New Mexico State has to be mistake-free — and more — against Lobos
The formula for winning football games is usually pretty simple.
In most ways it involves not making mistakes like turning the ball over, taking unnecessary penalties that negate big plays, and allowing the opponent’s defense to drop your quarterback with regularity.
New Mexico State did all those things to virtual perfection in last week’s season opener at UTEP. The Aggies lost anyway, dropping a 38-22 decision that left head coach Doug Martin searching for answers.
“I don’t know that I’ve had that very much in my career, so that’s quite something for an offense to get that done,” Martin said of having no offensive penalties, allowing no sacks and not turning the ball over.
Ah, but there is more to it.
Heading into Saturday’s home opener against New Mexico (1-0), the Aggies are dealing with the fact that their receivers dropped nine passes and quarterback Tyler Rogers completed just 17 of 41 passes.
Oh, and NMSU’s star running back, Larry Rose III, is listed as doubtful for the Lobos. Just a year ago he shredded UNM’s defense with 260 yards rushing and a career-high three touchdowns.
“Obviously No. 3 [Rose] is a great player,” said Lobos head coach Bob Davie. “Like all of you, I’ve seen clips of him running up and down the field in this stadium. But as far as preparation or what we call, quite honestly, or how we play — absolutely nothing changes.”
Davie’s concern is more about his own offensive line than anything NMSU might do when his defense is on the field. The Lobo D showed its growth and maturity in last week’s win over South Dakota, overcoming a shaky start against a dangerous quarterback to play most of the final three quarters in as dominant a fashion as Lobos fans can expect.
“I think through maturity and I think through the message, they were able to not overreact and panic, hung in there and we kind of settled down and got better as the game went on,” Davie said.
The Aggies present a much more physical and aggressive front line than South Dakota, a team that Davie said didn’t exactly put his linemen’s feet to the fire. NMSU forces the point of attack by getting off the ball quickly and penetrating the neutral zone in a way South Dakota never did.
“The test will become much greater this week,” Davie said. “The offensive line probably passed that first quiz, but they really haven’t had a test yet.”
In that regard, Davie wants to put the pressure squarely on NMSU’s offensive line, particularly if Rose cannot play. His absence will force Rogers to win the game with his accuracy, so getting to him quickly is UNM’s point of emphasis.
Martin said Rogers has done well protecting the ball since the start of his junior year. Now a senior, he is still a bit of a gunslinger — but one who sticks to the gameplan and doesn’t force unnecessary throws when things break down.
Evidence to that was all over the place against UTEP.
“If he’ll continue to take care of the ball like that, we’ll win our share of ball games,” Martin said.
But the Aggie receivers have to help him out. If not, a Rose-less offense is asking a lot out of a quarterback without much help.
“Look, we had nine drops,” Martin said of the UTEP game. “No quarterback can withstand that.”
Aggies RBs: If Rose sits again, freshman Jason Huntley and sophomore Royce Caldwell will get most of the reps out of the backfield. Huntley had a team-high 12 carries in the UTEP game, although Rogers led the Aggies with 63 yards on the ground.
Martin said senior Xavier Hall, a local product out of Las Cruces High School, will also get some action.
Prepping for the option: It’s no secret the Lobos run the ball. After the first weekend of the college football season they are tied with Utah State in rushing offense after churning out 428 yards on the ground against South Dakota.
Senior Teriyon Gipson ranks fourth nationally with 181 yards.
Couple that with NMSU’s trouble stopping the run, and it’s a good sign for the Lobos. UTEP running back Aaron Jones had 249 yards against the Aggies, the nation’s single-game high in Week 1.
Martin knows his defense has its hands full with UNM’s triple option spread attack.
“The effectiveness of the option is you really don’t know who’s going to carry the ball,” he said. “It could be the dive, could be the quarterback, could be the pitch. So, they’re difficult to contain.”
Must-see stuff: Built in 1978 at a cost of $4 million, Aggie Memorial Stadium seats just under 29,000. Of the top 20 crowds in NMSU history, 18 had the Aggies facing either New Mexico or UTEP.
The largest crowd ever for a UNM visit was in 2004, a 38-3 Lobo victory.
There have only been 13 crowds to surpass the stadium’s capacity. All 13 involved UNM or UTEP.