Mountain West Football: First Look At The New Mexico State Aggies
Nevada, Hawaii, New Mexico, and San Jose State will all head to Las Cruces for non-conference football action against NMSU.
The end of a mini-era?
New Mexico State football has had a uniquely close relationship with the Mountain West over the last handful of seasons, playing a number of teams from the conference to survive in the wilderness of college football independence.
That time may be coming to a close, though, as realignment has enabled the Aggies to find a new home in Conference USA starting next year. After taking their lumps against the Mountain West last season, can New Mexico State find more fight with a new head coach in tow?
Location: Las Cruces, New Mexico
2021 Record: 2-10
Head Coach: Jerry Kill (first season at NMSU, 154-101 overall). After Doug Martin’s Aggies stunned Utah State in the 2017 Arizona Bowl, New Mexico State found it difficult to maintain that momentum and won a total of eight games in the following four seasons. That drop-off ended up costing Martin his job as head coach, but the program found an experienced hand to try and right the ship.
Jerry Kill is no stranger to winning at tough jobs, though, going all the way back to his days at Division II Saginaw Valley State. Most recently, he helped turn Minnesota around after the disappointing Tim Brewster era until health issues forced a resignation, then upset a ranked Baylor squad after taking over for Gary Patterson at TCU as interim coach last fall.
Chris Ojoh, LB
Ojoh first emerged as a star during his time at FCS Eastern Washington, picking up over 100 tackles during the Eagles’ run to the national championship game in 2018. After injuries derailed him in 2019 and COVID upended everything in 2020, he transferred to NMSU and blew up in his first year with the Aggies, leading the defense with 16 tackles for loss and six sacks while finishing second with 72 total tackles. He’ll be the anchor for what could be a much stouter unit overall.
12:10, 3Q | 𝐒•𝐀•𝐅•𝐄•𝐓•𝐘@ChrisOjoh gets after Wilson and forces the intentional grounding foul which results in the safety!
— New Mexico State Football (@NMStateFootball) September 12, 2021
Trevor Brohard, LB
Ojoh might be the defense’s headliner, but his linebacker running mate is pretty good in his own right. Though Brohard missed three games with injury last year, he still finished third among Aggies defenders with 71 tackles and seven tackles for loss, chipping in two sacks for good measure.
4:09, 2Q | BALL!
Trevor Brohard forces a fumble, and Caleb Mills recovers to give possession back to the Aggies!
— New Mexico State Football (@NMStateFootball) November 20, 2021
Ethan Albertson, K
The NMSU offense scuffled a lot last year, but Albertson made sure a lot of opportunities didn’t go to waste. Not only was he 17-of-22 on field goal tries in 2021, he was 6-of-8 on attempts from 40 yards and beyond and established himself as a reliable scoring option.
DJ McCullough, CB
When the Aggies needed a big play to stop opposing quarterbacks in their tracks last year, McCullough was the most likely candidate to deliver. In his first year at NMSU after transferring from Kansas’s Garden City Community College, he led the defense with three interceptions while also pitching in with 42 tackles and two tackles for loss.
Donavan King, DE
After spending 2018 and 2019 as a part-time contributor, King emerged as a promising run-stuffer in his first full season as a starter. In 11 games last season, he had 34 tackles, ten tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks, providing the pass rush a little bit of much-needed juice.
Q2 | 2:20 | ⬇️ 14-10
CROWN HIM 👑
— New Mexico State Football (@NMStateFootball) March 7, 2021
You may have noticed that the key players above are all contributors on special teams and defense. That’s because the Aggies were not only woeful on offense in 2021 (4.99 yards per play, 112th in FBS; 111th in offensive SP+; 117th in offensive points per drive), they now have to identify new starters at quarterback, running back, and wide receiver.
Albuquerque native Diego Pavia could be the answer after leading New Mexico Military Institute to a NCJAA national title last year, though he’ll have to fend off incumbents Dino Maldonado and Weston Eget to secure the QB1 job for good. Running back O’Maury Samuels is the team’s top returner at the position, but after averaging just 3.11 yards per carry, other transfer portal reinforcements like Jamoni Jones (Northeastern Oklahoma A&M) and Ahmonte Watkins (TCU) could get long looks to lead a committee.
Thankfully, the offensive line is mostly intact despite losing star tackle Sage Doxtater to the NFL. Carson Pherris, Domo Omerhi, and Gabriel Preciado all started the lion’s share of games in 2021 and Southern Utah transfer Canaan Yarro has 18 games of starting experience in his career, as well. If the Aggies can improve upon a stuff rate allowed that ranked 118th in the country last year, they could be a much more effective thorn in the side.
Despite the individual performances mentioned above, NMSU’s defense got roasted early and often last year. To give you an idea of how rough it got, only Duke gave up more 20-yard plays (84) and only Arkansas State allowed more 50-yard plays (16). The Aggies’ line yards per carry allowed, stuff rate, opportunity rate, and sack rate all ranked in the triple digits nationally, too, so Kill and new defensive coordinator Nate Drelling have work to do.
The good news? Linebacker is more or less set between Ojoh and Brohard while a pass defense that allowed 9.5 yards per attempt (127th in FBS) and a 68.3% opponents’ completion rate (126th) got some badly needed reinforcements. Transfer portal arrivals like Bryce Jackson (UNLV) and Andre Seldon (Michigan) will bolster a secondary that already featured McCullough, sophomore cornerback Syrus Dumas (8 passes broken up, two interceptions), and sophomore free safety Dylan Early.
The Aggies also return a lot of talent along the defensive line beyond King, too, like sophomore defensive tackle Lama Lavea and junior defensive end Lazarus Williams. If nothing else, regression to the mean will lead to some probable improvements across the board.
New Mexico State did good work pulling together some talent through the transfer portal, but on paper it looks like the Aggies will be in much better shape for 2023 than for this fall. With the numerous lingering questions on offense, they may still find themselves lacking even against those teams in the Mountain West undergoing substantial overhauls of their own.
Nevada 23, New Mexico State 20
Hawaii 31, New Mexico State 28
New Mexico 26, New Mexico State 17
San Jose State 42, New Mexico State 20