You've seen the Aggies go up against a P5 and "even playing field opponent." Which positives and negatives have stood out the most?
I would say the biggest positive has been the play of quarterback Tyler Rogers. He is easily the Aggies most improved player from last year. NMSU has had success throwing the football through two games and it's clear Rogers has had ball security drilled into his head after leading the country in interceptions last year. Rogers is a good athlete who has become more accustomed to using his feet to extend plays. Some of his best throws have been when he is scrambling to his right. There were still some bad decisions on Saturday against Georgia State that make me hesitate to completely buy in, but he also put NMSU in position to win the game at the end.
The biggest negative is pass defense. Basically teams are doing whatever they want against the Aggies. Teams are completing nearly 80 percent of passes against the Aggies as blitzes are not getting pressure on the quarterback and receivers are running free in the back end. Safety play has been poor so far in pass defense as most big plays come down the seam or on slant routes from inside receivers.
How much has NMSU used Larry Rose on screens versus blitzes, and what is his bread and butter play or scheme so far?
The run game has not changed much from last year with Rose, counters on the interior and pitches or stretch plays to the edge. He is much more involved in the screen game though. Rose turned a screen into a 40 yard gain against a Florida blitz. Against Georgia State, I counted four screen passes to Rose, mostly on third down. I think like any team who has the screen pass in their offense, there is a good chance if the Aggies face an obvious passing situation against a pressure defense, you can expect a screen pass or two.
NMSU has a good looking freshman linebacker Terrill Hanks mixed with senior Rodney Butler, but has the Aggie front seven improved enough to slow down an Aaron Jones-less rushing attack?
You are referencing Terrill Hanks, an impressive athlete from Miami. He plays opposite of Butler, who moved from middle to Will linebacker this year. There have been missed assignments in pass defense from the position, but the emphasis has clearly been run defense. As you know NMSU ranked last in run defense last year giving up 310 yards and over 6 yards per carry. So this year's Aggies' 217 yards per game and 4.9 yards per carry show improvement. But Georgia State was able to get the run game going with 159 yards in the first half and put NMSU on its heels for the rest of the game. UTEP is much more physical and deeper up front than NMSU and it seems like the Miners have been able to wear down the Aggies in the second half in the past two games. NMSU has more bodies up front than last year so it will be interesting to see if the Aggies can hang around later in the second half this time.
Is Tyler Rogers becoming a program leading quarterback that NMSU can rely on?
So far. Through two games, he hasn't completed as high a percentage as he did last year, but I think that is partly due to the Aggies failing to get the run game established like they want to. But against Georgia State, Rogers had some throws that resembled last year. He was picked off twice throwing across the field in the flat. The second INT was called back due to penalty, but it was during the Aggies last possession and into coverage, which were both factors that cost the Aggies games last year. NMSU has quality receivers and a good running back. Rogers won't win games by himself if he can at least cut the interceptions in half, NMSU should find themselves in competitive games in the Sun Belt.
How important do you think beating UTEP would be for the entire athletic department, more particular NMSU's new AD?
Ending a losing streak to UTEP and a 12 game losing streak overall would both be significant for both head coach Doug Martin and AD Mario Moccia. Attendance is always an issue for NMSU and if the Aggies have any hope of home crowds later in the year, a rivalry win certainly helps. Martin has yet to beat either UTEP or New Mexico. If the Aggies lost on Saturday, 0-3 could easily turn to 0-6.
Score and one stat prediction?
Without Jones, I don't know that UTEP has the same big play potential so I expect a lower scoring game. UTEP 28-23
NMSU will sell out to stop the run and see if Leftwich can beat them in the air. Somehow NMSU holds UTEP to under 200 yards rushing
Big thanks to Jason for taking time to answer our burning NMSU questions, check out the Q&A we did for the Las Cruces Sun-News. Also check out the Q&A we filled out for BleedCrimson.net.