Preview: New Mexico State's O v. UCLA's D

The Aggies throw the ball decently in their new spread scheme, but between the NMSU offense and UCLA defense there is a wide disparity in talent and athleticism...

NEW MEXICO STATE'S OFFENSE v. UCLA'S DEFENSE

New Mexico State's new head coach Doug Martin is an offensive guy, being the former NMSU and Boston College offensive coordinator. His spread scheme at Boston College was ranked the 47th best passing offense in the nation last season and, so far this season, NMSU is ranked 46th in passing. That's pretty impressive, given that he just doesn't have that much talent and he did go up against BCS schools (Texas, Minnesota) in two of the Aggies' first three games.

The scheme is pretty similar to UCLA's, actually, utilizing a good deal of zone read in the running game, while trying to utilize a no-huddle pace. They do operate out of the Pistol quite often, too.

It hasn't helped their running game, however, gaining just 102 yards per game on the ground, which gets it ranked 106th in the nation.

Last year's starter at quarterback, Andrew Manley, transferred out in spring, when he saw the writing on the wall – that the new scheme needed a more mobile quarterback, and that was senior Andrew McDonald (6-2, 205). McDonald, a former Arizona walk-on and JC transfer and the son of USC quarterback Paul McDonald, completed one pass in 2012, but has stepped in confidently in 2013. He was a little bit shaky starting his first game against Texas on the road, but he doesn't appear to be the get-rattled type. He's completed 69% of his passes so far, and has been pretty accurate. Out of the zone read, he's the team's second-leading rusher (30 yards per game), and is fairly shifty -- and has taken some violent hits but has popped right back up.

It was announced Wednesday that true freshman King Davis III (6-1, 200) will start Saturday, however. Davis is the guy they're trying to bring along; he got a couple of series in the second game of the season two weeks ago, and then more time toward the end of the game last week. Davis is the more natural running talent, with the ability to make tacklers miss in the open field (averaging 6 yards per carry), but looks pretty raw throwing the ball, especially in his decision-making. He also fumbled against Minnesota, which led to a Gopher touchdown. It being his first start, being a true freshman, being pretty raw, it should be a challenge against UCLA's defense.

Quarterback Andrew McDonald.

Heading into the season, NMSU's top receiver, Austin Franklin, was ruled ineligible, and he was a great deal to replace (74 receptions, 1,245 yards in 2012). Attempting to pick up the slack has been sophomore Joshua Bowen (5-11, 180), and juniors Jordan Bergstrom (5-11, 180), Jerrel Brown (6-0, 190) and Joseph Matthews (6-2, 203). Bowen, Brown and Bergstrom are very similar, fairly quick, shifty types. The coaches try to get them in space with receiver screens or reverses. Mathews is the bigger, more physical one, but he also has some shake to him. The offense likes to spread around the love, much like UCLA's, so NMSU will go six or seven deep in its receivers group in any game, and throw to its running backs. They utilize their Y just about the same way, and same amount, UCLA's offense does, and that's senior Perris Scoggins (6-3, 242) and junior Andrew Dean (6-3, 244).

The leading rusher is last year's returning starter, senior Germi Morrison (6-0, 207), but it's been tough sledding, with Morrison having gained just 119 yards in three games. The change-of-pace guy is a hometown New Mexico kid, junior Brandon Betancourt (5-10, 187), a scatback type who has some quickness but has just about been completely sewn up. The two of them have averaged just 2.4 yards per carry so far this season.

Perhaps the issue is the offensive line making the transition to the spread. It hasn't looked very comfortable yet in pass protection (the four sacks, so far, aren't indicative of how much McDonald has been pressured) or in run blocking. The offensive line, too, was supposed to be the strength of the offense, returning four starters from a season ago. It's anchored by junior center Valerian Ume-Ezeoke (6-3, 295), while senior left tackle Davonte Wallace (6-4, 315) is one of the strongest players on the team and also considered a good one. Sophomore guard Andy Cunningham (6-3, 308), too, has shown some good physical play in the Aggie's first three games. Against their BCS opponents (Texas and Minnesota), though, they were over-matched. The Gophers d-line looked bigger, stronger and quicker.

UCLA's defense had a very good showing against Nebraska on the road last week. In fact, it was one of the best defensive performances by UCLA in quite a while. It only gave up one true touchdown (the other two Nebraska TDs were on a short field gifted to them by two turnovers).

The defensive line has been good, and it appears to be getting better. Ellis McCarthy played both nose and defensive end last week, and he had a few plays where he looked both quick and massively strong. Defensive tackle Sealii Epenesa had a very good game, and the youngsters, particularly Eddie Vanderdoes and Kenneth Clark, started to look more like veterans. Senior Keenan Graham appears to be delivering on his potential as a rush specialist, with three sacks in two games, and will probably see a great deal of time against NMSU since he's one of the d-lineman in most of the nickel packages.

Keenan Graham.

UCLA's linebackers were particularly impressive last week. Anthony Barr was given just about every defensive award he could get this week after his performance against Nebraska. As we anticipated going into the season, Jordan Zumwalt looks like an NFL player, and Myles Jack took another step forward, moving into the starting lineup, getting a huge amount of plays and making some considerably nice ones.

The UCLA secondary wasn't that challenged by Nebraska, and it wasn't much against the Pistol offense of Nevada. Safety Randall Goforth has had a good two first games, showing that he's developed since starting as a true freshman last season. The issue with UCLA's back four will be the inexperience, and the combination of the inexperience at cornerback, with Ishmael Adams and Fabian Moreau still learning the ropes. They've looked aggressive and promising, but you have to always keep in the back of your mind that there is bound to be some mental breakdowns and missed assignments sometime this year.

Advantage: UCLA

New Mexico State's passing game will probably be the best passing attack UCLA has faced yet this year. Seriously. But that's only because the passing games of both Nebraska and Nevada aren't much. And, while New Mexico State's passing attack is the best aspect of this Aggie team, either offensively or defensively, it's really not that good. Texas and Minnesota ‘s defense aren't any better than UCLA's, and the Bruins' defense is clearly better than UTEP's, and NMSU's passing game wasn't great against any of the three. McDonald had some moments, as did the NMSU wide receivers, but the passing game faltered often, many times due to the Aggies themselves – slightly inaccurate throws, dropped balls, coming up short of the first-down marker after a catch, etc. McDonald and/or King will be another quarterback that UCLA's defense has to contain, but after Nevada's Cody Fajardo and Nebraska's Taylor Martinez, two of the most mobile quarterbacks in college football, neither of NMSU's QBs should be that challenging. And UCLA has seen enough zone read already this season, and executed better and by far-better athletes than those at New Mexico State.

New Mexico State is trying to push the tempo, to confuse and wear out opposing defenses. But UCLA's defense is pretty used to a fast pace, going up against UCLA's offense in practice, and it's deep, so fatigue won't really be a factor. UCLA has shown a penchant for getting confused, though, in getting in its defensive packages, and we'd expect that to happen a couple of times against NMSU.

The Aggies' offense was out-athleted by both Texas and Minnesota, and even UTEP, and you can make the case that UCLA's defense is more athletic than any of those three. There will probably be a marked difference in the overall team speed of UCLA's defense compared to New Mexico State's offense. With UCLA being the 12th-ranked team in the country for tackles for loss (8.5 per game), you can expect a quick, swarming bunch of Bruins all over the field, and seemingly like they magically appear in the NMSU's backfield.

With it being the true freshman Davis' first start, you'd have to think he's going to make some bad decisions. That could mean UCLA's first interception of the year. Or it's first two. We would have to think McDonald will see some significant time, too.

If UCLA can avoid giving up points from turnovers, its defense has a chance to keep New Mexico State in the single digits.


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