Philadelphia, PA – 2011 SEASON IN REVIEW: New Mexico State hasn't had a winning season since 2002 when it registered a 7-5 mark as part of the Sun Belt Conference. In 2005 when the Aggies began play as a member of the Western Athletic Conference, they lost all 13 of their outings, a harbinger of things to come for a program that has won, at most, four games in any season since then. Last year was no different as the squad produced a mark of 4-9 and was only 2-5 versus other members of the league under the direction of head coach DeWayne Walker.
The team opened the 2011 campaign with three losses in four tries, the lone victory coming on the road against Minnesota (28-21) -- Walker's alma mater. The Aggies somehow managed to record back-to-back victories over New Mexico (42-28) and Idaho (31-24) in October, with the triumph over the former giving NMSU three straight wins against the Lobos for the first time since 1966-68. Putting up the win over UNM may have been what saved Walker's job, particularly since he dropped all but one of his final seven contests.
A three-game slide versus Hawaii, Nevada and Georgia was snapped with an unlikely 48-45 defeat of Fresno State in the middle of November. However, following that offensive explosion against a Bulldogs team which had struggled all season long, New Mexico State proceeded to drop the last three games and in the process be outscored by a combined 110-28 by the likes of BYU, Louisiana Tech and Utah State.
Perhaps the lone bright spot in an otherwise dismal campaign was Taveon Rogers who ranked second in the nation in all-purpose yards with an average of 196.3 ypg. The defense for NMSU had some huge holes last year as it ranked last in the WAC and 112th in the country with 462.2 ypg allowed and 36.8 ppg surrendered. The team produced only 4.2 tackles for loss per game, which was also last in the league and 115th in the country.
OFFENSE: The New Mexico State offense was decent last year, save for the last few weeks of the regular season when the team was outscored 86-7 by the Cougars and Bulldogs on the road. However, the problem was that the quarterback position was mixed between three different signal-callers and that may have made it difficult for the rest of the players on that side of the line to find a comfort zone.
As if last season were not confusing enough at the position, this year the competition for the starting spot is between Andrew Manley and Andrew McDonald, the former, now a redshirt sophomore, having completed 56.9 percent of his 109 attempts in 2011 for 892 yards and 6 touchdowns. McDonald is the newcomer, spending the last two seasons at Santa Ana College in California where he threw a total of 50 touchdowns and ran for another 10. McDonald may bring an added element of running with the football for the Aggies, but for now the job belongs to Manley.
Unfortunately, from a skills standpoint, the Aggies have lost a number of key principles on offense, namely Rogers and running back Kenny Turner. Robert Clay will assume the primary running slot for NMSU, even though he gained only 133 yards on 42 carries a season ago as he also lent a hand to special teams. Kemonte' Bateman and Kevan Walker will be the top receivers who will be expected to stretch the field for the squad, the former placing second on the team in 2011 with 4 scoring receptions.
DEFENSE: "Heading into 2012, I'm going to have a little bit more input with the defense," coach Walker says of his involvement on that side of the ball. "The last couple years I've kind of backed off and let coach (Dale) Lindsey do his thing...I'm going to be more behind the scenes this year but I'm going to have a little more input in terms of what we're doing."
Lindsey is no longer the defensive coordinator for the Aggies, that job has been filled by David Elson, a move that may have paved the way for Walker to be more hands-on with the group of players he feels most comfortable with.
New Mexico State has built up the defensive side of the ball with mostly upperclassmen filling out the depth chart, although there are a couple of spots where youngsters have fit the bill and are ready to contribute to a unit that lost nine starters from a year ago.
At linebacker the team has three holdovers in Bryan Bonilla, B.J. Adolpho and Alexander LaVoy, although the latter missed four games due to a foot injury. None of the three really stood out in terms of how well they tracked down the ball and made plays, but perhaps their experience will serve them well moving forward nonetheless.
Some good news for NMSU is the return of defensive end Donte Savage who redshirted last season after appearing in 12 games in 2010 and contributing with three sacks and a couple of forced fumbles. Savage and his teammates along the defensive line will be asked to clean up the mess created by a weak group at the point of attack, which permitted an unsightly 218.8 ypg on the ground in 2011.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Junior kicker Tyler Stampler is slated to return for the Aggies and pick up where he left off last season when he booted through 7 of his 12 field goal attempts. Clearly, not the most encouraging level of accuracy for a kicker in this league, but what's worse is the fact that Stampler missed on 4 of his 38 PATs a year ago. Jake Capraro was the punter for the Aggies in 2011, hitting for an average of more than 39 yards per kick, put initial depth charts indicate the job might be turned over to an Australian, Cayle Chapman-Brown. A transfer from Snow College where he averaged 43.3 yards per punt and was named a First Team All-Western States Football League and an honorable mention NJCAA All-American, Chapman-Brown also spent a year at Notre Dame College coming out of high school in Sydney.
After sitting out a year due to NCAA transfer rules Kevan Walker, formerly of the Oregon State Beavers, is prepared to take over the kick return responsibilities as well as fit a need in the NMSU receiving corps as well.
OUTLOOK: The Aggies open this season with a bit of a softball, a home date against Sacramento State, but at this point very little is guaranteed when it comes to NMSU's success on the football field. The squad will also clash once more with Ohio University, this time on the road, so who knows how badly the Aggies might get beaten if nothing has changed for the better after opening the 2011 campaign with a 44-24 defeat at home against the Bobcats. Granted, the Aggies have had their way with in-state rival New Mexico in recent years and should be expecting another win in that annual battle in late September, but other than that the non-conference slate is filled with dangerous foes in Auburn and BYU during a three-week span in November. Having lost so many starters on both sides of the ball simply does not bode well for this group in 2012, but don't tell that to coach Walker.
"I just think the schedule is really laid out for us to be more successful. The one thing that is different with this football team, from a coaching staff and even in our locker room is just chemistry. I just think the chemistry is so much better and collectively we all feel like we can win football games this year."