The Horns hold a 3-0 series lead. Texas knocked off the Aggies 41-7 in 1996 and by the same score in 2001. Texas prevailed 66-36 in 1998 during Mack Browns first year in Austin, after the visitors reeled off 30 second half points.
"I didnt think wed ever stop them," Brown recalled.
This is arguably the most competitive bunch of Aggies (of any ilk) to darken DKR's doors this millennium. NMSUs 7-5 mark in 2002 was its best in 25 years after leading the Sun Belt Conference in six offensive categories.
It is also the fourth consecutive year that Texas opens against a Sun Belt Conference opponent.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM NMSU OFFENSE
The Aggies run an option-oriented ground game (indicative of its staffs close ties to Nebraska football) that is complemented by a highly efficient passing attack. Seventh-year NMSU coach Tony Samuel was a Cornhusker defensive lineman (1975-77) before heading his alma maters rush ends and outside linebackers (1986-96).
"Theyll be very much like Nebraskas offense," Brown said, obviously harkening back to a day when that statement meant something.
In other words, look for an east-west scheme with plenty of sprint options, misdirection plays, screens, occasional draws and dives, plus quarterbacks that will try to burn you at least a dozen times by quickly pulling out of the option for a drop-back pass.
The Aggies return six offensive starters, including an experienced backfield. Senior FB Marcus Dixon and senior IB Eric Higgins helped lead the Aggies to 214.6 ypg (No. 14 NCAA) against a tough non-conference schedule that included road games at Georgia, at South Carolina and at California.
The leaner, meaner Texas D is determined that last years No. 47 ranking against the rush was just an aberration.
"We made a huge issue of stopping the run and tackling better and taking better pursuit angles to the run," Brown said. "It will be interesting to see because New Mexico State will have some speed."
In starting four games (and playing in eight) in 2002, junior Buck Pierce broke the single season passing efficiency record (154.69) and tied the mark for best completion percentage (68-of-107, one INT). But injuries opened the door for Paul Dombroski, who parlayed a team-leading 868 yards rushing (a school record for a QB) into Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the Year honors. Dombrowski started eight games, resulting in 12 rushing touchdowns and completing more than 60 percent of his passes for 1,327 yards.
"Tony (Samuel) is going to run the option, and hes going to move the quarterbacks," Brown said. "He makes it hard to blitz because hes got a real good package."
The QB tandem set a new school record by completing 61 percent of their passes and directed a unit that led the Sun Belt Conference in scoring offense, rushing offense, total offense, passing efficiency, fourth down conversions and time of possession.
Pierce was held out of spring drills and has battled Dombrowski for the starting spot. Brown expects to see them both.
"What you do is you prepare for what you think theyre going to call and then if you feel that there is an emphasis that one quarterback might have more than the other one, then you work toward that while hes in the game," Brown said. "Its really, really hard to prepare two offenses, so we dont feel like it will be a huge detriment for us."
The Aggies double-headed QB situation reminded Brown of a 1987 contest when his Tulane team squared off against Southern Miss where "they put some freshman in during the fourth quarter." The desperate move prompted Brown to turn to his coaches and remark, "A freshmans not going to beat us." But the relatively unknown rookie scored 21 points, upending Browns team while launching a dazzling career.
The freshmans name was Brett Favre.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM NMSU DEFENSE
NMSU returns six defensive starters but none, none!, NONE! in the secondary (are you listening, Roy Williams?). The Aggies will start three sophomores and one wide-eyed RS freshman (SS Nathan Nuttall) in what should be the nastiest trial-by-fire for any new DBs in any game all season. (Look at it this way, Ags. It will only get better after this.)
"Theyve got a young secondary, but theyre a solid defense," Mock said. "They play real basic. They dont try to get fancy. Theyre really good with their assignments."
NMSUs defensive strength will be its linebackers. Senior SLB Tim Patrick, junior WLB Rich Glover and sophomore MLB Jimmy Cottrell are all returning starters that will anchor a unit that also returns both of its DEs.
Look for Texas to exploit the absence of senior nose guard Joe Olivio. Freshman Jarod Naylor will replace the former All-Sun Belt first-team selection, who will not suit up for academic reasons.
At the same time, the game plan (regardless of opponent) will always call for an easy completion to help get the quarterback untracked. A safe bet: Mocks first attempt is a five-yard hitch to Williams that goes for 16.
With so much emphases on improving the ground game, look for Texas to force the run in the early going. Brown wants to see more "explosives" from his rushing O, starting with NMSU.
"We didnt have long runs (in 2002)," Brown said. "We had very few runs of more than 12 yards. We had a lot of explosive passes. In the four minute offense at the end of the game when youre trying to kill the clock, there were times when we pushed and shoved instead of dominating a team in the fourth quarter that we needed to put away."
As such, expect Texas to pound the middle (mixing in occasional quarterback draws and more option than youve seen around DKR in years) to try to establish rushing dominance that it failed to consistently generate in 2002 starting with the home opener against North Texas.
RECORD IN OPENERS
In 110 years of Longhorn football, UT has posted a 90-17-3 (.832) mark in season-openers and 69-7-2 (.897) when starting at home. But the opener hasnt always been a gimme, as Texas went 3-6 in openers from 1987-95.
Brown has lost two season openers since 1989. The Horns, of course, snatched defeat from the jaws of victory after giving up three blocked punts at home against North Carolina State in that dismal disappointment in 1999. Prior to that, Browns North Carolina squad fell to Syracuse despite dominating the Orangemen on the offensive stat sheet.
"We had more than 500 yards total offense and Syracuse had 260," Brown recalled, "but we lost five turnovers. And they didnt have a turnover. In opening ballgames, if there is an upset, its usually because of turnovers. So, from that standpoint were excited that we havent had a turnover from our No. 1 offense in any of our (three) scrimmages."