This week I had to venture out of the trust tree that is the world of SBNation blogs to find someone who covers the New Mexico State Aggies. Who I found, however, certainly knows a thing or two about the squad that calls Las Cruces, New Mexico home.
Teddy Feinberg, who covers NMSU athletics for the Las Cruces Sun-News and also maintains a blog called Cruces Sports, was nice enough to take some time to answer my questions about his thoughts on the Aggies and on their tilt with our Gophers this Saturday.
JDMill: Admittedly, I don't know a lot about New Mexico State football. Okay, I know nothing. As far as I can tell the Aggies have been bad for quite awhile, having not made it to a bowl games since the 1960 Sun Bowl and going 1-11 last season. Is that the outlook for 2013 as well?
Teddy Feinberg: Unfortunately, yes. But it has just as much to do with an overpowering independent schedule than anything else. The Aggies brought in a brand-new head coach this offseason (Doug Martin) and have at least taken steps in the right direction (paying for a legitimate offensive coordinator, beefing up their strength and conditioning program). Albeit, they can't stop there with such commitment. And when you look at the 2013 docket (Texas, UCLA, Minnesota, San Diego State, Rice and Louisiana-Lafayette, to name some very tough opponents) you have to think three to four wins in 2013 would be a terrific achievement.
JD: The Aggies lost big to Texas in Week 1, but scored first and held things close in the first half before getting overwhelmed in the 2nd half. What did you see from the Aggies in Week 1 that you think they can build off of moving forward?
TF: No question it's an improved offensive attack that, barring they don't turn the ball over and punch it in the end zone when they have the opportunity, I expect can score some points against the Gophers. Think into the 20s, while utilizing a passing attack that can attack the short-to-intermediate portion of the field.
JD: NMSU scored just under 19 pts/game during last year's 1-win season and averaged about 335 total yards/game. The Aggies played from behind most of 2012, but as far as run attempts vs pass attempts it appears that the offense was actually pretty balanced. What is the strength of this offense?
TF: I like their quarterback Andrew McDonald. He's a smart, steady player who knows how to manage the game and is underrated in his running ability. The offensive line has improved, but overall the scheme of the Aggie offense - some pistol formation, zone-read rushing attack, play-action fakes and bootlegs - has helped the overall personnel succeed at a much rate than a season ago.
JD: Andrew McDonald is a Senior QB who made his first start last week against Texas and was asked to throw the ball 46 times, completing 32 (nearly 70%) of his passes and finishing with 1 TD and 1 INT. He also lead the Aggies in rushing yardage & attempts. Is the design to have McDonald do it all, or are the Week 1 numbers skewed?
TF: Think the Week 1 numbers are largely on target. Clearly the team would like to generate a rushing attack and have McDonald cut down on his three turnovers. But he's a steady player that should continue to produce.
JD: Besides McDonald, give us a couple of other Aggies players whose names we should expect to hear on Saturday.
TF: Tight end Andy Dean came out of nowhere (six receptions, 22 yards) against Texas as the Aggies utilized their tight ends (Dean and Perris Scoggins) far more effectively. Their wide receivers (Joseph Matthews, Jerrel Brown, Josh Bowen, Adam Shapiro) aren't big-play threats but are steady and catch the ball. Running back Germi Morrison is another steady, tough runner that the team will look to get going.
Defensively, the Aggies have some talent - DLs Matt Ramondo and Willie Mobley, LB Trashaun Nixon, a veteran secondary - although that unit gave up far too many big plays against Texas.
JD: The Aggies gave up over 476 yards/game last season and 715 yards against Texas last week. Those 715 yards given up came equally from passing (356 yards) and rushing (359 yards). I'm not sure how to ask this question without sounding like a complete ass, but can the Aggies stop... anything?
TF: The Aggies are looking to create more turnovers in 2013, and to their credit they did against Texas (in the form of three first-half turnovers). Again, the Aggies have some talent on the defensive side of the ball, but are breaking in a new scheme under coordinator David Elson - a 3-4 front that relies on a one-gap, slanting pass rush, while the team utilizes more zone coverage in the secondary. In theory it sounds good, although there were holes Week 1, and the team's ability to stop Minnesota's rushing attack will be the No. 1 key going into Saturday.
JD: Who are some of the defensive players that will have an impact on Saturday?
JF: Mentioned a bunch already: Ramondo, Mobley, Nixon and a veteran secondary of cornerbacks Darien Johnson and Cameron Fuller, along with safeties George Callender and Davis Cazares. Middle linebacker Clint Barnard is a Melrose, NM native who played eight-man football in high school. He lived up to his preseason hype against Texas, however, and looked as if he belonged.
JD: Prediction time, Teddy. Who wins, what's the score, and how does the winning team make it happen?
JF: The Aggie defense has to prove it to me before I go picking them to win this game. I do think the Aggies can move the ball - again, via McDonald, the wideouts, and the short-to-intermediate passing attack. And Minnesota is different than Texas - they'll look to get NMSU in a fist fight along the lines of scrimmage, while the Longhorns just used their first-rate speed to blow by opposition. That doesn't mean the Gophers can't pound away along the trenches, and I think time of possession will be a KEY statistic in this football game (simply because it will tell us how well Minnesota is in fact running the football). It's still mid-week and more preparatory work needs to be done, although I'll say Minnesota 38, NMSU 24 final.