New Mexico State University football coach Doug Martin says he always likes to keep a few new “wrinkles” under wraps until game day.
That’s certainly the case this week as the Aggies (0-2) get set to face New Mexico in Albuquerque on Saturday. UNM features an attacking defense similar to the unit NMSU faced last week in a 28-10 loss at San Diego State.
Martin and the Aggies know they’ll need some wrinkles to keep the Lobos (1-0) honest — but executing them could be another matter.
“In the era of COVID, with guys not there every day, it limits how much you can change things,” Martin said. “Obviously we can’t afford to be predictable, especially against a really good defense. But the personnel issues with COVID make it really difficult.”
New Mexico State is still trying to get its offense rolling behind junior quarterback Jonah Johnson. The Aggies have scored just 13 points in their first two games combined.
There were significant signs of improvement last week, however, as Johnson passed for 326 yards and kept the offense on the field for more than 33 minutes. NMSU’s offense managed just 92 passing yards and 26 minutes of possession time in its opener against UTEP.
Martin and his players were relatively satisfied with their first-half performance at San Diego State, when they took a 10-0 lead to intermission. The second half, a 28-0 Aztecs whitewashing, was far less satisfying.
NMSU had to do without a “wrinkle” it had hoped to employ against SDSU because a key player missed two days of practice after a false positive COVID test result. The player in question was in uniform against the Aztecs, but the wrinkle had to be scrapped, Martin said.
That play could be revived for Saturday’s game, but the Aggies are focused instead on putting a more consistent performance together.
“We’ve got to step up on offense,” wide receiver Cole Harrity said. “At San Diego State we started strong. Now we need to do it again and put four quarters together. Got to finish.”
The flip side is a bit more encouraging for New Mexico State, which will be trying to snap a streak of 12 consecutive road losses to FBS opponents. The Aggies’ defense has been solid against the pass thus far, allowing just 169.5 yards per game, and has five takeaways to its credit.
Stopping the rush has been a weakness (233 yards allowed per game), but Martin believes his defense has played well enough to give the Aggies a chance to win.
“We just aren’t scoring enough right now to help our defense,” Martin said, “and that’s our main problem as a team.”
Can the Aggies, 18½-point underdogs, find another gear against UNM? It won’t be easy.
Martin credits UNM defensive coordinator Rocky Long for implementing masterful game plans and said he believes the Lobos disguise coverages and blitzes better than the San Diego State unit his team faced last week.
“Whenever you play a defense coached by Rocky Long, it’s going to be a great defense,” Martin said.
On the other hand, facing a similar style of defense two weeks in a row should simplify things for the Aggies. Providing quarterback Johnson with adequate time will be of primary concern after he was pressured into three second-half interceptions against SDSU. Johnson was hit on all three plays.