MinerRush: How much improved is NMSU, and what is your assessment of the first two games?
Sam Wasson: There is no question that the Aggies are an improved team. The question is just how much improved are they? It's hard to tell because even after two games and two wins, the quality of their competition is questionable. The Aggies opened with a 28-10 victory over Cal Poly, an FCS club who was short-handed due to suspensions and injuries and the game really wasn't ever in doubt. Last week the Aggies fell behind 17-0 to a Georgia State club that was behind 37-28 deep into the fourth quarter against Abilene Christian (a 2nd year FCS team that is making the transition up from Division II). The Aggies rallied for the win which in itself is a milestone but again, it leaves plenty of unanswered questions about just how much better than last year the Aggies are. A couple of things are obvious from the first two games. Number one, the Aggies have improved defensively, simply from a fundamental standpoint. Last year the Aggies were just atrocious on defense and this year they've been okay, again, full judgement reserved due to the quality of competition. Second, the Aggie offense is a little more balanced and a little more diverse than it was a year ago. The Aggies have good depth at running back and also at wide receiver. As far as assessing the first two games? Obviously a win is a win and no Aggie fan in their right mind is going to begrudge a victory. That being said, until the Aggies play some tougher competition (starting this week with UTEP) we're tempering our optimism just a bit.
MR: How good is Larry Rose, and Where did the kid come from?
SW: Larry Rose is very good for a freshman at New Mexico State. He reminds us a little bit of a JUCO transfer the Aggies had three years ago named Kenny Turner. Rose isn't the biggest back but he runs surprisingly tough, is shifty and has good speed. Rose is from Fairfield, Texas a tiny little blip on the map about 90 miles south of Dallas. The population according to Google is just a shade under 3,000 so it's easy to see why he might have been missed by some of the bigger named mid-major schools, although, if someone scores 49 touchdowns in a season (yes, one season), you'd think that at least a few FBS teams would have known about it other than the Aggies. Rose had a strong debut against Cal Poly but struggled a little bit with ball control against Georgia State (and got a little dinged up too). He should be available for game on Saturday and it'll be interesting to see the competition between Rose and your own running back Aaron Jones.
MR: What has been the key for the second half surges that lead to wins in the first two weeks?
SW: The biggest key in our minds has been the defensive adjustments the Aggies have made. That's something that simply didn't happen at all last year under former defensive coordinator David Elson. Larry Coyer, the new defensive coordinator is a veteran and it has shown so far in the first two games.
MR: Quarterback Tyler Rogers has had some efficient numbers in the first two weeks, with NMSU running more how different is the offense with Rogers at the helm?
SW: The offense isn't a whole lot different, it's just a little bit more open. Being able to run the ball effectively has allowed the Aggies a little more flexibility in their offense. The other big difference is, at least so far, the Aggies aren't relying on just one receiver like last season (Austin Franklin). They've got a few different options in redshirt freshmen Teldrick Morgan and Greg Hogan as well as senior Jerrel Brown. The Aggie offense you saw in the game winning drive against Georgia State is the offense Coach Martin wants to see all the time and he believes that the Aggies are fully capable of that.
MR: What are the strengths of the defense?
SW: The defense's main strength is their speed. Coach Martin is all about speed over size on defense and rallying to the football which, through the first two games, the Aggies have done well. As we mentioned earlier, the other big strength is just being fundamentally sound which they weren't last season.
MR: As many as eight freshman were on the field last week against Georgia State, besides Rose who is another freshman on either side of the ball who could be star not only Saturday but down the road of their career?
SW: We mentioned him earlier but wide receiver Teldrick Morgan who is the player who caught the game-winning touchdown against Georgia State has star written all over him. He's 6-0, 185 pounds and has good speed and from what we can tell he has good hands. So far he's been the Aggies' leading receiver and Tyler Rogers' favorite target. Defensively, freshman linebacker Derek Ibekwe is been impressive. He's second on the team in tackles with 20 and has been all over the field making tackles thus far.
MR: What is the overall state of the athletic program after AD McKinley Boston resigned?
SW: Not much has changed, nor do we expect much to change until a new AD is in place. Dr. Boston does not officially leave his post until December 31st.
MR: NMSU Wins if....
SW: The Aggies win this game if they're able to win the turnover battle. Over the past five games against UTEP the Aggies have turned the ball over 11 times and have forced just four Miner turnovers. Not coincidentally, all five of those games have been losses. The Aggies must also try to keep Aaron Jones in check, obviously easier said than done. If the Aggie defense can keep UTEP under 200 yards rushing, they will probably win this game, if they don't, it probably means the Aggie offense wasn't on the field very much.
MR: Prediction for Saturday
SW: The Aggies are 2-0 and coming off an emotionally charged comeback victory, the Miners are 1-1 and coming off an emotionally charged defeat. Logic would tell you that the Aggies would have the advantage. However, as we noted above, the Aggies' 2-0 record has come against an FCS team and a team that nearly lost to an FCS team in week one while the Miners' 1-1 record comes against a pair of FBS teams (one not so good team in UNM and one so-so team in Texas Tech). At this point it's probably safe to say that Coach Kugler knows a little bit more about his team than Coach Martin knows about his team just based on each team's first two opponents. The Aggies are still a bit of an unknown while UTEP is clearly a hard-nosed, grinding team. The Aggies are going to try to run the ball and mix in some big plays through the passing game while UTEP will probably use a lot of the same game plan as they did against Texas Tech with trying to control the ball and keeping the Aggies' offense off the field. This is going to be a bit of a jump in talent level for the Aggies and that combined with the hostile environment that the Sun Bowl will present, we think the Aggies will battle but come out on the short end in this one.
BleedCrimson.net prediction: UTEP 31, NMSU 21.
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