No team faced a more difficult first two weeks to the 2019 season than New Mexico State, who is set to host San Diego State on Saturday.
Who: San Diego State (2-0) at New Mexico State (0-2)
When: Saturday, Sept. 14, 6 p.m. MT
Where: Aggie Memorial Stadium; Las Cruces, New Mexico
Watch: LIVE on FloFootball
The Aggies opened the year with road games at Washington State, coming off a program-best 11-win campaign. They then traveled to Tuscaloosa for a matchup with No. 2-ranked Alabama, college football’s most dominant dynasty of the era and what New Mexico State coach Doug Martin called in his press conference, “as close as you’ll get to playing an NFL football team.”
The Aggies come home to Las Cruces for the first time in 2019, but the challenge hardly relents. San Diego State comes to Aggie Memorial Stadium fresh off its first-ever win over UCLA last week in the Rose Bowl, off to a 2-0 start, and aiming for its fourth 10-plus-win season in the last five.
“Them being at home, and not playing a Top 25 team, I betcha they’re really excited about the possibility of getting a win,” San Diego State coach Rocky Long said in his press conference on Tuesday. “If you look at their film … they’re a much better football team than they were against Alabama. Most people that play Alabama look bad.”
Defending A Jekyll & Hyde Passing Attack
Too much can’t be taken from New Mexico State’s passing defense numbers from the first two weeks. The Aggies faced Washington State’s renowned air-raid attack in Week 1, then matched up with arguably the most talented wide receiving corps in the country Week 2 at Alabama.
Likewise, one can’t define San Diego State’s passing offense based off the Aztecs’ first two weeks — mostly because it produced two very different performances.
Weber State gave itself a chance to win Week 1 at San Diego State when it held Aztecs quarterback Ryan Agnew to just 16-of-30 passing for 108 yards. In contrast, Agnew picked UCLA apart to the tune of almost 300 yards.
“It was a great game plan our coaches put in place for us to be successful,” Agnew said of adjustments made between Weeks 1 and 2. “The main reason we could use the entire field was that our offensive line played tremendous.”
Offensive line play was indeed a big difference for San Diego State in the two contests; although Weber State only made one sack in Week 1, the Wildcats delivered consistent pressure with four quarterback hurries.
The secondary also did its job, breaking up six passes. New Mexico State’s front and backline both have an opportunity to apply the lessons of Week 1 and 2 matchups against some of the best offensive lines and receivers in the country to counter San Diego State.
The Aggies’ size in the secondary is a definite boon; look for 6-foor-2 Ray Buford Jr. to match-up well with 6-foot-3 Aztecs playmaker Kobe Smith.
San Diego State coach Rocky Long innovated the 3-3-5 odd stack defensive look, which emphasizes speed and aggression. It’s a much different look than the Aggies saw against Alabama’s physically battering defensive style, and only comparable to the unique shifts and stunts of Tracy Claeys’ Washington State insomuch as both are unusual.
Blitz packages can come from all angles in San Diego State’s defense, fueled by versatile athletes like safety Dwayne Johnson and linebacker Kyahva Tezino.
Coming at such a multi-dimensional defense requires an equally multifaceted offense. Expect Martin to divvy up rushing opportunities, as the Aggies have through the first two games, in order to offer different looks. One ball-carrier to watch is redshirt freshman Josh Foley, who got his first opportunities at Alabama and produced an impressive 7.1-yard per carry average.
Both establishing a run game early, and stepping up in pass protection, are critical for Josh Adkins to operate. Adkins threw his first touchdown pass of 2019 at Alabama.
Turnovers & Opportunities
New Mexico State’s 17 combined points through the first two weeks belies some of the positives in the Aggies offense. Against Washington State in particular, New Mexico State missed a field goal, fumbled in the end zone and had a drive stall in Cougars territory.
Long said in his press conference the Aggies offense played well enough to put 28 points on the board, but just missed opportunities.
Similarly, Martin emphasized ahead of Alabama week that a key takeaway he hoped to see in Tuscaloosa, even if the score was lopsided, was cutting down on self-inflicted mistakes.
Adkins threw an interception, but New Mexico State avoided fumbles. Maximizing possessions will again be a theme, this time both in terms of limiting giveaways, and capitalizing in the red zone. The Aggies went 1-of-2 capitalizing in the red zone at Alabama.