This week in our Q&A segment, we'll actually be combining answers from two separate New Mexico State fan sites. Both A. Montoya of crimsontothecore.com, and Sam Wasson of bleedcrimson.net reached out to us here at MinerRush to participate in a Q&A, and here's what they had to say about the Aggies.
MinerRush: NMSU coach DeWayne Walker is now in his 4th year with the program, do you feel that the team is progressing with Walker at the helm?
BleedCrimson: Absolutely. Even though the scoreboard and record might not always reflect the progress that he and his staff have built. College football analysts have taken notice of the rebuilding job he's been doing and the level of talent that he and his staff are starting to bring in is starting to pay off. Guys like Austin Franklin who I believe is a BCS-caliber receiver and will be receiving attention at the national level by the time he's a senior. Also, guys like Andrew Manley, the new running back Tiger Powell, are all guys who given time in the program will produce and hopefully turn the Aggies into a winner.
MR: Talk about the Aggies thus far. They knocked off FCS opponent Sacramento State, but lost at Ohio, what are your thoughts on the team, with what you've seen thus far?
A. Montoya: Everyone expected the team to be 1-1 at this point. I think we were all a bit surprised that we were able to score 49 points on Sacramento St. and although the loss was expected last week everyone thought we'd do better against Ohio. I think that overall the team is still a work in progress. They still haven't played a full game. Against Sacramento St. we were outscored and outplayed in the third quarter. It didn't hurt us in that game. The same thing happened against Ohio and hurt us big time. I feel that as long as the team plays to it's potential we can compete with any mid-major in the country. We just have to keep that up for a full four quarters. Something we haven't done yet.
MR: The Aggie offense is led by QB Andrew Manley, how is he coming along after the ACL injury he suffered a year ago?
BC: Andrew has shown no ill effects from his ACL injury, although, it will be interesting to see if he shows any mental aftereffects in this game against UTEP simply because this was the game last year in which he suffered the injury. Physically though he looks good.
MR: Besides Manley, what names can we look out for on the offensive side of the ball?
BC: The aforementioned wide receiver Austin Franklin is the Aggies' go-to offensive player this year. He's the kind of guy who will eventually command a double-team and even right now if he gets behind your secondary and Manley sees him, it's probably going to be 6. Tiger Powell is a new running back in this system and he is a big boy. He's a 220 pound bruiser who has shown some flashes of being a very powerful runner. In my opinion, getting him going is going to be the key to the Aggie offense being balanced.
MR: Trashaun Nixon, brother of former Miner Travaun, has already racked up 24 tackles in two games. Besides him, who are some other defensive players to look out for?
AM: In my opinion the linebackers are the strength of our defense. Linebacker Bryan Bonilla is currently the second leading tackler on the team behind Nixon. Linebacker B.J. Adolpho is also having a very good year so far. Defensive end Dante Savage was a pre-season All WAC pick and is having a good year so far even though I'd like to see some more production out of him myself. He has the potential to be a real force.
MR: Where is the fanbase at right now, in regards to both the team, and the man leading them?
AM: Everyone surrounding the team keeps saying that this is the year that the Aggies make it to a bowl game. So there was quite a bit of excitement about the team after the Sacramento St. game and I think people bought into it. However last weeks loss might probably took some of the luster off of the week one win. Ultimately I think your typical fan is still in a wait and see mode about the team.
I think most people are still behind Coach Walker. Most people understand that he took over what is probably one of the hardest coaching positions in the country and that for all intents and purposes he's trying to rebuild the program from the ground up with what amounts to a shoe string budget.
MR: What are NMSU's keys to success, if they are going to win this game?
BC: The number one key for the Aggies is to get their ground game going. The Aggies were able to successfully run the ball in the first half against a very good Ohio team and they were only down by a touchdown at halftime. Everyone knows the Aggie offense can air it out and so they need to be able to rush the ball to keep the defense honest.
Second, the Aggies need to get off the field on third down defensively. The Aggies can't bank on the fact that the UTEP offense will continue to have trouble finding the endzone and the Aggies cannot afford to give the Miners too many opportunities.
Third, the Aggies absolutely must win the turnover battle. Last week the Aggies only had one turnover but it was a killer, a pick-six thrown by Andrew Manley in the third quarter that was part of 24 unanswered points scored by Ohio that turned a four-point game into a blowout.
MR: Final thoughts, predictions on the outcome of the game?
AM: This game really is huge for us. If we really want to make it to a bowl game this year, this is a game that we have to win. So on top of it being a rivalry game we have that added incentive of knowing that this early season game could make or break our season. I truly expect our team to come out hungry and play an inspired game. If NMSU plays it's game for a full four quarters we're going to be tough to beat.
My final prediction is NMSU 31-UTEP 24
BC: This game is always a wild affair. Unfortunately for the Aggies they haven't had a whole lot of success in the Sun Bowl. If the Aggies want to win this game I really think they need to try to shorten the game and that means having sustained drives that chew up a lot of clock. That means they'll need to be able to successfully run the ball. I don't think the Aggies want to get into a track meet with UTEP from a scoring standpoint just because at this point it appears that the UTEP defense is better than the Aggie defense. The Aggies also need to survive the first eight to ten minutes of the game when the Miners will be feeding off the energy of the crowd. If the Aggies can keep contact with UTEP going into the fourth quarter than anything can happen.
I think the Aggies will be able to do that and will pull off the upset in El Paso, scoring a late touchdown to win 27-23.
A big thanks goes out to the guys from both bleedcrimson.net, and crimsontothecore.com. Make sure to check out both sites leading up to kickoff for some great coverage of the Aggies.