A Closer Look: New Mexico State Aggies

Fans of the No. 17 Ohio State football team will get to see a new foe on Saturday when New Mexico State comes to town. The Buckeyes and Aggies have never faced on the gridiron before, but fear not; BuckeyeSports.com has all the relevant information here in this closer look. Find out more about NMSU's current team as well as history and background info.

New Mexico State (3-5, 1-3 Western Athletic Conference)
Saturday, Oct. 31
12 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network
Ohio Stadium; Columbus, Ohio

The Aggies
Head coach: DeWayne Walker, 3-5 at NMSU, first year
2008 record: 3-9 (1-7 WAC)
Series mark: First meeting
School location: Las Cruces, N.M.
Enrollment: 16,428
Colors: Crimson and White
Stadium: Aggie Memorial Stadium (30,343)
Fight song: "NMSU Fight Song"

New Mexico State Players To Watch
RB Seth Smith: The Aggies' best offensive threat, Smith is hard to bring down. At 5-8, he can hide behind his blockers before hitting seams. The junior has three 100-yard rushing performances on the year and is among the best running backs in the WAC.

"He's a shifty back," OSU defensive tackle Doug Worthington said. "He gets out there, he runs hard. He's somebody who doesn't let the ball out too much. He wants to get those extra yards."

SLB Ross Conner: The hometown boy is coming off of a 14-tackle performance against Fresno State. A senior who attended Mayfield High School in Las Cruces, Conner is making the most of his senior year with a team-best 70 tackles in his strongside linebacker role.

MLB Jason Scott: Scott is a senior who has taken to the middle linebacker role after being moved there just before the season began. Scott is undersized at 207 pounds, but he's always around the football with 67 tackles on the season.

"He's smart, one of the smartest guys I've been around," Conner said. "He's intense, he's a leader. It's just fun playing next to him."

FS Stephon Hatchett: The emotional junior leads the secondary with 49 tackles to go with a fumble caused, a fumble recovery and an interception. Hatchett is one of the leaders on the defense and flies around playing with energy and passion.

Sept. 5, Idaho, L 21-6
Sept. 12, Prairie View A&M, W 21-18
Sept. 19, UTEP, L 38-12
Sept. 27, at New Mexico, W 20-17
Oct. 3, at San Diego State, L 34-17
Oct. 10, Utah State, W 20-17
Oct. 17, at Louisiana Tech, L 45-7
Oct. 24, Fresno State, L 34-3

Projected Starters
QB 11 Trevor Walls, 6-5, 220/9 Jeff Fleming, 6-4, 195
RB 20 Seth Smith, 5-8, 198
FB 21 Ron Opetaia, 5-9, 221
X 7 Todd Lee, 5-9, 155
F 10 Marcus Anderson, 5-8, 166
Y 17 Kyle Nelson, 6-4, 232
LT 75 Dwayne Barton, 6-4, 270
LG 67 Joe Palmer, 6-3, 308
C 62 Mike Grady, 6-3, 302
RG 72 Seioli Fakalata, 6-3, 313
RT 59 David Norman, 6-4, 300

LE 48 Pierre Fils, 6-3, 230
LT 54 John Finau, 6-1, 295
RT 44 Chris Romero, 6-4, 273
RE 52 Donte Savage, 6-1, 229
SLB 51 Ross Conner, 5-10, 212
MLB 9 Jason Scott, 5-10, 207
WLB 11 Jamar Cotton, 6-0, 218
LCB 4 Davon House, 6-0, 172
SS 2 Alphonso Powell, 5-9, 182
FS 19 Stephon Hatchett, 5-8, 170
RCB 1 Jonte Green, 6-0, 175

K/P 96 Kyle Hughes, 6-0, 184
PR 10 Marcus Anderson, 5-8, 166
KR 23 Tonny Glynn, 5-8, 192

Five Fast Facts
1. New Mexico State has played only two Big Ten teams, earning drubbings at the hands of Wisconsin (69-13) in 1962 and Iowa (59-21) in 1995. The Aggies last beat a BCS team in 1999 when Tony Samuel's squad knocked off No. 22 Arizona State by a 35-7 final in Tempe.

2. New Mexico State last had a winning season in 2002, going 7-5 including a 5-1 record in Sun Belt Conference play. The Aggies moved to the WAC after the 2004 season.

3. New Mexico State has played in three bowl games in school history, going 2-0-1. The Aggies won back-to-back Sun Bowls in 1959 and '60, beating North Texas 28-8 the first year and Utah State 20-13 in the repeat performance. When the school was known as New Mexico A&M, it tied the 1936 Sun Bowl, 14-14, against Hardin-Simmons.

4. Running back Bob Gaiters, the star of 1959 and '60 Sun Bowl teams, is the only Aggie to be chosen in the first round of a professional football draft, going first overall in the 1961 AFL draft to the Denver Broncos. Gaiters, a native of Zanesville, Ohio, also was chosen in the second round of the NFL draft by the New York Giants and chose to play with that team. The last NMSU player be tabbed by an NFL team was safety Siddeeq Shabazz, a seventh-round pick in 2003.

5. Punt returner Marcus Anderson leads the WAC in punt return average. The wideout has 18 tries for 205 yards, an 11.4-yard average.

Offensive Scouting Report
There's no way to sugarcoat the fact that New Mexico State has one of the worst passing offenses in the country.

The Aggies' passing efficiency mark of 84.52 is last in Division I, and the team's average of 103.9 passing yards per game is 117th in the country and worse than any non-service academy. As a result, the team's 13.3 points per game is second-worst in D-I in front of only Miami (Ohio).

"We have to be able to throw the ball to take pressure off of our running game," head coach DeWayne Walker said after the Fresno State game. "We haven't been able to get anything going throwing the ball."

New Mexico State finished with only 45 yards passing on 15 attempts against the Bulldogs. Falling short of 100 yards through the air is nothing new to the Aggies, who have done so in six of eight games this year. Overall, the team has a completion percentage of 51.9 percent (97 of 187) with four touchdowns thrown and 11 passes intercepted.

What worries Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel is how the Aggies will set up and give the Buckeyes different looks than some of the past opponents.

"We've got to prepare ourselves for a group that probably deploys a little bit different than what we've been seeing." Tressel said. "They're in two backs, two tights a decent amount. They're in two tights, two wides. They do spread it out a little bit, but maybe not as much as some teams do it.

"Two different quarterbacks, two different styles. So our defense has got to be on task as to what needs to be the situation and how we go after them, how we try to affect those quarterbacks.

The two quarterbacks Tressel was referring to are redshirt freshman Trevor Walls and sophomore Jeff Fleming. The Buckeyes will probably see both, but Walls – who hails from Waverly, Ohio – is at the top of the depth chart.

The 6-5, 220-pounder has played in seven games, starting four, while completing 45 of 87 passes (51.7 percent) for 339 yards, two touchdowns and five interceptions. Walls has two rushing touchdowns but is more of a traditional dropback passer, while Fleming brings more mobility to the table.

Fleming started the first three games, has four starts on the season and has played in all eight games, leading a late touchdown drive that netted NMSU a win in the rivalry contest with New Mexico. He's completed 52 of 99 passes (52.5 percent) for 492 yards, two touchdowns and six interceptions, and the more mobile Fleming has rushed for 140 yards and two touchdowns on 50 tries.

The one thing NMSU has done right this season on offense is run the football, especially with Seth Smith. The junior has put together a number of solid games, averaging 87.9 yards per contest to place fifth in the WAC in rushing. For the year he has 162 rushes for 703 yards and a touchdown, and he's coming off a 105-yard performance against Fresno State.

As a team, the Aggies average 150.4 yards per game on the ground, good for 56th in the country. Smith had a solid one-two punch going with Marquell Colston, who had 60 rushes for 249 yards and two scores in six games, before Colston was suspended indefinitely from the team for battery in mid-October. The new second-stringer is senior Tonny Glynn, who has 35 carries for 121 yards and a touchdown.

When New Mexico State uses a fullback, it's usually sophomore Ron Opetaia, a native of American Samoa who is still learning the position after arriving as a tailback.

The Aggies haven't been able to get the passing game going, but they think they have two solid playmaking threats in senior Marcus Anderson and sophomore Todd Lee.

Anderson entered the year thought to be the team's best big-play threat after 50 catches and nine touchdowns a year ago. No catch the team has made this year was bigger than his 4-yarder from Fleming with less than a minute to go in the team's win against New Mexico. For the season, Anderson has 18 catches for 178 yards and a touchdown.

Lee leads the squad with 208 yards receiving on 18 grabs, and he also has a touchdown catch. He's compiled those numbers despite a lingering shoulder injury that sidelined him for a game.

The third starter is junior Kyle Nelson, who has nine catches for 90 yards and a touchdown this year, and classmate Marcus Allen is one to watch with 15 grabs for 195 yards in a reserve role this season.

So far, pressure hasn't been the biggest problem for New Mexico State, who is fourth in the WAC with 1.75 sacks allowed per game. The offensive line also paved the way for 238 yards rushing against Fresno State.

The Aggies have two seniors among that group is left guard Joe Palmer and right tackle David Norman. Palmer leads the team in knockdowns and has some of the best performance grades, while Norman had the best lineman grade against Fresno State.

Another player who has excelled is center Mike Grady, a sophomore. He has two of the team's top three single-game performance grades, has not allowed a sack and had a perfect assignment rating against Fresno State.

The other two starters are juniors in left tackle Dwayne Barton and right guard Seioli Fakalata.

Defensive Scouting Report
It hasn't been helped out much at times by the NMSU offense, but the squad's defense has been solid throughout the year.

The Aggies are fourth in the WAC in total yards (369.5) and points (28.0) allowed. They are also fifth in rush defense with 186.6 yards per game allowed, though that mark is 103rd in the country and would be last in the Big Ten. While the Aggie defense has been solid, it hasn't made the big play at times, causing only 10 turnovers in eight games.

"They're a man-to-man team, pressure receivers, blitz probably, I don't know, half the time perhaps, and they like to – they like to run, they like to do the things that Coach Walker did when he was the defensive coordinator at UCLA," Tressel said. "So we've got to prepare ourselves for those types of things."

The Aggies boast a young defensive line whose two best players are sophomores. That includes 6-3, 230-pound rush end Pierre Fils, who has been one of the best pass rushers in the WAC this season. On the season, Fils has 31 stops despite not starting the first three games. He's added six sacks and two forced fumbles.

On the other side, Donte Savage has put up solid numbers as well. Savage has 29 tackles, 7½ tackles for loss and four sacks. Kawika Shook started the first three games at end, and the junior has 12 tackles and a sack.

The Aggies have more experience up the middle with contributors including fifth-year senior E.J. Cannon, junior John Finau and junior Chris Romero. The latter, Romero, has 15 tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery this year to be the Aggies' most productive tackle. Finau has 10 tackles, while Cannon has six and junior Vincent Federico (who has missed time with a concussion) has four stops.

The team's leadership on defense rests at linebacker, where all three starters are seniors. Strongside linebacker Ross Conner is a Las Cruses native who leads the team in tackles with 70 to go with a sack and an interception. Conner spent the last three seasons as a reserve and might have done the same this year had projected starter Nick Paden, who made 107 tackles last year, not suffered a knee injury before the season.

Middle linebacker Jason Scott is starting to get used to playing at the position after a switch late in camp. He has 67 tackles on the year, including 34 in the last three weeks. Another senior, Jamar Cotton, has started the last three games for the Aggies. On the year, he has 27 tackles and a sack. He took over for senior Sam King, who has 10 tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery. King, at 223 pounds, is the biggest of the Aggies' undersized linebackers.

The Aggie secondary has made a large number of tackles on the season, a fact that isn't necessarily a good thing because it means other defenders haven't always done their part. Still, it reflects well that starting cornerbacks Davon House and Jonte Green as well as safeties Alphonso Powell and Stephon Hatchett have made tackles when necessary.

House has made the biggest plays of the group, picking off two passes while also returning a fumble 38 yards for a touchdown. The junior also has 40 tackles. On the other side, Green is a sophomore with 48 tackles and six pass breakups.

A former wideout, Hatchett leads the secondary with 49 tackles, and the junior has a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and an interception from his free safety spot. Powell, a junior, has 47 tackles, a sack and a pick, while senior corner Chris Buckner has 15 stops and a fumble recovery as the fifth DB.

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