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1. "I'm just going to hide out here for a while."
You go to New Mexico to either eat or hide. Santa Fe is beautiful, and Albuquerque is tasty, but when the water begins to run out, it's going to run out in New Mexico first. If you're an outsider coming in, you're either not planning to stay long or you're staying long because you don't have much of a choice.
Doug Martin wanted to be a head football coach again, but after a mostly unsuccessful stint at Kent State -- he went 29-53 from 2004-10, but he did basically set the table for Darrell Hazell's success -- his immediate post-resignation opportunities were of the offensive coordinator variety. He was DeWayne Walker's OC at NMSU in 2011 and Frank Spaziani's OC at Boston College in 2012. But when Walker quietly fled left NMSU a year ago to become a position coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars, Martin filled the position. If he wanted to lead a program again, this was basically his only FBS option.
Martin's first year at NSMU was ... familiar. NMSU went 2-10; it was the third time in four years that the Aggies won two or fewer games in a season and seventh in 11 that they won three or fewer. But that's fine. Results aren't going to matter for a while. With realignment almost relegating the Aggies to FCS -- they were left without a conference in 2013 after the WAC's disintegration and spent the year as an independent before catching a life raft from the Sun Belt -- the goal of the program was mostly about survival, and for now they have accomplished that goal.
Martin is playing a long game, which is both admirable and scary. When you're building a program almost from scratch (and to be sure, Martin didn't inherit much from Walker), you might be tempted to load up on transfers, JUCO and otherwise. But Martin isn't going that route. He claims to want to build from high school talent, and he backed that up by signing just two JUCOs in a 25-man recruiting class earlier this February. The upside is that he can develop and sculpt talent over the long-term; the downside is that his team is going to continue to stink for a while.
He enters Year 2 tasked with replacing most of last year's play-makers, relatively speaking, and trying to figure out what the hell to do about a defense that was thin and horrendous.
2. Where old coaches ride off into the sunset
When hiring assistants to help build the moribund program you just inherited, you can basically take one of two routes. Either you go super-young and aim for hungry, inexperienced coaches who will both give your program energy and leave as soon as a bigger job finds them, or you go old and find the experienced hands who are just about to the ends of their respective careers.
Martin is taking the latter route. His offensive coordinator is 57-year-old Gregg Brandon, former Bowling Green head coach and offensive coordinator at Virginia and Wyoming. An old spread architect, Brandon is a solid teacher, but it's been a while since he was put in charge of an offense with much legitimate talent.
Meanwhile, when Martin decided to replace defensive coordinator David Elson in January, he went about as far down the experienced-old-hand route as possible. Larry Coyer has served as the defensive coordinator for Iowa (1974-77), Oklahoma State (1978), Iowa State (1979-82), the USFL's Michigan Panthers and Memphis Showboats (1983-85), Memphis State (1986), East Carolina (1993), Iowa State again (1995-96), Pittsburgh (1997-99), and the NFL's Denver Broncos (2003-06) and Indianapolis Colts (2009-11). Coyer's career began when Marshall hired him as a graduate assistant in 1965; he's now 70. He has succeeded, failed, succeeded, and failed again. He worked with Martin on crazy old Steve Logan's ECU staff in the early-1990s (one that also featured ULM coach Todd Berry), and he has a history of being both aggressive and, at times, relatively unorthodox. We'll see what he can do with a unit that was terribly outmanned a year ago.
2013 Schedule & Results
|Record: 2-10 | Adj. Record: 0-12 | Final F/+ Rk: 122|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L||5-gm Adj. Avg.|
|31-Aug||at Texas||35||7-56||L||22.3 - 62.5||L|
|7-Sep||Minnesota||55||21-44||L||21.2 - 49.9||L|
|14-Sep||UTEP||119||21-42||L||30.1 - 38.8||L|
|21-Sep||at UCLA||15||13-59||L||25.7 - 42.7||L|
|28-Sep||San Diego State||89||16-26||L||19.7 - 30.0||L||-21.0|
|5-Oct||at New Mexico||110||17-66||L||19.0 - 46.9||L||-18.5|
|19-Oct||Rice||69||19-45||L||25.8 - 39.9||L||-15.6|
|26-Oct||Abilene Christian||N/A||34-29||W||23.3 - 68.2||L||-22.8|
|2-Nov||at UL-Lafayette||86||35-49||L||28.0 - 45.7||L||-23.0|
|9-Nov||Boston College||65||34-48||L||30.7 - 45.9||L||-24.0|
|23-Nov||at Florida Atlantic||73||10-55||L||18.5 - 50.5||L||-24.8|
|30-Nov||Idaho||116||24-16||W||18.0 - 35.4||L||-25.4|
|Points Per Game||20.9||104||44.6||122|
|Adj. Points Per Game||23.5||103||46.4||125|
3. A historically awful defense
For the season as a whole, NMSU did not have the worst defense in the country. That is a sad disclaimer, but I'll go ahead and throw it out there. The unit had just enough decent moments -- the Aggies allowed just 16 points to Idaho and 26 to San Diego State -- to rank 119th in Def. F/+, ahead of a few others: Troy, UAB, Air Force, Eastern Michigan, UTEP, and rival New Mexico.
That said, the stretch from October 5 to November 23, one that encompassed six games, five losses, 292 points, and 3,272 yards, might be among the worst half-season stretches of defense in college football's history. NMSU allowed 8.2 yards per play, gave up a combined 121 points to New Mexico and FAU, and very nearly lost (via Hail Mary) to an Abilene Christian team that was still in provisional FCS status (i.e. it was a Division II program very, very recently). As you'll see below, NMSU ranked in the 120s in most categories and saw just four defenders play in all 12 games, and while the Aggies rallied a bit in the season finale against Idaho ... yeah, you've got your work cut out for you, Coach Coyer.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||40.7%||80||Succ. Rt. +||87.6||105|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||33.2||113||Def. FP+||94.4||111|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.2||69||Redzone S&P+||100.6||59|
|Q1 Rk||113||1st Down Rk||123|
|Q2 Rk||92||2nd Down Rk||54|
|Q3 Rk||118||3rd Down Rk||107|
4. The offense was almost interesting
The defense never had a chance, but Gregg Brandon's offense showed some late-season promise; the Aggies averaged better than 5.0 yards per play just seven times in 2013, but six of those instances came in the last seven games of the year. The Aggies were reasonably balanced and showed potential for both efficiency and explosiveness, particularly in the passing game.
We're using past tense here, not only because we're describing something that happened last year, but also because the hope has kind of vanished for now. Star receiver Austin Franklin was a big reason for the late-season improvement, but he's gone. So are starting quarterback Andrew McDonald, leading rusher Germi Morrison, and four-year starting tackle Davonte Wallace. There is still experience on the line, and Morrison was quite replaceable, but Franklin was a rare, explosive playmaker in Las Cruces, and the experience at the quarterback position is almost nil.
The defense could improve, if only because it couldn't get worse, but offensive regression might offset that growth.
Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Rivals||Comp||Att||Yards||TD||INT||Comp Rate||Sacks||Sack Rate||Yards/
|King Davis III||6'1, 200||So.||N/A||26||50||371||2||1||52.0%||3||5.7%||6.6|
|Tyler Rogers||6'3, 200||So.||2 stars (5.2)|
|Nick Jeanty||6'2, 186||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Nate Grimm||6'4, 195||Fr.||2 stars (5.3)|
5. Six quarterbacks
Martin identified three specific needs for his 2014 recruiting class and absolutely loaded up. Of his 25 signees, 16 were either quarterbacks (six), linebackers (six) or defensive linemen (four). And there's a very good chance that the QB portion of the depth chart will consist completely of 2014 signees. Junior college transfer Tyler Rogers and five incoming freshmen (the most highly touted of which are Nick Jeanty and Nate Grimm) join King Davis III in the battle for the starting position, but Davis is more athlete than quarterback and could get work as a running back or receiver in spring ball.
Martin and Brandon want an athletic dual-threat behind center, and we'll see which of the signees (or Davis) can both play quarterback and meet the athletic standards. Davis is evidently more latter than former, but NMSU's current quarterback search certainly signifies the difficulty in attracting necessary talent for certain offensive systems. Having a quarterback who can run gives you a numbers advantage, one more thing the defense has to account for; this could be a desperate need for an offense that seeks every advantage it can find.
But finding a QB who can give you that numbers advantage and still throw effectively is tough. Martin played the odds and stocked up in the hopes that one is a keeper.
|Brandon Betancourt||RB||5'10, 187||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||93||415||2||4.5||3.7||35.5%|
|Xavier Hall||RB||5'8, 182||So.||N/A||48||247||2||5.1||3.9||39.6%|
|King Davis III||QB||6'1, 200||So.||N/A||40||193||0||4.8||6.6||32.5%|
|Travaughn Colwell||WR||6'3, 202||Sr.||N/A||22||77||0||3.5||4.6||31.8%|
|Marquette Washington||RB||5'10, 215||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Larry Rose||RB||5'11, 175||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Rivals||Targets||Catches||Yards||Catch Rate||Target Rate||%SD||Yds/
|Jordan Bergstrom||WR||5'11, 180||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||52||30||206||57.7%||13.4%||69.0%||4.0||-179||3.5||24.0|
|Joshua Bowen||WR-H||5'10, 175||Jr.||N/A||51||39||333||76.5%||13.1%||67.6%||6.5||-102||6.4||38.8|
|Adam Shapiro||WR-X||6'1, 192||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||48||35||434||72.9%||12.3%||44.4%||9.0||35||6.9||50.6|
|Jerrel Brown||WR-Z||6'0, 190||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||45||33||484||73.3%||11.6%||40.6%||10.8||109||10.9||56.5|
|Joseph Matthews||WR-X||6'2, 203||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||41||23||313||56.1%||10.5%||57.1%||7.6||14||7.9||36.5|
|Brandon Betancourt||RB||5'10, 187||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||18||13||106||72.2%||4.6%||40.0%||5.9||-43||8.1||12.4|
|Andrew Dean||TE||6'3, 244||Sr.||N/A||15||11||101||73.3%||3.9%||78.6%||6.7||-24||8.0||11.8|
|Xavier Hall||RB||5'8, 182||So.||N/A||7||7||47||100.0%||1.8%||16.7%||6.7||-23||3.7||5.5|
|Travaughn Colwell||WR||6'3, 202||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||4||1||36||25.0%||1.0%||0.0%||9.0||14||4.0||4.2|
|Anthony Joyner||TE||6'2, 250||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)|
|Prentavious Morehead||WR||6'3, 165||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)|
6. Hope in the receiving corps (for this year, anyway)
I'm not going to pretend the running game is a strength here, but -- with a line that does return 73 career starts and three players with at least one full year of starting experience and a couple of running backs in Brandon Betancourt and Xavier Hall who achieved at a level similar to Germi Morrison -- I don't see it getting worse.
The passing game, however, has some obvious question marks. The quarterback situation is blurry, but replacing Austin Franklin will also be quite the challenge. When the offense got hot late in the season, Franklin was the primary reason; he caught 34 passes for 407 yards and four scores against Abilene Christian, UL-Lafayette and Boston College. He provided a big-play threat that the next two leading targets (Jordan Bergstrom and Joshua Bowen) very much could not.
There is hope further down the list. Seniors Adam Shapiro, Jerrel Brown, and Joseph Matthews combined to average 13.5 yards per catch with a 68 percent catch rate. That's solid, and if they can maintain those averages while occupying some of Franklin's targets, the passing game might not be a lost cause. But they are indeed all seniors, so if a youngster like Prentavious Morehead wanted to break through in 2014, that wouldn't be the worst thing in the world.
|Valerian Ume-Ezeoke||C||6'3, 295||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||31|
|Andy Cunningham||RT||6'3, 308||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||23|
|Isaiah Folasa-Lutui||LG||6'3, 309||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||12|
|Abram Holland||RG||6'2, 270||So.||2 stars (5.3)||6|
|Houston Clemente||OL (now DT)||6'4, 303||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||1|
|Spence Ueli-Faatoalia||LG||6'1, 308||So.||2 stars (5.2)||0|
|Alexander Trujillo||C (now DT)||6'2, 285||Jr.||N/A||0|
|Matt Ramondo||OT||6'5, 310||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0 (on offense)|
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||49.6%||118||Succ. Rt. +||73.4||125|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||25.8||121||Def. FP+||91.6||122|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.8||113||Redzone S&P+||79.3||119|
|Q1 Rk||118||1st Down Rk||126|
|Q2 Rk||125||2nd Down Rk||122|
|Q3 Rk||119||3rd Down Rk||125|
7. New blood, and not by choice
As with the offense, most of the playmaking potential from last year's team is gone. Linebackers Trashaun Nixon and Bryan Bonilla combined for 19 tackles for loss and six passes defensed; they're gone. Safety Davis Cazares had three TFLs and five passes defensed; he's gone.
As mentioned above, injuries and general absence of depth were huge issues, but the biggest problem might be that the depth really isn't any better this year. Those four players who actually played in all 12 games? All gone. Six players recorded at least 30 tackles. Five are gone. Yikes.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Jay Eakins||DE||6'2, 275||Sr.||N/A||11||18.5||2.7%||1.5||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Stephen Meredith||JACK||6'3, 240||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||8||15.0||2.2%||1.0||0.5||0||0||0||0|
|Kalei Auelua||JACK||6'2, 240||So.||2 stars (5.4)||9||10.5||1.5%||3.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Matt Ramondo||NT (now OT)||6'5, 310||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||7||7.5||1.1%||0.5||0.5||0||0||0||0|
|Houston Clemente||DT||6'4, 303||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)|
|Alexander Trujillo||DT||6'2, 285||Jr.||NR|
|Josh Gibbs||DE||6'5, 255||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)|
8. No hope up front
It's difficult to isolate one weakness above (below?) the others, but the defensive line was really, really bad. NMSU ranked 125th in both Adj. Line Yards and Adj. Sack Rate. Defensive ends combined for 2.5 sacks for the season, but playmaking ability was only part of the problem. The line didn't do much of anything; in David Elson's 3-4(ish) system, the line was asked to occupy blockers more than playing the ball, but that excuse only goes so far.
Willie Mobley, the line's leading tackler, was 10th on the team in tackles. Even block-occupiers should be doing more than that. As Coyer attempts to implement his defensive system, the personnel is still getting shuffled around. Nose tackle Matt Ramondo is evidently moving to offense, while Houston Clemente and Alexander Trujillo go from offense to defense. JUCO transfer Josh Gibbs will need to make an immediate contribution, but if the line improves, it will come from players already on the roster ... whoever that may be.
If the line improves a bit (not a given), then at the very least some of the potential young playmakers in the back will have opportunities to shine. Sophomore linebacker Rodney Butler made two tackles for loss and broke up a pass in a backup role and junior corner Lewis Hill and sophomore safety Kawe Johnson each got their hands on some passes last year.
With the loss of the top two linebackers and the three leading tacklers in the secondary, these units are going to be all sorts of young and flawed, but again ... the record and the output don't really matter yet. NMSU is playing for 2016, basically. Potential trumps production.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Clint Barnard||LB||6'3, 240||Sr.||N/A||9||44.5||6.4%||2.5||1.0||1||0||0||0|
|Rodney Butler||SAM||6'1, 212||So.||2 stars (5.3)||8||25.5||3.7%||2.0||0.0||0||1||0||0|
|Dior Moore||WILL||6'1, 222||Sr.||N/A||6||13.0||1.9%||1.5||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Robert Wagner||LB||6'1, 234||So.||3 stars (5.6)||4||8.5||1.2%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Derek Ibekwe||LB||6'1, 222||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|JB Copeland||LB||6'2, 205||Fr.||2 stars (5.3)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Lewis Hill||CB||5'10, 175||Jr.||N/A||10||29.0||4.2%||0||0||1||3||0||0|
|Kawe Johnson||SS||5'8, 177||So.||2 stars (5.2)||10||27.0||3.9%||0||0||2||2||0||0|
|Thomas Warren||FS||5'11, 175||So.||2 stars (5.4)||7||18.5||2.7%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Kedeem Thomas-Davis||CB||5'9, 170||Jr.||N/A||6||15.0||2.2%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Winston Rose||CB||6'0, 174||Sr.||N/A||2||6.0||0.9%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Jacob Nwangwa||DB||6'0, 175||Fr.||2 stars (5.3)|
|Dalton Herrington||DB||6'2, 192||Fr.||2 stars (5.3)|
|Brock Baca||5'10, 215||Jr.||31||56.4||11||1||35.5%|
|Maxwell Johnson||5'10, 185||Sr.||20||48.7||2||0||10.0%|
|Maxwell Johnson||5'10, 185||Sr.||29-32||8-8||100.0%||7-9||77.8%|
|Adam Shapiro||KR||6'1, 192||Sr.||26||20.5||0|
|Joseph Matthews||PR||6'2, 203||Sr.||10||6.9||0|
|Special Teams F/+||124|
|Field Goal Efficiency||29|
|Punt Return Efficiency||122|
|Kick Return Efficiency||117|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||110|
9. A lack of depth can bleed over to special teams
When you've got a defense that can't keep 11 healthy bodies on the field, the odds are pretty good that your punt and kick coverage units stink, too. You either have to use starters (and risk tiring them out further) or dip into your shallow pool of backups. And despite a punter who averaged nearly 44 yards per punt and a kicker who booted touchbacks on more than one-third of all kickoffs, NMSU's coverage units were lacking, especially on kickoffs.
Add that to a return game that had no real threats (or no blocking for those threats), and you had a pretty awful special teams unit. Maxwell Johnson appears to be a tremendous place-kicker, but that only matters so much if everything else about the unit is bad.
2014 Schedule & Projection Factors
|TBA||at Arkansas State||84|
|TBA||at Georgia State||125|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||-32.3% (123)|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||0|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||-6 / -8.0|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||9 (5, 4)|
10. It's going to take a while
New Mexico State is going to be better in 2013. ... "Improvement" could mean making a run at bowl eligibility with wins over teams like UTEP, Abilene Christian, FAU, and Idaho (and hey, maybe an upset of visiting Minnesota or Boston College); or it could simply mean 2-10 and 120th.
I like the Doug Martin hire, and while it didn't make a lot of sense (geographically, anyway) for the Sun Belt to bring NMSU and Idaho aboard, my guilty liberal tendencies made me feel pretty happy about it. We don't know that the future will be any brighter than the past for this struggling football program, but we know that there is a future, and we know that the Aggies have a coach that wants to be their coach. That's something.
Technically, I was right in last year's preview. NMSU improved from 123rd to 122nd and from one win to two. I'm not going to predict improvement this time around, however. This team is going to be ridiculously young, and the shuffling at quarterback and on the lines shows that the coaches don't yet have all the pieces lined up how they want.
This really is a building-for-2016 situation, and the expectations should be set accordingly. If they win a couple of games, find their quarterback, and at least don't regress defensively (and yes, it is technically possible to regress), then that's probably enough for now. I admire Martin's refusal to take shortcuts, but that means the road's awfully long.