If Idaho wasn't around, New Mexico State would be the runt of the WAC litter. After being projected by some to earn a bowl berth in 2008, the Aggies disappointed going 3-9 on the season while losing their last seven games. New head coach DeWayne Walker comes by way of UCLA, where he served as the defensive coordinator for three seasons. His methodology will be to abandon the Air Raid offense that Hal Mumme ran for four years and establish a more balanced attack with an emphasis on defense. Walker hopes this approach will pull them from the depths of the WAC, but New Mexico State will face many rebuilding years before reaching its first bowl game since 1960.
Top 10 national rankings in pass offense and defense, wouldn't normally equate to the three-win season the Aggies encountered. That just means NMSU was really bad in other areas. The team was Jekyll and Hyde when comparing the passing phases to the running phases of the game. The Aggies were great defending the pass as well as passing the ball, but flat-out horrendous against the run and rushing the ball.
New Mexico State's passing offense was tops in the WAC in 2008 and ranked No. 10 nationally after compiling more than 300 yards per game through the air. Those numbers were achieved with the help of quarterback Chase Holbrook and a pass-happy offense, but now both are gone and the Aggies have yet to settle on a replacement for him. The position battle is between redshirt freshman Trevor Walls and JUCO transfer Jeff Fleming. With such a focus on good passing last season, NMSU was handicapped in the running game. The team ranked second-to-last in the nation, producing a paltry 54.25 ypg on the ground. With a more balanced offensive gameplan in the 2009 blueprints, expect to see healthy portions of running backs Marquel Colston (not the Saints receiver) and Tonny Glynn (not the baseball player). The looming question, will the offensive line be ready to smash helmets in the trenches after pass-blocking their entire careers. Senior wideout Marcus Anderson (50 rec, 617 yds, 9 TDs) will have to pick up the slack that is hanging from the departures of Chris Williams (Dolphins) and A.J. Harris in the receiving corps.
The Aggies will revert to a traditional 4-3 defense in 2009. Last season, New Mexico State's pass defense surrendered less than 2,000 total yards and ranked No. 3 in nation with a 159.42 ypg mark. Again, great success in one aspect of the game sometimes means lack of production from another area. The Aggies rushing defense finished No. 115 in country, giving up more than 220 yards per outing. The New Mexico State defense was dealt a huge blow after losing stud linebacker Nick Paden for the season with a knee injury in July. Even without Paden, the linebacking unit is still best part of the defense with seniors Jason Scott and Ross Conner. Time will tell whether or not the Aggies secondary was as good as it looked on paper last season, or if it was just untested. There are some holes to fill in that department, including the nation's leading tackler Derrick Richardson, but senior corner Davon House should lead by example. House is to the Aggies what Dwight Lowery was to the Spartans two years ago. The 6-0, 172-pound senior compiled six PBUs and a pair of interceptions last season, and should be able to shut down the opposition's best receiver.
San Jose State Linebackers versus New Mexico State Running Backs. The Aggies focus will be to play exceptional defense and try to control time of possession. To execute this gameplan, New Mexico State will have to find success running the ball, and with two inexperienced quarterbacks they really won't have any choice but to pound the rock. Run defense is an area the Spartans struggled mightily in last season, but the linebackers this season are a team strength. Travis Jones, Justin Cole and Duke Ihenacho solidify the best linebacker trio in the WAC. If these guys are able to plug holes and stop the run, New Mexico State will have trouble moving the ball offensively.
San Jose State was the initial loss donor of the Aggies seven-game slide to end the 2008 season. The 31-14 victory in Las Cruces was fueled by the Spartan defense and started the downward spiral for New Mexico State. Quarterback Kyle Reed had a forgettable night passing (50 yds, 3 INTs), but the Spartans didn't really need him to win the game. Yonus Davis had a field day against the Aggies Swiss cheese rush defense, racking up 110 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries. The defensive spark came from Kyle Flynn and Ihenacho, who each had an interception return for a score. San Jose State controlled the entire game and that was against a New Mexico State team that was supposed to be good. Expectations aren't nearly as lofty this season so the Spartans should be poised to put a hurting on the Aggies in San Jose.
Scott Cooley is a Contributing Analyst to Inside Sparta. You may contact Scott with any questions, comments, or tips at firstname.lastname@example.org
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