NEW ... 2012 New Mexico State Preview
Posted Aug 8, 2012 2012 Preview - New Mexico State Aggies

New Mexico State Aggies

Preview 2012

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: DeWayne Walker
4th year: 9-30
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 17, Def. 13, ST 4
Lettermen Lost: 19
Ten Best NMSU Players
1. QB Andrew Manley, Soph.
2. OT Davonte Wallace, Jr.
3. DE Donte Savage, Sr.
4. WR Kemonte Bateman, Sr.
5. LB Bryan Bonilla, Jr.
6. LB Alexander LaVoy, Sr.
7. WR Kevan Walker, Sr.
8. RB Robert Clay, Sr.
9. NT Walton Taumoepeau, Sr.
10. TE Trevor Walls, Sr.
2012 Schedule
Aug. 30 Sacramento State
Sept. 8 at Ohio
Sept. 15 at UTEP
Sept. 22 New Mexico
Sept. 29 UTSA
Oct. 6 at Idaho
Oct. 20 at Utah State
Oct. 27 Louisiana Tech
Nov. 3 at Auburn
Nov. 10 San Jose State
Nov. 24 BYU
12/01 at Texas State
There couldn't be a more perfect time for the Aggies to come up with their first winning season since 2002. Unfortunately, it's going to take a special effort to get there.

It might not have seemed like it with a 4-9 record, but there were big strides made last season. The defense couldn't stop anyone and the special teams were lousy, but the passing game worked and the offense actually moved the ball a little bit. With wins over Minnesota and Fresno State, there were some nice moments in DeWayne Walker's third season. However, three of the four victories came by a touchdown or less while eight of the nine losses were blowouts. Worst of all, 2011 was supposed to be when things started to come together and now the program has to rebuild a little bit.

NMSU might have to deal with life as an independent in the near future as it tries to figure out what it's going to do after everyone but Idaho bails on the WAC's sinking ship. The Mountain West and Sun Belt might be possibilities for down the road, even though they don't have any interest, but for this year the goal is to build up the pieces in a hurry to come up with a decent record.

There were big changes made in the coaching staff and several players are about to get more of an opportunity to show what they can do after getting their feet wet last year, but the big key is going to be simply to start winning more of the games that they're supposed to.

The winnable games will be there against New Mexico, UTSA, Idaho, San Jose State and Texas State, to go along with the opener against Sacramento State, but this might not be the type of team that can go 6-0 against the weak and the sad. At least it hasn't been in the recent past.

The first step will be to get a healthy backfield. Andrew Manley is the type of quarterback who can carry the team on his shoulders to big things, but he's coming off a knee injury. Robert Clay is a promising running back, but the offense loses playmaker Kenny Turner and solid backup quarterback Matt Christian, who finished second on the team in rushing. The receiving corps might be promising, but the top two targets are gone and three starters have to be replaced on the line.

The defense that was such a nightmare last year – especially against the run – has to count on a slew of new guys to steady things up front and has to hope that new defensive coordinator David Elson can come up with a little bit of magic. The secondary loses its top producers and the linebacking corps could be far, far more consistent. This group wasn't even close at times over the second half of last year, getting worse as the season went on.

But it's not all doom and gloom. Walker is a promising coaching talent who's in a tough spot, but he is building up the athletes and has just enough returning talent and just enough key players returning from injury to get by. Will five wins be enough to make the other conferences interested? No, but the program has to take a step forward in victories or else it could be a new coaching era next season as well as for the school.

What to watch for on offense: Can the O line keep the quarterbacks upright? The Aggies gave up 35 sacks last season with Manley getting knocked out for the year early on. The receivers should be there to help make the passing game go, and Manley is a bomber who can come up with big stats if he's on, but he needs time to stay in one piece. Left tackle Davonte Wallace is a good one to work around, but it will take some work to find the right guys for three other key spots including right tackle. The running game might be okay, but if the line can't pass protect, the offense won't go.

What to watch for on defense: The line will try to do something, anything against the run. The Aggies had a hard time last season against anyone who wanted to try pounding away, allowing 33 touchdowns and doing nothing against the quirkier attacks allowing 374 yards and seven scores against Nevada and 392 yards against Utah State. Generating more pressure on the quarterback would be nice, but the biggest key will be to gum up the works on the inside needing veteran Walter Taumoepeau to shine on the nose and for JUCO transfer Kalvin Cruz to come up with a big year at tackle. In all four wins the defense allowed fewer than 200 yards on the ground.

The team will be far better if … it can stop someone from scoring. The Aggies allowed close to 37 points per game and got lit up over the back half of the season going through a six-game stretch allowing 42 points or more. It's not like NMSU has been able to do much in shootouts, going 1-7 when allowing 30 points or more last season and going 1-27 since beating Nevada 48-45 in 2008 when giving up more than four touchdowns. The firepower could be there this season if Manley is fine, but it's still asking a lot for the team to be able to go toe-to-toe with the better offenses. The D has to finally start showing up in the Walker era.

The schedule: The Aggies should be improved and should take a step forward, but that won't necessarily mean a winning record with a tougher-than-it-looks non-conference schedule. Ohio might be the best team in the MAC and going to UTEP won't be a layup. Can NMSU get by New Mexico in the rivalry game? Any chance of a winning season might depend on it. There's a nice stretch over the second half of the season with just one road game over a five-week stretch before closing out the year at Texas State.

Best offensive player: Sophomore QB Andrew Manley. On the plus side, his knee injury happened just early enough to allow him time to heal. He was ready to go this offseason, but he was kept on the sidelines as a precaution. With excellent size and a great arm, he's exactly what the offense needs to start pushing the ball deeper and generating more big plays. Travaughn Colwell is a promising young quarterback who could add some more spark with his running ability and decent arm, but this is Manley's offense to run.

Best defensive player: Senior DE Donte Savage. Call this a bit of a projection. Linebackers Bryan Bonilla and Alexander LaVoy should be the statistical stars, but it should be up to Savage to step up the play of the defense after missing all of last year because of academic issues. A terrific pass rusher as a sophomore, he ended up making 53 tackles and six sacks before struggling a bit with just 36 tackles in 2010. If he's back to form, all of a sudden the Aggies have a pass rush again.

Key player to a successful season: Senior RB Robert Clay. The offense might revolve around Manley and the passing game, but the biggest hole to fill on offense will be Kenny Turner, who ran for 1,974 yards and ten scores. Clay is a good, quick back who ran for 133 yards and a score in his limited time, but he has mostly been a special teamer so far. He and JUCO transfer Akeelie Mustafa have try to balance the attack out a little bit and they must prove that NMSU can control the tempo a bit.

The season will be a success if … the Aggies do the near-impossible and go bowling. It might seem like a huge, huge task for a team with so many problems, but considering that there isn't a conference home to go to after this season, this would be a fine time to come up with a huge year. The last bowl appearance was the 1960 Sun Bowl against Utah State, and it might take a 13th game to get on someone's radar.

Key game: Sept. 15 at UTEP. The Aggies had UTEP in trouble last season. The defense was doing its job, especially against the pass, and Manley threw for 242 yards. However, the offense couldn't manage more than a field goal in the second half in the tough 16-10 loss. If NMSU can pull out the road win early on, and then hold serve at home in winnable games against New Mexico and UTSA, all of a sudden a 5-1 start might actually be possible going into a bye-week before the road trip to Utah State.

2011 Fun Stats:
- Penalties: NMSU 87 for 661 yards – Opponents 54 for 472 yards
- Sacks: NMSU 35 for 216 yards – Opponents 17 for 84 yards
- Punt return average: Opponents 16 yards – NMSU 5.6 yards
- 2012 New Mexico State Preview | 2012 New Mexico State Offense
- 2012 New Mexico State Defense | 2012 New Mexico State Depth Chart