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Battle of I-10: Talking NMSU Aggies Football with's Sam Wasson

I was lucky enough to catch up with's Sam Wasson earlier today.  He was nice enough to give the Miner Nation on the skinny on the NMSU Aggies football team.  This is a must read leading up to the Battle of I-10.

Miner Rush:  I don't think anybody saw the Minnesota win coming.  What has the win over Minnesota done for the fan base?

Sam Wasson:  I think the Minnesota game was certainly a surprise to a majority of the fan base and I think it's re-energized them after a bit of a disappointing opening game loss against Ohio in which they got way behind early.  It would be nice to see a sold out Aggie Memorial Stadium for Saturday's game, that's what makes these games fun is the crazy atmosphere.  Some of our fondest memories have been Aggie/Miner games in front of big crowds, whether it's at AMS or at the Sun Bowl.

Aggie quarterback  Andrew Manley seems to have come out of nowhere.  What can you tell us about his background?

Andrew Manley showed a small glimpse of his potential last season in helping lead the Aggies to a come-from-behind victory over UNM.  He replaced starter Matt Christian late in the fourth quarter and led a drive down the field that led to the game-winning field goal.  He made a couple of passes that you would not expect a freshman to make in a pressure packed situation.  It was at that point that Aggie fans knew that he had the potential to be something special. 

Unfortunately, the rest of the 2010 season didn't go quite as well as Manley took a few lumps over the remainder of the season but he had a great camp, was named the starter in the spring and has flourished under new offensive coordinator Doug Martin and we expect big things out of him the rest of this season and the rest of his career. 

Manley is a from Hawai'i (Pounahou H.S.) and actually was a pretty big get for the Aggies.  He had offers from Hawai'i among others but chose to play for DeWayne Walker and New Mexico State.  Walker had this to say about him early last year, "He's a special kid. He had a great high school career, he got overlooked by other major colleges and we just felt like he was a steal. There's something magical about this kid."

What can you tell us about Manley's playing style?  What would you say are his biggest strengths and weaknesses?

Manley's biggest strength is his arm.  He's got a cannon and he's also very accurate, especially when he's given time.  His weaknesses, he's still just a sophomore and so he's going to make some poor decisions.  Even with the big day he had last week against Minnesota, he threw a couple of interceptions, one into double or triple coverage and one deep inside the Aggies' territory fairly late in the fourth quarter.  Both times the defense rescued him.

Defensively, who is a player that Miner fans should know about?  Is there someone those name we'll hear a lot on Saturday that we might not know about right now?

I'd say there are actually three players on defense that the Miner fans should keep an eye on.  First is cornerback Jonte Green (No. 1), he's the Aggies' number one corner taking over for Davon House (now with the Packers) and he's filled in quite nicely after a bit of a down season last year.  Second is 'mike' linebacker Alex LaVoy.  He's a junior college transfer that was brought in to try to immediately upgrade the linebacker crew.  He's a very good coverage linebacker and he had a huge pass deflection that led to an interception inside the red zone against Minnesota last week.  Really the entire Aggie secondary is solid, it's probably the strongest unit on the defensive side of the ball.

Coming in to this year, Dewayne Walker was 2-14 in WAC play.  What kind of record do you see in the league this season?  What will it take for you to consider this season a success?

This is an interesting question.  Heading into the season we felt that a successful season might be four wins.  However, after seeing the team's performance last week in Minneapolis, it's hard to think that this team won't win at least five, maybe six games this season if they play like they that the rest of the season and it stands to reason that the team should continue to improve throughout the season. 

The interesting thing to note is that the Aggies' schedule majorly backloaded with their toughest games coming in the second half of the season.  The Aggies finish at Hawai'i, home to Nevada, at Georgia, home to Fresno State, at BYU, at Louisiana Tech and then home against Utah State (which nearly upset defending national champion Auburn in the first game of the season). 

If the Aggies can go 3-1 or better in the next four games, there's no telling what they might be able to accomplish over the final seven games of the season.  The Aggies could certainly finish 4-3 in WAC play this year.  Their first two conference games are against SJSU and Idaho.  If they can win those two, it would give them a lot of confidence heading into the rest of WAC play.  That being said, five wins would still be a major success for the season considering the Aggies have won just five games in the previous two seasons combined.

How do you see the Battle of I-10 playing out.  Do you have a score prediction?

We think both teams will come out fired up to play.  Don't expect there to be any letdown for the Aggies and of course the Miners will be jacked up to try to beat the Aggies one week after NMSU's big win over Minnesota.  This should be a very entertaining and high-scoring game.  The Aggie offense is as good as it's been in years.  We think it'll be a track meet and this favors the Aggies.  At home, riding the momentum of a big win over Minnesota, the Aggies win this one 38-28.

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