USU, NMSU Seek More Consistency
New Mexico State coach DeWayne Walker has repeatedly emphasized the importance of putting two solid halves of football together.
The Aggies have been especially inconsistent in that area in the past three weeks, falling behind 30-3 in the first half at Fresno State, 31-7 in the first half at Idaho and blowing all of a 17-3 halftime lead last week before rallying past San Jose State 29-27.
For one week at least, Utah State has Walker’s team beat when it comes to giving an uneven performance. Last Saturday, the Aggies from Logan, Utah, went to intermission behind No. 24 Nevada 35-0. A furious comeback still left them on the short end of a 56-42 final.
“That is something that has been a problem all season, is getting the fire started right away from the very beginning of games,” said USU tight end Kellen Bartlett. “Instead of hitting the other team, they hit us.”
“I’m proud of the way our kids came back and fought, (but) overall we’re past the point of being proud of playing well,” said coach Gary Andersen.
Utah State (2-6, 0-4 Western Athletic Conference) hosts New Mexico State (2-6, 1-3) on Saturday. Last season, Walker’s Aggies prevailed against Andersen’s Aggies 20-17 in Las Cruces.
There have been flashes of potential for this year’s Utah State team. A 31-24 loss at No. 7 Oklahoma in the season opener and a 31-16 thumping of BYU only makes the team’s play in conference that much more of a head-scratcher: It hasn’t come closer than 14 points in four losses against WAC foes.
“We’ve played some really good teams. I project every team that we’ve played — except the I-AA team (Idaho State) — is going to a bowl game,” Andersen said.
The second half against the Wolf Pack rekindled memories of 2009, when USU set a school record for total offense behind Diondre Borel. The senior QB threw for 399 yards and two scores and added another touchdown on the ground against Nevada.
Utah State hopes it can build on its second-half showing over the season’s last four games.
“That second half of the Nevada game is what everyone here has been waiting for. That is the Utah State offense we saw last year, and at the Oklahoma game, the BYU game, the games we have played great in,” said Bartlett.
WRINKLES: NMSU had success in the running game against San Jose State in part thanks to some different looks on offense.
The Aggies debuted their version of the Wildcat against the Spartans to find another way to get the ball in the hands of Kenny Turner.
“We decided to get a couple more touches for Kenny,” said offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar. “He’s done a very good job running the football for us. That was our first time running some of that stuff.”
The formation that spawned quarterback Matt Christian’s 28-yard TD run in the second quarter is one that Dunbar refers to as “Tex.” It featured Christian in the shotgun with two running backs and a tight end in the backfield.
“We’re trying to find a way to have a power-running type formation,” Dunbar said. “We created some plays out of that situation and it worked. We’ve dabbled with it in some previous games on a couple different plays.”
Finally, NMSU split tackle Davonte Wallace out in the slot for one play. At the snap, he pivoted and showed his hands as if he were the intended target, but Christian instead found receiver Taveon Rogers for a completion.
While Christian said after the game he had no intention of throwing it to his freshman left tackle, Dunbar didn’t rule it out completely: “There’s a part of that where we could actually throw it to Wallace.”
NO QB SHUFFLE: San Jose State plays its backup QB, Matt Faulkner, the third series of every game.
Walker doesn’t appear interested in a similar plan for freshman Andrew Manley, who lost his redshirt status while leading NMSU to a 16-14 win over New Mexico on Oct. 9. That doesn’t mean Manley won’t get a chance to play, but only that there is not a set time for the Hawaii native to enter any of the final four games.
“He’s our backup quarterback, and if there’s a place where he can play and we can get him in there, we will. But right now Matt Christian is our starter,” Walker said.