NCAA Football Preview - New Mexico State Aggies

12:29 PM, Aug 21, 2013   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -

2012 SEASON IN REVIEW: The Aggies kicked off the 2012 season, their last as a member of the Western Athletic Conference, on a positive note as they registered a resounding 49-19 victory over FCS foe Sacramento State at home in late August, but from there the rest of the campaign was ugly.

After punishing a Hornets squad that finished the year at 6-5, NMSU went on to drop 11 straight outings. In most cases the Aggies bowed by double digits, although there was that one meeting with Idaho in early October that was decided by just eight points (26-18). The squad allowed at least 28 points in all but three games a season ago, with a high of 66 being permitted to Texas State on the road in the finale.

A week prior to losing to the Bobcats by an unsightly 38 points, the Aggies suffered a painful 50-14 loss versus BYU at home. In fact, in the final four games NMSU was outscored by a combined 205-56. It should come as little surprise that New Mexico State was 117th in the nation in scoring defense overall, giving up 39.4 ppg, partly due to the fact that the squad was tied for 116th in tackles for loss per game (4.00) and 118th in sacks (0.83). The offense was barely visible in most games because almost immediately the group was fighting an uphill battle, eventually finishing with just 18.7 ppg (112th).

With 11 straight defeats to close out 2012, NMSU is tied for the second- longest skid in the nation heading into the new season, trailing only Southern Miss which was winless in 12 tries. The last victory for the Aggies against another member of the Football Bowl Subdivision came on Nov. 12, 2011 in a narrow 48-45 final over Fresno State. Before he could be ushered out, head coach DeWayne Walker opted to take the defensive backs coaching position with the Jacksonville Jaguars in the NFL, paving the way for Doug Martin to become the 34th head coach in program history in February.

Initially, Martin came back to the program in the middle of January to become the new offensive coordinator, but just a week later he was named the interim head coach and a week after that accepted the position on a full-time basis.

"I am thrilled for the opportunity and very appreciative that (New Mexico State Athletic Director) Dr. Boston and the administration have the confidence in me to move this program forward," Martin said of his hiring. "I think there is unlimited potential in this program and in this city and I look forward to building this football program to be part of the City of Las Cruces."


OFFENSE: The Aggies have plenty of returning starters on the offensive side of the ball, but that does not always equate to success. A quartet of experienced linemen (Davonte Wallace, Valerian Ume-Ezeoke, Andy Cunningham and Dada Richards) will settle in and try to protect quarterback Andrew Manley.

The signal-caller was lucky to survive last season after the line in front of him allowed an average of 3.5 sacks per contest, the highest rate in the WAC and 116th in the nation in terms of frequency. Somehow Manley still found enough opportunity to convert 53.9 percent of his passes for 230.3 ypg and 18 touchdowns.

The good news for Manley and the offense is that Austin Franklin, one of the top performers in the WAC a year ago, is back to reprise his role as a dangerous receiver after catching 74 passes for 1,245 yards and nine touchdowns. Franklin also doubled as a punt returner, but those eight opportunities generated a grand total of just nine net yards which was extremely disappointing.

Averaging only 97.6 ypg on the ground, 114th in the country, the Aggies put themselves in several holes because they just couldn't gain enough coming out of the backfield. Germi Morrison was the top performer in that department with 767 yards on 159 attempts, but he landed in the end zone just two times. He hopes to be given more chances this year and aid in the scoring effort, but based on what the team did in 2012 (3.0 yards per carry, 11 TDs), the outlook is far from bright.

DEFENSE: Forced to spend so much time on the field, it only makes sense that the Aggies had a player with triple-digit tackles a year ago, as Davis Cazares racked up 116 stops. Unfortunately, all those tackles were coming from the free safety position which means far too many plays were breaking into the secondary and NMSU was giving up big gains at an alarming rate.

Leading the charge among the linebackers again this season is Trashaun Nixon who was second on the unit with 96 stops in 12 games, accounting for 9.5 tackles for loss (first) and three sacks (tied for first). Nixon may not have been that much of a crook, but he did manage two takeaways, logging one of the team's four interceptions.

Two more picks were posted by George Callender, the strong safety also placing third on the team with 86 overall stops.

Unfortunately, forcing turnovers was not a strength of the Aggies a year ago as they placed 117th in the country in turnover margin with minus-1.50 per contest, the team matching South Florida for the fewest forced turnovers in the nation with just nine.

Trying to fill the void left by Donte Savage (seven TFL, three sacks, two blocked kicks) will also be a key element for a defense that has a lot of work to do in 2013.

SPECIAL TEAMS: It was clear last season that field goal kicking was far from a priority for the Aggies. The squad made a collective 2-of-6, both of those conversions coming from Tyler Stampler. Maxwell Johnson tried his hand at the task and missed both his attempts, between 40-49 yards. Johnson is being penciled in to fill the position this year, but considering how poorly the job was done in 2012, there's no telling how that experiment might turn out.

Due to a struggling offense, punter Cayle Chapman-Brown was probably pushed to his limits a year ago, called upon to kick away 70 times in 12 games. Except for the season finale versus Texas State when he punted only once, Chapman- Brown booted the ball no less than four times in any one outing and was called on to kick nine times versus both Auburn and BYU. He averaged a solid 44.3 yards per kick, with 19 stretching beyond 50 yards, so there's no way the Aggies are even looking for another option at this point.

OUTLOOK: New Mexico State's existence as an Independent for college football is only a temporary one. The team plans to join the Sun Belt Conference beginning next season, a league for which it previously competed between 2001-05 before joining the WAC.

"I'm very excited about competing in the Sun Belt, said coach Martin. "Obviously, the steps the conference took this past season as far as getting into four bowl games and upsetting some BCS teams really established the Sun Belt as a top mid-major conference. The Sun Belt is a conference that is on the rise and we look forward to contributing to it."

There will be several rivalries that will be revived once the Aggies make the move for 2014, but for now the team has a mix-and-match slate that will be very difficult to navigate. The squad kicks off 2013 with a visit to Texas in late August, and then hosts both Minnesota and UTEP in back-to-back weeks. The Aggies then get their fill of California, playing at UCLA and a week later hosting San Diego State.

The first half of the campaign closes out with the heated rivalry game against New Mexico, this time in Albuquerque.

The second half has several potential wins as the team clashes with Rice, Abilene Christian and former league foe, Idaho at home, so perhaps all is not lost for the Aggies during their one and only year as an Independent.

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