New Mexico State Aggies 2015 Preview and Prediction

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#124 New Mexico State Aggies

NATIONAL FORECAST

#124

Sun Belt PREDICTION

#9

HEAD COACH: Doug Martin, 4-20 (2 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Doug Martin | DEF. COORDINATOR: Zane Vance

Optimism is not usually plentiful for New Mexico State, but that may be the case for the Aggies this season. New Mexico State improved on offense late last year, scoring 35 points in the finale at Arkansas State. If the defense with 10 returning starters can keep up, the Aggies might — might — be able to double last season’s win total (two).

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Previewing New Mexico State’s Offense for 2015
 

The Aggies moved to an up-tempo, quick-passing game under offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon last season, and while it wasn’t a consistent success, it was an identity — something the program has sorely lacked in recent years. 

Brandon is gone (he replaced Bob Stitt as head coach at Colorado School of Mines), but New Mexico State returns the majority of an offensive roster that began to figure it out last year. 

Sophomore running back Larry Rose III amassed 1,102 yards (on a healthy 5.9-yard average) in his rookie season and will be the primary rusher in the single-back offense. Junior Teldrick Morgan will be the top option in the passing game and is looking to build on a breakout season. 

But the effort to find the man to take the helm of the offense is a battle that will likely play out deep into fall camp. Tyler Rogers held the position last season and at times looked like he was the man for the job. But Rogers’ 23-interception season kept the competition open, and South Florida product Nick Jeanty closed the gap in spring camp. Sophomore Andrew Allen is also part of the fray.  

Whichever quarterback wins the job will be playing behind one of the better offensive lines in the Sun Belt. The Aggies lose linchpin center Valerian Ume-Ezeoke to graduation, but guard Isaiah Folasa-Lutui and tackle Houston Clemente are a tremendous left side on a unit that allowed only 10 sacks last season.  

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Previewing New Mexico State’s Defense for 2015
 

While the NMSU offense found a system that worked in 2014, the Aggie defense will enter 2015 in flux. The ’14 unit was young and small, and subsequently one of the worst defenses in the country. The Aggies had the nation’s sixth-best passing defense in terms of yards per game last year, but that’s because teams didn’t need to throw it against NMSU. The Aggies were dead last nationally in rushing yards against, allowing 309.9 per game. 

Size on the front seven is a major issue, as starting defensive linemen Kalei Auelua and Stody Bradley both played last year at about 240 pounds. The Aggies return only three sacks from 2014.

The vast majority of the defensive roster returns in 2015, and new coordinator Zane Vance is hoping that a year in the weight room will spark an improvement on the field. 

Despite the struggles of the Aggies defense in 2014, there were positives to be gleaned from the secondary and linebacking corps. Free safety Kawe Johnson was a diminutive wrecking ball, and linebacker Rodney Butler’s 7.5 tackles for a loss were impressive, considering how easy it was for opponents to get out of their own backfield. 

Scheme will play a major factor in the Aggies’ effort to turn around their defense. Vance will use more zone blitzes in an effort to mask the Aggies’ lack of size with deception and frenetic play.

Related: Athlon's 2015 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128

Previewing New Mexico State’s Specialists for 2015 
 

The Aggies’ special teams last year were terrible. Morgan is a threat on returns, but the lack of team depth made itself known on special teams, as the blocking was never there to break a return for a touchdown. Another year of experience for special teamers could bring improvement — and there’s nowhere to go but up. 

Final Analysis
 

The Aggies started to figure it out last year, and if the offense continues to progress, they’ll be able to stay competitive in conference games. If they are to be successful, the defense will need to make a big leap — a scheme change might facilitate that improvement. Games against UTEP and New Mexico will be measuring sticks for the program and the progress it’s made.