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1. A monk's path to success in Las Cruces
If you're playing the career mode on your sports video game of choice, the first season or two of a rebuilding job can be completed in a couple of hours. You zip through the games, you focus on recruiting (because it's more fun than losing games), and after a small investment of time, you're on to the third or fourth year, when you start to win.
And if you're slightly good at the game, you are going to start to win by the third or fourth year. (And if you're not good, you quit and start a new career with Alabama.)
New Mexico State quietly hired Doug Martin to replace Dewayne Walker on February 1, 2013, just more than two years ago. Martin is taking an admirable path to success (however you define that) in Las Cruces, signing high school athletes almost entirely, taking on few transfers, and trying to build depth the more sustainable way. It takes a monk's patience to pull this off.
The results have been predictably awful. Walker left the cupboard bare, and against FBS teams, Martin is 2-20. The Aggies beat 1-11 Idaho by eight in 2013, beat 1-11 Georgia State by three in 2014, took down two FCS teams, and that's it.
The Aggies were also young as hell in 2014, predictably so. They featured a new quarterback, a new running back, a new No. 1 receiver, and a plethora of freshmen and sophomores throughout the defense. There were some standout performances -- running back Larry Rose III rushed for 1,102 yards as a freshman, Teldrick Morgan caught 75 passes for 891 yards, three freshman linebackers combined for 168.5 tackles and 10 tackles for loss -- but after a semi-encouraging start, the freshmen hit a wall, the quarterback kept throwing picks, and the program's lack of depth was exposed.
NMSU won the first two games of the year and looked competitive in home losses to New Mexico and Georgia Southern, but the Aggies were possibly the worst team in the country over the second half of the season.
In a video game, your young guys get fed to the wolves, build experience, then become the wolves. It doesn't always work in real life, with real 18-22-year-olds who don't tend to enjoy losing. But Martin will field an infinitely more experienced team this fall, and he'll easily field the deepest squad of his tenure, one that actually features more than 80 scholarship players for the first time in quite a while.
In my 2014 preview, I said Martin was building for 2016; well, it's not 2016 yet, is it? But NMSU should improve this fall, and not only from a "can't get much worse" perspective.
2014 Schedule & Results
|Record: 2-10 | Adj. Record: 0-12 | Final F/+ Rk: 124|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Percentile
|6-Sep||at Georgia State||122||34-31||W||15%||-24.1||48%|
|29-Nov||at Arkansas State||66||35-68||L||10%||-30.3||1%|
|Points Per Game||24.5||95||39.1||121|
2. No staying power
If you look at the F/+ progression chart, you see a slight upward tick for 2014. NMSU's efficiency-based offense clicked just enough (6.9 yards per play against UTEP, 6.3 against Idaho, 6.4 against Texas State and Arkansas State) to improve from 114th in Off. S&P+ to 107th, and that was able to offset a bad defense getting a little worse.
One new thing I'm incorporating for previews this year is a general percentile performance for each game -- where did your level of play in a given week rate from a national perspective (using a concept you probably remember from standardized tests in school)?
As the season wore on, depth issues became glaring. NMSU played five games at the 15th percentile or higher, but four came in the first six games of the year. In the second half, NMSU was one of the two or three worst teams in FBS.
- Average percentile performance, first 6 games: 19% (adjusted scoring margin: -26.1)
- Average percentile performance, last 6 games: 12% (adjusted scoring margin: -30.2)
This fade will happen when you've got a young squad, and it will happen when you've got major depth issues. NMSU had both. The 2015 Aggies will have better depth; if nothing else, that means they will be able to maintain their level of play better ... whatever that level may be.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||40.2%||80||Succ. Rt. +||92.3||97|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||32.8||116||Def. FP+||94.0||120|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.1||84||Redzone S&P+||87.1||104|
|Q1 Rk||117||1st Down Rk||108|
|Q2 Rk||89||2nd Down Rk||100|
|Q3 Rk||112||3rd Down Rk||116|
3. You can see what NMSU wants to be
With spread old-hand Gregg Brandon running the offense, it was obvious what NMSU was attempting to do. The Aggies played at a high pace, threw quick passes from side to side, and hoped to gash defenses with a run up the middle.
And while there were poor games, they succeeded to some degree. New quarterback Tyler Rogers was reasonably accurate -- 34-for-48 against Georgia Southern, 22-for-33 against Troy, 36-for-52 against Texas State -- and when the Aggies were able to generate first downs, they were able to operate at the tempo Brandon prefers.
The offense was too young to be consistent, however. Rogers was a sophomore -- one who threw at least two picks in nine of 12 games -- leading rusher Larry Rose III was a freshman, leading receiver Teldrick Morgan was a sophomore.
Plus, the awful defense assured that NMSU was constantly starting drives inside the 30. But with a clear identity and a solid offensive line that featured both a spectacular sack rate (due in part to quick passing) and an all-conference center (Valerian Ume-Ezeoke), the offense improved.
NMSU will have two primary departures to account for this fall. Ume-Ezeoke, nearly a four-year starter, is the only loss up front, but he's a big one. And Brandon left to replace Bob Stitt as head coach at Colorado School of Mines. (When you think about the lifespan of the modern spread offense, replacing Brandon with Stitt is kind of like the Star Trek franchise losing Chris Pine and replacing him with William Shatner. This should actually happen, by the way.)
Doug Martin has been an offensive coordinator at East Tennessee State, East Carolina, Kent State, NMSU, and Boston College; it appears he'll be calling plays in Brandon's absence. That might mean more running -- especially if Andrew Allen or well-touted redshirt freshman Nick Jeanty overtake Rogers for the starting job -- but one figures NMSU's offense will look similar.
Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Tyler Rogers||6'3, 200||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7000||268||436||2779||19||23||61.5%||9||2.0%||6.1|
|Andrew Allen||6'1, 200||So.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7827||10||16||120||0||1||62.5%||1||5.9%||6.5|
|Cassius Corley||6'1, 185||So.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7710|
|Nick Jeanty||6'2, 185||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8115|
|Larry Rose III||RB||5'11, 180||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7633||186||1102||9||5.9||8.0||38.2%||3||1|
|Xavier Hall||RB||5'8, 182||Jr.||N/A||N/A||105||342||5||3.3||2.6||25.7%||0||0|
|Tyler Rogers||QB||6'3, 200||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7000||60||260||2||4.3||3.2||53.3%||9||6|
|Andrew Allen||QB||6'1, 200||So.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7827||21||165||1||7.9||11.5||47.6%||3||1|
|Marquette Washington||RB||5'10, 215||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8093||11||23||0||2.1||2.9||9.1%||1||1|
|Brandyn Leonard||RB||6'0, 175||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7593|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Targets||Catches||Yards||Catch Rate||Target
|Teldrick Morgan||WR||6'0, 185||Jr.||N/A||N/A||102||75||891||73.5%||24.2%||59.8%||8.7||6||8.8||92.8|
|Joshua Bowen||WR||5'10, 175||Sr.||N/A||N/A||60||41||336||68.3%||14.2%||63.3%||5.6||-154||5.6||35.0|
|Gregory Hogan||WR||6'1, 182||So.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7000||48||28||331||58.3%||11.4%||56.3%||6.9||-14||7.0||34.5|
|Larry Rose III||RB||5'11, 180||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7633||29||23||172||79.3%||6.9%||55.2%||5.9||-96||6.0||17.9|
|Rayvean Moore||WR||5'10, 168||Jr.||N/A||N/A||3||2||15||66.7%||0.7%||33.3%||5.0||-9||6.5||1.6|
|Tyler Rogers||QB||6'3, 200||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7000||2||1||11||50.0%||0.5%||50.0%||5.5||-2||4.7||1.1|
|Ralston Compton||WR||So.||2 stars (5.4)||N/A||2||1||3||50.0%||0.5%||0.0%||1.5||-10||N/A||0.3|
|Xavier Hall||RB||5'8, 182||Jr.||N/A||N/A||2||1||2||50.0%||0.5%||100.0%||1.0||-11||N/A||0.2|
|Tyrian Taylor||WR||5'8, 170||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7633|
|Clayton Granch||TE||6'3, 235||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7533|
|Isaiah McIntyre||WR||6'0, 175||Fr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7758|
|OJ Clark||WR||5'7, 150||Fr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7755|
4. Some upside and reinforcements
The two stats I stick next to yards per carry -- highlight yards per opportunity and opportunity rate -- are able to show you how a runner reached his overall averages. An opportunity rate over 40 percent shows you that the back was efficient, and a highlight yards average over about 5.0 hints at explosiveness.
We see that Larry Rose III was slightly inefficient, which is quite common for a freshman. But when you compare his 38 percent opportunity rate to that of other running backs -- 26 percent for Xavier Hall, 36 for Brandon Betancourt, nine percent for Marquette Washington -- you see that he was able to make more of his blocking than his counterparts. And when you look at his 8.0 highlight yards per opportunity average, you find that he was all sorts of explosive.
He also peaked late, which is even more exciting, considering his youth. Over the first six games, he averaged 4.2 yards per carry and missed two games with injury. Over the last six, he gained 812 yards (6.9 per carry) and scored seven touchdowns. He put up 181 yards against Texas State and 229 against ULM. The rest of the offense couldn't turn his gains into sustained success, but he was a bright spot, and he's got plenty of eligibility remaining.
Teldrick Morgan took the opposite path. He erupted early -- eight catches for 202 yards against UTEP, nine for 122 against New Mexico, and a game-winning score against Georgia State -- before struggling down the stretch. These two give the quarterback some all-conference-caliber targets, and both are young enough to improve.
That was pretty much it in 2014. Hall and the other backs were beyond ineffective, Joshua Bowen didn't break many tackles as a slot type in the quick-passing offense, and until Greg Hogan's nine-catch, 162-yard, three-score breakout against Arkansas State, the rest of the corps hadn't offered much.
As you see above, NMSU ranked 97th in Standard Downs S&P+ but only 124th in Passing Downs S&P+. That suggests the Aggies had the weapons to execute the gameplan but didn't have enough playmaking depth to bail themselves out of trouble.
The supporting cast should improve. If Hall and Washington are unable to deliver much to spell Rose, incoming freshman Brandyn Leonard could bring something to the party. But between Hogan, JUCO transfers Tyrian Taylor and Clayton Grinch, and speedy freshmen Isaiah McIntyre and O.J. Clark, a strong No. 2 target should emerge. Hell, a solid No. 3 could, too.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Career Starts||Honors/Notes|
|Valerian Ume-Ezeoke||C||43||1st All-Sun Belt|
|Andy Cunningham||RT||6'3, 308||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7000||29|
|Isaiah Folasa-Lutui||LG||6'3, 309||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8110||24|
|Houston Clemente||LT||6'4, 303||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7000||13|
|Abram Holland||RG||6'2, 270||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7000||11|
|Thomas McGwire||RT||6'5, 282||So.||N/A||N/A||9|
|Dezmond Candelaria||RG||6'3, 295||So.||N/A||N/A||4|
|Jamin Smith||C||6'3, 275||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7585||0|
|Antonio Ortega||RT||6'3, 293||Jr.||N/A||N/A||0|
|Anthony McMeans||OL||6'3, 310||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7400||0|
5. The line is a team strength
I'm not going to try to tell you this is an amazing offensive line. The Aggies did rank 117th in Adj. Line Yards, and a lot of the success in pass protection came from the scheme.
Still, NMSU was excellent in short-yardage situations, and the sack rate was not only solid, it was among the best in the country. The line had at least something to do with that.
The size and experience here are impressive. Six players return with starting experience (90 career starts), five are at least 6'3, and four are at least 295 pounds. Ume-Ezeoke is a tough player to replace, but the left side looks strong, and it does appear that Rose is adept at taking advantage of the holes he's given. With Rose carrying more of the load, I would assume NMSU will improve on last year's No. 120 ranking in Rushing S&P+.
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||51.1%||124||Succ. Rt. +||80.3||123|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||28.3||104||Off. FP+||95.0||116|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||5.1||118||Redzone S&P+||83.7||120|
|Q1 Rk||117||1st Down Rk||118|
|Q2 Rk||125||2nd Down Rk||118|
|Q3 Rk||124||3rd Down Rk||115|
6. The stopgap didn't stop gaps
When you hire a nearly 50-year veteran as your defensive coordinator, you're not expecting him to stick around too long. Martin brought Larry Coyer to Las Cruces last year; Coyer's career began as a Marshall grad assistant in 1965 and featured stops as defensive coordinator for Iowa State, Pitt, the Denver Broncos, and the Indianapolis Colts. He has enough experience for an entire coaching staff, but he didn't have answers last fall.
With an absurdly young defense and almost no playmakers, Coyer's first and only Aggie defense was built around bend-don't-break principles. The Aggies were decent at preventing big plays, but a bend-don't-break only works if you occasionally stiffen and aren't a five-yard sieve from end zone to end zone. NMSU had one of the worst red zone defenses in the country.
Martin replaced him with linebackers coach Zane Vance. Vance was an assistant for Martin at Kent State, too, and he will look to increase pressure with various looks and zone blitzes, things that worked well at Kent State. Whether he has the pieces to make that work in 2015 remains to be seen. (Signs point to no.)
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Kalei Auelua||DT||6'2, 240||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||N/A||12||26.0||3.4%||2.5||0.5||0||0||1||0|
|Josh Gibbs||DT||6'5, 255||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7000||7||11.0||1.5%||0.5||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Brandon Agomuo||DE||6'3, 247||So.||2 stars (5.2)||N/A||11||21.5||2.9%||1.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Stody Bradley||DT||6'2, 240||So.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7000||10||13.5||1.8%||0.0||0.0||0||1||0||0|
|Stephen Meredith||DE||6'3, 240||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||N/A||8||11.0||1.5%||3.5||2.0||0||0||0||0|
|Noah Brown||DT||6'1, 235||Jr.||N/A||N/A||5||8.5||1.1%||2.0||0.5||0||0||0||0|
|Kourtland Busby||DE||6'3, 235||So.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7578||7||6.0||0.8%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Jassavia Reese||DE||6'3, 225||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7859|
|Derek Watson||DE||6'4, 225||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7593|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Rodney Butler||MLB||6'1, 212||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7894||12||88.5||11.7%||7.5||0.0||1||1||2||0|
|Derek Ibekwe||SLB||6'0, 214||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7956||12||73.5||9.7%||4.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Dalton Herrington||WLB||6'2, 195||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7594||12||64.0||8.5%||3.0||1.0||1||1||1||0|
|JB Copeland||LB||6'2, 205||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7752||9||31.0||4.1%||3.0||0.0||0||1||0||0|
|Billy Nipp||LB||5'11, 205||So.||N/A||N/A||5||4.5||0.6%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Dalton Rocha||WLB||6'1, 232||So.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7000||6||2.5||0.3%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Will Clement||LB||6'3, 195||RSFr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7733|
|Javahn Ferguson||LB||6'1, 210||Fr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8094|
7. Too young and small to succeed
Good news: New Mexico State returns seven of its top eight tacklers on the defensive line, the top four at linebacker, and six of the top seven in a secondary that was pretty decent at preventing big plays.
Bad news: the Aggies were woefully undersized and outmanned in the front seven, and experience doesn't automatically fix that.
NMSU basically played four defensive ends up front, with 240-pound Kalei Auelua and Stody Bradley starting in the middle for much of the season. While an offseason in the weight room can help with bulk, it's only going to help so much. It's obvious why NMSU had one of the worst run defenses in the country, and it doesn't appear size is going to improve terribly much.
The linebackers were undersized, too, but they did seem to have speed. Considering a lot of their time was spent getting run over by linemen who were reaching the second level of the defense, it's impressive that the top four linebackers combined for 17.5 tackles for loss and a handful of forced fumbles and passes defensed. Their job was impossible, and it's going to be pretty damn difficult in 2015 as well, but Rodney Butler and a load of sophomores did prove that they can make plays if given the opportunity.
Zone blitzes and deception make a lot of sense for a unit this drastically undersized. If you can't push 'em, fool 'em. The problem is that deception doesn't work as well against the run as it does against the pass, and there's nothing saying NMSU is going to be able to force anybody to pass.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Kawe Johnson||FS||5'8, 177||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7000||12||59.5||7.9%||3||0||1||0||3||0|
|Lewis Hill||CB||5'10, 175||Sr.||N/A||N/A||12||43.5||5.8%||0||0||1||4||0||0|
|Jacob Nwangwa||FS||6'0, 177||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7600||11||40.0||5.3%||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Jaden Wright||SS||6'0, 175||So.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7883||10||25.0||3.3%||0||0||1||1||0||0|
|Adaryan Jones||CB||6'1, 170||So.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7883||9||19.5||2.6%||0.5||0||0||2||0||0|
|King Davis III||DB||6'1, 200||Jr.||N/A||N/A||6||16.0||2.1%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Kedeem Thomas-Davis||DB||5'9, 170||Sr.||N/A||N/A||5||5.0||0.7%||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Jerrion Burton||CB||5'11, 163||So.||2 stars (5.2)||0.7000||7||3.5||0.5%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
8. Is the secondary ready for more pressure?
If Vance does intend to get more aggressive, that will put pressure on the secondary. In an effort to improve your success rate and make stops behind the line, you risk big plays, and while the secondary was impressive considering its youth last year -- of the top seven tacklers, one was a senior, one was a junior, two were sophomores, and three were freshmen -- we'll see if the Aggie secondary is good enough to take on a heavier load.
The secondary is also undersized, but that's not much of a concern to me. At 5'8, 177, Kawe Johnson was able to force three fumbles and make three stops behind the line of scrimmage, and speed matters more than size in the secondary, especially in the Sun Belt.
This secondary might not be amazing, but it was sound in 2014, and it's more experienced this time around. It is, at the very least, the least of the defensive concerns.
|Alex Louthan||5'10, 190||Sr.||23||54.8||2||3||8.7%|
|Teldrick Morgan||KR||6'0, 185||Jr.||15||22.7||0|
|Gregory Hogan||KR||6'1, 182||So.||11||19.8||0|
|Gregory Hogan||PR||6'1, 182||So.||10||4.3||0|
|Teldrick Morgan||PR||6'0, 185||Jr.||6||17.0||0|
|Special Teams F/+||123|
|Field Goal Efficiency||116|
|Punt Return Efficiency||57|
|Kick Return Efficiency||52|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||73|
9. Depth bleeds into special teams
When you have depth issues on offense and (especially) defense, that means you have bad coverage units on special teams. There just aren't enough athletes to go around.
Sure enough, NMSU's coverage units were abysmal. Maxwell Johnson was a decent kicker -- solid inside 40 yards, decent touchback rate on kickoffs -- and punter Stephen Witkowski averaged nearly 41 yards per boot, but the Aggies still ranked worse than 120th in Punt and Kick efficiency. It assured that NMSU's special teams unit as a whole was poor despite solid returns from Teldrick Morgan and Greg Hogan.
At the very least, if the second-string linebackers, defensive backs, and receivers are more trustworthy this year, that should make the kick coverage better, which could help drastically in the field position battle. With an efficient offense but an awful defense, special teams will need to make positive contributions.
2015 Schedule & Projection Factors
|3-Oct||at New Mexico||94|
|10-Oct||at Ole Miss||5|
|?||at Georgia Southern||57|
|?||at Texas State||95|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||-51.7% (127)|
|2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk||127 / 115|
|2014 TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin||-13 / -10.0|
|2014 TO Luck/Game||-1.3|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||17 (8, 9)|
|2014 Second-order wins (difference)||2.1 (-0.1)|
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.
In a roundabout way, Martin's no-shortcuts approach in his New Mexico State rebuild is good for job stability. "Hey, it's very clear we're going to stink for a while, but just wait until year 4." And unless Zane Vance pulls off a minor miracle, with end-sized tackles, safety-sized linebackers, and slot receiver-sized safeties, the defense still won't have enough size or depth.
The offense could keep NMSU in some games. We'll see if Tyler Rogers is able to retain the starting job, or if his mistakes open the door for a younger guy. Regardless, Larry Rose, Teldrick Morgan, and some exciting youngsters give the Aggies enough depth to take advantage of a solid line no matter who the quarterback is. And assuming Martin doesn't change much, the intended efficiency attack could look efficient a good percentage of the time.
With Georgia State, Idaho, and Troy coming to Las Cruces in conference play, NMSU will have a chance to surpass last year's win total; actually, it's not a reach to see the Aggies matching the win total of Martin's last two years combined.
But the biggest game comes right up front. UTEP visits on September 19, and that will determine whether the goal for the season is three wins or about five. Prove you have enough offense to take down the decent Miners, and you have enough to do some damage in the Sun Belt. Lose, and you're looking to go 3-9. And hey, 3-9 is improvement.
Still, if Martin is going to experience a breakthrough year at NMSU, it will come in 2016 at the earliest. While the Aggies return 17 starters, they're young enough that they can expect to return another 16 or so in 2016.
If you're an NMSU fan, you are the patient type. The impatient ones jumped off the bandwagon long ago, if they ever jumped on to begin with. NMSU should reward that patience with hints of upside in 2015, but the payoff is still at least another year away.