New Mexico State Preview

It's literally one of the best offenses against one of the worst defenses in all of college football. And on offense, New Mexico State is starting a true freshman. Yes, they will still play this game...

FACTS AND FACTORS

--UCLA will host the New Mexico State Aggies at the Rose Bowl Saturday night. The game will kick off at 7:37 PT, and will be broadcast on the Pac-12 Networks, with Ted Robinson, Glenn Parker, and Drea Avent calling the action.

--New Mexico State is 0-3 on the season, with three blowout losses to Texas, Minnesota, and UTEP by a combined 93 points. UCLA is 2-0, with a 41-21 victory over then No. 23 Nebraska in Lincoln last week.

--The Bruins and the Aggies have never faced each other.

--UCLA is ranked No. 13 in the Associated Press poll and No. 15 in the Coaches poll. New Mexico is unranked.

--The Aggies have been woefully bad for a very long time. In the last 40 years, New Mexico State has just four winning seasons and two conference titles, both of which occurred in the 1970's. The Aggies haven't appeared in a bowl game in 51 years, the longest drought in Division I/FBS.

--After the WAC folded after 2012 as a football conference, New Mexico State elected to go independent and remain in the FBS. Next year, the Aggies will return to the Sun Belt Conference in 2014 for football.

--The Aggies were, until recently, helmed by former UCLA defensive coordinator Dewayne Walker, who took over the job after the 2008 season. Like many coaches, Walker found no success with the Aggies, amassing a 10-40 record in four years with only four conference wins. After last season, he elected to move on to coach the defensive backs for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

--The new head coach for the program is Doug Martin, who was the offensive coordinator for the Aggies in 2011 before leaving to take the same position with Boston College in 2012. Martin's offense at Boston College ranked 47th in passing yards per game, and in his last year at New Mexico State, the Aggies ranked 26th in passing offense.

--New Mexico State holds a 12-59 all time record against teams in the current Pac-12, with the only wins coming against Arizona or Arizona State.

--Since 1999, New Mexico State has one win against a ranked opponent in 20 opportunities. That lone victory came in 1999, against No. 22 Arizona State, with the Aggies stunning the Sun Devils 35-7.

--The new president of New Mexico State university, Garrey Carruthers, said during his campaign for the job that he's open to moving the football program to FCS or dropping the program altogether. He was quoted in the Las Cruces Sun-News as saying: "Maybe we should be a minor-sport (program)...Somebody even mentioned to me yesterday, maybe we should drop football. Maybe one of the options is just stay the course and just join the Missouri Valley (Conference) and play all the sports they play. … That's an option we need to take a look at. The most expensive sport is football, and probably the least successful at the moment."

--UCLA, on the other hand, is currently experiencing its best run of success since the 2005 season. Under second year head coach Jim Mora, the Bruins are 11-5 over the last two years and are the defending Pac-12 South champions.

--UCLA and New Mexico State are almost mirror images of each other statistically. The Bruins gain over 575 yards per game, the Aggies give up an average of 576.7. The Bruins give up an average of 342 yards, the Aggies gain 366.7.

--UCLA is favored by by a consistent 42.5 points across sports books. That is, almost certainly, the most points UCLA has been favored by in the last 15 years.

--Keenan Graham, a defensive end for UCLA, is currently leading the nation in sacks per game at 1.5. Anthony Barr, the star outside linebacker, is currently leading the nation in fumbles forced per game at 1.5, after earning 3 in one game against Nebraska last week.

--After Saturday night's game, UCLA will earn a rare second bye week this early in the season before opening Pac-12 play against Utah on Thursday, October 3rd.

--The weather for Saturday at the Rose Bowl is projected to have a high of 81 degrees, an be around 70 degrees at game time.

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 Davis 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.

UCLA'S OFFENSE V. NEW MEXICO'S DEFENSE

Last season New Mexico's State defense was one of the worst in the nation, ranking 112th in scoring, 114th in rush defense and 102nd in overall defense. Remember, too, those stats came at the hands of mostly WAC opponents.

With a new coordinator and a new system, the Aggie faithful were hoping this year's defense would be improved but so far, statistically, it isn't. In fact, you could make the case, after three weeks of college football, it's the worst defense in the nation. Out of 123 FBS teams, it's 123rd in the nation in scoring defense (47 points per game), 123rd in rushing defense (331 yards per game) and 122nd in total defense (576 yards per game).

The Aggies generally can't recruit big, physical players, especially having a hard time to recruit defensive linemen, so the theory was to convert from the 4-3 to the 3-4 this season, which would help NMSU's smaller but presumably quicker personnel.

The 3-4, like UCLA's 3-4, much of the time, though, functions like a 4-3, with an outside linebacker essentially playing a stand-up rush-end role. The scheme is flexible, though, and like UCLA, the Aggies will utilize nickels and dimes and mini-linebacker types.

Nothing has really worked.

Against Minnesota it tried to load the box, to stop Minnesota's run game, but the Gopher running backs got past the line of scrimmage pretty easily and broke off some big plays, gaining 342 yards on the ground. It was basically the same story last week against UTEP: 293 yards rushing. Even though Texas's offensive scheme is a bit different than UCLA's, the level of talent and athleticism is similar. The Longhorns scored 56 points, gained 715 total yards, rushing for 359 yards and passing for 356.

This is a Texas team that has also lost to BYU (40-21) and Ole Miss (44-23) in the next two successive weeks, so you'd have to think UCLA might be even more effective against NMSU.

The Aggies' best defensive lineman is a familiar name, sixth-year senior Willie Mobley (6-2, 282). Mobley, you might remember, was originally at Ohio State, then tried to transfer to UCLA (was in Westwood for two days) but didn't have enough credits so he ended up at a JC, and then found his way to Arizona, got hurt (ACL) and left after a year. He went to NMSU since its former head coach, Dewayne Walker, was the UCLA DC who had recruited him to UCLA. He plays defensive end in the 3-4, and has been their most effective DL so far, showing good quickness.

Linebacker Trashaun Nixon.

The DL is pretty undersized, with its nose tackle, senior Kevin Laudermill (6-2, 277) and the other end, senior Nick Oliva (6-5, 255), being pretty light. Laudermill has made some plays, with a couple of sacks and actually an interception. A player that is getting some hype is sophomore nose Matt Ramondo (6-5, 310), who transferred back to his hometown school after going to Michigan State.

Probably the defense's most talented player is senior SAM linebacker Trashaun Nixon (6-1, 235), who leads the team in tackles for loss (4.5); he has pretty good range going sideline to sideline and could be their best athlete on defense.

Senior WILL Bryan Bonilla (6-1, 240) has had a solid career at NMSU, and junior MIKE Clint Barnard (6-3, 240) is pretty active. The linebacker crew, truly, hasn't been that bad in the first three games, but is under siege trying to fill the gaps when opposing OLs have pushed the LOS five yards.

In the back four, senior free safety Davis Cazares (6-0, 203) is the team's leader, and also leads the team in tackles (34), since he has so many tackle opportunities. The other safety is a true freshman, Kawe Johnson (5-8, 177), who has looked overwhelmed, both physically and mentally, while the cornerbacks, seniors Darien Johnson (5-9, 185) and Cameron Fuller (5-11, 175) have been consistently over-matched.

Perhaps the worst offense New Mexico State's defense could conceive of playing right now is that of UCLA. The Bruin offense, in the second half against Nebraska, looked like a juggernaut, just rolling downhill fast and fluidly. It's currently the #5-ranked offense in the nation, and perhaps one of the nation's most balanced, averaging 277 yards on the ground and 298 through the air.

Since New Mexico State hasn't been able to stop their opponents' running attack, perhaps even more daunting for NMSU's defense than UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley is the stable of UCLA running backs. Jordon James passed the test against Nebraska's defense. It looked pretty easy putting up 155 yards against Nevada, but against a true BCS-level defense, on the road, he looked good running for 105 yards on 22 carries against Nebraska. It's easy to envision James, Paul Perkins, Steven Manfro and Malcolm Jones taking turns getting into New Mexico State's secondary. We could envision Jones, who has looked good in mop-up dutuy, getting earlier mop-up duty and upward of 15+ carries in this one.

Malcolm Jones.

And then there's Hundley, who is pretty good at getting into secondaries with his feet himself. Once he settled down against Nebraska, he had one of his best quarters of his career in that third quarter last week. The throw to Shaquelle Evans for the touchdown was perhaps the best throw of his career, and one of the best in recent Bruin memory. Hundley, still, though, tended to miss some reads and open receivers against Nebraska; New Mexico State would be a good chance to work on that, especially being able to see his running backs curling out of the backfield on safety routes that were wide open against the Cornhuskers.

Evans is starting off the season like an All-Pac-12 performer. He's not really flashy, he won't make five guys miss on a receiver screen, and he won't even get behind corners with explosive speed. But he runs great routes, is strong in his route, is technically very good, and has that fifth-year senior experience going for him. We're still waiting for Devin Lucien, the vastly talented sophomore, to have a break-out game, and this could be the week when UCLA really looks to get him involved.

The aspect of this game in which UCLA should dominate the most is its offensive line against New Mexico State's defensive front. The Bruin OL is just plainly bigger and more athletic, and conditioned so well it can keep up the no-huddle pace into the second half. UCLA could just run ever down over its offensive line and easily win this game.

Advantage: UCLA.

There aren't too many ways to look at this that give New Mexico State a chance. If UCLA were, perhaps a run-heavy offense, NMSU could stack the box, but UCLA's offensive balance really presents a problem for the Aggies. It's clear they've wanted to protect their vulnerable rushing defense so far this season, but if they dedicate more bodies to the box it will allow Hundley to easily pick apart the New Mexico State passing defense.

For the Aggies it's really pick your poison: Allow UCLA to build long drives on the back of their running game, and then, with the up-tempo offense, wear down NMSU's already-smallish defense – or stack the box and be susceptible to UCLA going over the top for the quick strike? Most defensive coaches always opt to try to take away opponents' running game, so we'll guess that NMSU will sneak people into the box and hope it at least slows down UCLA's running game and its offense. The thing is – that tactic really didn't slow down its first three opponents and it's highly unlikely it slows down UCLA's running game. It's a finger-in-the-dike kind of situation for New Mexico State.

We don't expect UCLA to show too many new offensive wrinkles. Why should they? They could go very vanilla and still roll over the New Mexico State defense. We think we'll see a similar type of performance to the one we saw against Nevada, where UCLA's offense almost appears like it's working on some things from series to series.

We also expect Jerry Neuheisel and the second-string UCLA offense to see its most substantial playing time.

SPECIAL TEAMS

In an odd turn of events, New Mexico State, despite having a fairly anemic offense, has scored only touchdowns this year, and has not even attempted a field goal. Field goal kicker Maxwell Johnson is 7 for 7 on points after, though, so there's some consistency there. Johnson, who transferred in from Oregon State before last season, was 11 for 11 on PATs last season, and is also the kickoff specialist. He doesn't have a monster leg, with only five touchbacks last season in 16 kicks.

Cayle Chapman-Brown handles the punting duties for the Aggies, and he actually has had some success during his career. Last year, he was a second team All-WAC selection, averaging 44.3 yards per punt. 22 of his 70 punts last year landed inside the 20. This year, he has had similar success, averaging 42.8 yards on 19 kicks. It's fortunate, actually, that the Aggies have a credible punter, given how difficult it is for them to score.

At kick returner, New Mexico State will use receiver Adam Shapiro. Shapiro doesn't have blazing speed, but has been consistent on kickoff returns, averaging right around 20 yards per return with a long of 29 yards. He's not helped by pretty poor kickoff-return blocking. With punt returns, the Aggies have only returned three this year, and they've used two players: cornerback Darien Johnson and receiver Joseph Matthews. Johnson is probably the quicker of the two, but neither is a particularly credible threat to break a big one.

For UCLA, special teams was a bit of an adventure in the last game, with Ka'imi Fairbairn missing two field goals and nearly missing a third, not to mention Sean Covington muffing a snap and taking a big tackle for loss in a punting situation. Fairbairn's missed field goals were understandable, with high gusting winds in Lincoln making the kicks, one of which was a 55-yarder, even more difficult. Fairbairn, though, still has work to do to achieve the level of consistency expected from a UCLA kicker.

Covington's first punts for the Bruins last week were generally solid, with one deep booming kick as well as a nicely placed punt inside the 10 yard line. He looks the part of a talented freshman punter.

At the return spots, UCLA has not had any major mishaps so far, which is a good sign after last year. Steven Manfro has done a solid job as the kickoff return guy, aside from a minor muff in the first game. Shaquelle Evans has, actually, been a bit more than solid as the punt returner, showing some good quickness to go along with his excellent hands. He doesn't seem like a threat to break a touchdown, but he's already shown a propensity to get 20+ yard gains from the spot.

On Saturday, we'd have to imagine Covington will get another nice break, Fairbairn shouldn't have to kick any long ones, and Evans may have over 150 yards in punt returns.

Advantage: UCLA

PREDICTION

It's an interesting decision – to go with the true freshman Davis as the starter. Of course we completely believe we'll see quite a bit of McDonald, but it's definitely a bold move by New Mexico State. It's almost like NMSU has already conceded and are saying: "Hey, we're going to lose, and probably get blown. So, why not throw our future quarterback into the fire, let him make some mistakes against a team we're going to lose against anyway, and get him some valuable experience?"

There is one interesting aspect of the NMSU Offense/UCLA Defense match-up to watch. If there's one thing to be said for NMSU's offense, it hasn't given up a great deal of sacks, only four in three games, which is very good considering the offense has been very pass-oriented. The issue is: Will UCLA feel it needs to send a great deal of pressure on Davis? It has a young secondary to protect and it's been fairly conservative so far this season in keeping bodies back in coverage. If you're UCLA, you probably feel: "Yeah, we'd like to pressure the young quarterback, but we'll probably get enough pressure on him rushing four, and he'll probably make bad decisions anyway, so why not keep more people in coverage and keep Davis from doing any damage with his legs? " If you're New Mexico State, you're hoping UCLA doesn't pressure Davis that much, its offensive line does about as well as it has in pass pro, and Davis has some time to get comfortable. How this works out will probably determine whether New Mexico State and Davis can move the ball at all. If we had to guess, we think that it can't be emphasized enough that Davis is a true freshman, and he's bound to make some mistakes. New Mexico hasn't been good in turning over the ball (99th in the country in turnover margin). It was one of the factors that contributed to New Mexico making the change of starting Davis instead of McDonald, the thinking being: "Hey, if we're going to turn over the ball anyway, why not play Davis?"

So, even if UCLA's offense were left to its own devices it would put up 60 points against New Mexico State, but the Bruins are bound to get some points off turnovers, too.

If we're talking about what UCLA needs to work on in this game, how about the Bruins coming out like that juggernaut from the first whistle, and not being just a second-half team? If it's going to compete for a BCS bowl, it's going to have to put together four quarters.

UCLA 62
New Mexico State 10


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