pass package at it's disposal. Dives, speed options, zone read and bubble screens are all phases of what's run out of the shotgun. This offense has all the characteristics of the option spread style with a preference for big lineman.
So who runs it? Martin's early recruits have started to appear on this side of the ball and some of the younger guys (even true freshman) have taken the starting roles.
The most active threat in this offense is Larry Rose III, a true freshman RB that's taking over the depth chart. A quick back at 5-11; 180, he seems to be a speed upgrade to the RB unit and has been the bell cow so far this season. Rose III is coming off a sore knee injury in the Georgia State game and didn't play last week against UTEP. Here's his high school senior highlights for perspective.
Tyler Rogers (6-3 200) has taken the starting QB role as a JUCO sophomore. A healthy threat in a dual role QB position, he's not a bad game manager and is well rounded in his early career. He had a prolific freshman season at AZ community college. (NMSU has plenty of QB's but Rogers has taken the most snaps; many look to be NM native walk-ons as well. The roster lists seven different players including Rogers, some may switch positions).
Wide Receivers run in the 6-2 to 5-10 range and the top four have a large yards per catch average (over 10+ or close to it). Teldrick Morgan (6-0; 185) has risen a bit above the bunch with 342 yards on 22 catches (4 TDs). These are the intermediate threats that come out of the Aggies running the ball. Rose III is also an outlet underneath and has five receptions. NMSU doesn't keep a lot of slot receiver types on the roster. They house guys to jump up and bring down a ball when it's needed. They can operate as a spread but would much rather use their skill positions for big plays and 3rd down conversions rather than every down yard grinding.
There's a good bit of functionality in these offensive skill positions. You can see more weapons on this side of the ball easily. Coming from the high scoring MAC league, NMSU does need the ability to keep up in an offensive track meet and Coach Martin has chased offense recruits early. The Aggies can operate when they're looking to stay in a game.
UNM has thankfully had a cluster of spread teams to prep for in this stretch of the schedule. Although not every one of them is the same, you can count that the familiarity of the field makeup helps.
To stop NMSU you're going to have to force them to react away from their running options. Quick passes are a part of this offense, but not every piece of the defense should be enamored with the threat of a WR toss. Affecting the pocket should have it's benefits as you break down the rhythm of the QB. People that concede run to this scheme lose, as forcing hurries on the Aggies disrupts their running game and make the QB narrow down to his outlets and make tough reads.
To stop NMSU you're going to have to force them to react away from their running options
Additionally you have fairly fresh FBS players on the field and you could force an error (or even a turnover) with enough consistency.
NMSU's defense might have trouble getting stops and time could become a factor if they get behind. They'll be able to score but the balance of the team might not be where they're ready to win yet.
Compact the field: The best weapon in the world is the one that is never fired. Take away the throws over ten yards by disrupting the play early. Put the Aggies in bad situations and they'll take care of the rest.
That should do it!
Thanks for reading and Go Lobos! Have fun in Cruces. Go support your team.
If anyone has any questions. Fire away.
My best. -LTFF