By Gregg Xenakes, Associate College Football Editor
2009 SEASON IN REVIEW: First-year head coach DeWayne Walker took his lumps in his first year with the Aggies, fumbling through a dismal campaign when the team managed a total of just three wins in 13 opportunities. All three of
those victories came by just three points over the likes of Prairie View A&M,
New Mexico and Utah State, so nothing was easy for NMSU even when the program
had reason to celebrate.
Right out of the gate the Aggies found out what they were made of as they
absorbed a 21-6 loss versus Idaho at home in the Western Athletic Conference
opener. Near the end of September, the annual battle for state bragging rights
took place in Albuquerque and for the first time since 1999 the Aggies
actually prevailed in a 20-17 final versus the New Mexico Lobos. Two weeks
later, the squad picked up a 20-17 triumph versus Utah State at home,
accounting for their lone WAC win of the season in eight opportunities.
Following the USU decision the Aggies fell into a massive slump, one that saw
them produce just 16 total points in four games against Louisiana Tech, Fresno
State, Ohio State and Hawaii. Those four opponents managed to generate a
whopping 148 points as NMSU sputtered. During the third week of November the
Aggies hosted Nevada and found out firsthand why the Wolf Pack were being
revered as one of the top offenses in the nation as they dropped a season-high
63 points on the hosts. Add in defeats against San Jose State and Boise State
on the road to close out 2009 and the Aggies were left facing a 3-10 record
overall, with just one win on the road.
As recently as just a few years ago, NMSU had one of the more potent passing
attacks in all of college football, but Walker's approach brought the offense
back to reality as it ranked 118th out of 120 teams in the Football Bowl
Subdivision with just 87.8 ypg through the air last year. In terms of total
offense, New Mexico State was at the bottom of the barrel with a miserable
229.3 ypg. Needless to say, with a mere 11.5 ppg the Aggies also held down the
last spot in the country in that department as well.
OFFENSE: "I think our quarterback, he just has to manage our offense," notes
coach Walker. "I know that was something that hurt us last year; too many
interceptions, interceptions for touchdowns, not converting on third down, not
scoring touchdowns in the red zone. Your quarterback needs to be able to do
those things for you."
In returning starter Jeff Fleming the Aggies have someone who completed just
over 50 percent of his pass attempts a year ago and had a paltry four TD
passes while being picked off 12 times. As a unit, NMSU logged only six
passing TDs and a whopping 18 picks. Certainly Fleming has the experience of
having already led this offense, but coach Walker has made it known that he's
not against having more than one signal-caller taking care of the offense. In
fact, that was one of the selling points that Walker made to junior college
transfer Matt Christian, giving him an opportunity to fight for the job
"Seth (Smith), he did a great job, gained over a 1,000 yards with a struggling
offense and he's back," coach Walker says of his hard-working running back
from a year ago. "We also have another kid we signed in Kenny Turner...so
hopefully, with the combination of Seth and Kenny that'll take a little heat
off of Seth, having to carry the ball 30 to 35 times a game."
Smith came out of nowhere, a walk-on in 2009, to become just the third player
since 1969 to rush for more than 1,000 yards. However, Smith scored just once
on the ground and took one beating after another as he carried the ball 246
times over the course of 13 games. Turner, a transfer from Fullerton, could
find himself right in the mix coming out of the backfield.
Even though they fell far short of being huge threats heading down the field,
Todd Lee and Marcus Allen are both back at wide receiver in 2010, which should
give Fleming and Christian some confidence. Allen averaged almost 12 yards per
catch and scored twice to lead the unit in terms of receiving touchdowns.
DEFENSE: The action for the Aggies will again begin on the front line as
defensive ends Donte Savage and Pierre Fils try to recreate the havoc they
caused in 2009. Between the two they combined for 13 sacks, the seven logged
by Fils representing the most by an NMSU performer since 1992. Senior John
Finua is a thick tackle who will bring size and experience to the line as
The biggest issue for the Aggies will be finding replacements for their full
complement of linebackers, as all four starters from a year ago were seniors
and have now moved on. Early indications are that Frank Padilla and Boyblue
Aoelua, a pair of juniors, will step into a couple of those positions, the
third spot being filled out by sophomore B.J. Adolpho who was credited with 11
tackles through 10 games last year. The middle of the field will experience
some growing pains for the Aggies, but perhaps the return of Davon House in
the secondary will help ease the pain somewhat.
House, who was named to the All-WAC First Team as a junior, recorded 68
tackles last season and led the team with three interceptions. What's more,
House is well versed in what to do with the turnovers he claims, having
already set the school record for interception return yards in a career. The
sprite defensive back also scored twice on defense in 2009, bringing back a
pick versus Hawaii and scooping up a fumble and crossing the goal line against
Louisiana Tech. Jonte Green joins House at the DB spot, while seniors Alphonso
Powell and Stephon Hatchett handle the safety positions once again for the
Aggies, a team that hasn't had a winning record since going 7-5 during their
second year in the Sun Belt Conference back in 2002.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Considering how poor the offense was for the Aggies last
season, kicker Kyle Hughes will again be that much important in 2010 if
significant changes are not made. Hughes held down both the punting and place
kicking duties, averaging 41.8 yards per punt when he needed to transition
NMSU from offense to defense, and also knocked through 9-of-15 field goal
attempts. Again, nothing to really write home about, but at least those points
were a step in the right direction. Marcus Allen, a transfer from Modesto
Junior College who is also a primary receiver for the squad, will handle the
majority of the kickoffs this season after averaging close to 22 yards per
chance last year.
OUTLOOK: Suffering from one of the longest losing streaks in the nation
entering the new season, the Aggies need something/anything, to give them
confidence to struggle through yet another difficult campaign. Having an extra
week off to prepare, the Aggies don't play their first game until September
11th, should give them a fighting chance against the San Diego State Aztecs in
that first battle, especially since it will be at home in Las Cruces.
Unfortunately, NMSU is slated to take on UTEP and Kansas in back-to-back weeks
on the road and then have the honor of kicking off the WAC schedule against
mighty Boise State, a team that defeated the Aggies by five touchdowns last
season. This year the annual in-state rivalry with New Mexico is in Las Cruces
and the Lobos are a program that are involved in a long and arduous rebuilding
plan so that could easily be the first win of the season for NMSU. However,
the rest of the WAC is shaping up to be rather formidable and perhaps only
home meetings with San Jose State and Hawaii could possibly be rescued from an
otherwise difficult year.