A couple of teams at opposite ends of the spectrum in the Western Athletic Conference get together in Las Cruces this weekend, as the slumping New Mexico State Aggies take on the 24th-ranked Louisiana Tech Bulldogs.
A member of the national rankings for the second time this season, the Bulldogs have turned themselves into one of the most electrifying offensive powers in the nation. In fact, the team leads the country in scoring with 56.1 ppg thanks to a 70-28 thrashing of Idaho in conference play at home last weekend. The victory was the sixth in seven tries for LaTech, the lone loss being a heart-breaking 59-57 setback to Texas A&M that came down to the wire earlier this month.
The defending WAC champions from 2011 when they delivered six wins in seven tries, the Bulldogs are no strangers to the postseason, although they did fall to TCU in the Poinsettia Bowl, 31-24, following a successful campaign last year.
As for the Aggies, they haven't had nearly as much excitement during the first half of the 2012 campaign, although they did manage to open the season with a 49-19 pounding of Sacramento State. Nevertheless, NMSU enters play this week tied for the second-longest losing streak in the nation at six games following a 41-7 setback versus Utah State on the road in conference play last weekend. The Aggies have now dropped eight straight road dates and have not won a game against another member of the Football Bowl Subdivision since taking down Fresno State, 48-45, at home on Nov. 12, 2011.
Louisiana Tech has posted seven wins in 11 all-time meetings with the Aggies, and that includes a 44-0 romp in the most recent meeting last season. The Bulldogs have won five in a row in the series, but that doesn't mean that LaTech head coach Sonny Dykes isn't preparing for a challenge on the road.
"They (the Aggies) have lost a couple of tough games this year. Their record is probably not where they think it could be or where it definitely could be based on them losing a couple of tough ones. Anyway, they are a good football team and I know it is their homecoming and they will be excited to play against us."
Obviously coach Dykes said all the right things during his weekly press conference on Monday, but it is clear that the Bulldogs have a much superior team, particularly on offense.
Last week it was running back Kenneth Dixon who stole the show in the monster beating of Idaho, running for 232 yards and a staggering six touchdowns. Setting a new school record for rushing TDs in a single game which had stood for 36 years, Dixon now has 16 rushing touchdowns on the season overall, with 15 of those coming in home bouts. Already owning the school's rookie record for rushing touchdowns, one has to wonder what would have happened had fellow running back Tevin King not gotten injured and was still a featured back in the system.
"That is what has been impressive about Kenneth is his maturity and how he has taken everything in stride," notes coach Dykes. "He really likes to play football and really works hard every day. He is just a good, good kid to be around and competitive. He has a real bright future."
Just as incredible has been the play of quarterback Colby Cameron who, against the Vandals, completed 29-of-37 passes for 400 yards and a couple of touchdowns. If its not Dixon and the running attack, one that produced a whopping 408 yards and eight scores versus Idaho, the Bulldogs always have Cameron to fall back on.
At this stage, Cameron is completing 71.3 percent of his pass attempts for 329.4 ypg and has 20 touchdowns without a single interception, one of only two starters in the FBS still without a pick.
With Cameron and Dixon chewing up opposing defenses, a guy like Quinton Patton, considered one of the most explosive players in the WAC heading into 2012, has become almost an afterthought. Nevertheless, Patton is still the main target for Cameron with his 59 catches for 806 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Needless to say, the Aggies are going to have their hands full, trying to pick their poison when attempting to defend Louisiana Tech this weekend. Last time out NMSU was touched for 41 points by Utah State and those Aggies aren't nearly as dangerous as Tech right now. USU was allowed to generate an impressive 516 yards of offense, averaging better than eight yards per snap, which is rather strong, but that isn't even in the same ballpark with what Louisiana Tech turned in against Idaho.
The Bulldogs did it on the ground and through the air as they produced a staggering 839 yards, the highest single-game total for any team in the FBS this season.
Through seven games, New Mexico State ranks 100th in the country in total defense with 451.7 ypg allowed and the points being scored by the competition is averaging out to be 34.3 ppg which is also 100th in the nation at the moment. Add to that a turnover margin that is minus-1.0 per game (103rd) and the Aggies are bound to give the LaTech offense countless chances to run up the score.
As coach Dykes mentioned, the NMSU offense does have a few weapons in quarterback Andrew Manley and receiver Austin Franklin, the latter ranking second in the conference and 11th in the nation in receptions per game with 7.14, but that only works when Manley isn't under pressure.
Unfortunately for the signal-caller, his offense is also 113th in the country in sacks allowed with 3.43 per game and that's no way to keep an offense moving in the right direction.