Mountain West Football: First Look At The New Mexico State Aggies
NMSU will face three Mountain West schools in 2019: Fresno State, New Mexico, and San Diego State. Here’s a first look at the Aggies.
Can the Aggies trouble their MW foes again?
Last year really did not go according to plan for New Mexico State. After stunning Utah State in the 2017 Arizona Bowl, the Aggies had hopes to build upon the program’s first winning season since 2002 but fell back to 3-9 instead.
Life as an independent FBS squad can be rough, and it may not get much easier with a trio of motivated Mountain West teams on the schedule: Fresno State is working to stay at the top of the conference, New Mexico is eager to rebound from its own slump, and San Diego State wants to put 2018’s late-season slide behind them. All will give NMSU their best looks, so here’s our first look at their common opponent.
Location: Las Cruces, NM
Mascot: Pistol Pete
2018 Record: 3-9
Head Coach: Doug Martin (seventh year; 20-53 at NMSU, 49-106 overall). Difficult jobs remain difficult and steering the Aggies toward competitiveness is still an uphill battle despite the program’s breakthrough two seasons ago. The team did drop two one-score decisions to Texas State and Liberty last fall, but they also were not competitive in three games against the Mountain West, either, losing to Wyoming, Utah State and New Mexico by an average of four touchdowns.
DE Cedric Wilcots II
The NMSU struggled mightily in a lot of ways throughout 2018, but one thing the Aggies did very well was rush the passer. Enter Wilcots II, who paced the team with seven sacks and racked up 9.5 tackles for loss despite playing in only ten games, and he enters this fall as one of the defense’s impact seniors.
DT Roy Lopez
Wilcots II, however, wasn’t the only disruptive force facing high expectations last fall. The difference between he and the 313-pound Lopez is that the latter stayed healthy and performed well despite the larger injury bug affecting everyone around him. Lopez had four sacks himself and led NMSU with twelve tackles for loss, providing a force to be reckoned with in the interior.
CB/S Shamad Lomax
After starting seven games as a freshman in 2016, Lomax has had a presence in the defensive backfield ever since, finishing last year with ten passes defended and an interception. He has seven in all in his NMSU career while spending time at both cornerback and safety, so quarterbacks beware.
RB/KR Jason Huntley
Huntley had the kind of all-around performance that would’ve fit right in among the Mountain West’s best specialists last year. He ran for 505 yards (4.63 yards per carry), caught 47 passes for 529 yards with a 70.2% catch rate, and scored 13 total touchdowns.
Oh, did we mention that three of those scores came on kick returns? Among players with at least 20 returns, Huntley finished seventh in the FBS with 27.2 yards per return. In a close game, he’s the kind of player who could easily swing things into NMSU’s favor.
QB Josh Adkins
New Mexico State cycled through three different starting quarterbacks last fall before Adkins, then a freshman, gave the offense a semblance of stability. It was definitely a trial by fire, but he played a significant role whenever the Aggies broke through: He owned 163.56 passer rating in wins and a 99.06 rating in losses.
Continuity should make for more consistent performances in 2019. Adkins is set at quarterback while the backfield duo of Huntley and Christian Gibson, who averaged 6.2 yards per carry while leading NMSU in rushing, is a potent one.
Losing their leading receiver from last year will hurt, but they do bring in Tony Nicholson as a transfer from Baylor and do bring back a pair of pass-catchers who had more than 70 targets in 2018: O.J. Clark and Drew Dan. Together, they’ll hope to rejuvenate a passing game that ranked 125th by S&P+.
There weren’t a lot of Aggies that made it through the season unscathed, but those that did like Lopez, Lomax and linebacker Jonathan Hood provide a solid foundation that better health can solidify. Wilcots could be one beneficiary, as could linebacker Javahn Henderson, but they will all need to improve a unit that allowed 5.06 yards per carry on the ground and 7.7 yards per pass attempt.
If the pass rush remains intact, don’t forget: The NMSU defense finished 95th by S&P+ in 2017 with most of these same players. While that may not sound like much on its face, it was (per Bill Connelly) still the second-best defense in roughly four decades and could pose problems for a sluggish offense.