Call it a breakthrough opportunity.
The New Mexico State University football team is 0-3 after three weeks of the season despite playing better defense than many prognosticators might have expected.
Problem is, the Aggies have sputtered on offense. They’ve averaged just 12.7 points per game, not enough to win on any kind of regular basis.
There are various reasons for NMSU’s offensive struggles, including injuries to the top two quarterbacks on the depth chart and a broken wrist that knocked the team’s leading reciever, Dominic Gicinto, out for the season. The aforementioned QBs, Jonah Johnson (wrist) and Weston Eget (knee), are not expected to play Saturday when the Aggies host South Carolina State for a 6 p.m. contest.
Nonetheless, there are reasons to believe New Mexico State’s offense can start to find its footing against the FCS Bulldogs (0-2).
Third-string quarterback Dino Maldonado, who performed admirably in a relief role during last week’s 34-25 loss at New Mexico, has now had a full week of preparation. The sophomore walk-on had a limited number of plays to work with against UNM but will have more options after a week of first-team practice repetitions.
“We can’t change the whole offense, but we’ll give (Maldonado) some things he’s comfortable with,” Aggies coach Doug Martin said.
Maldonado also will be facing a South Carolina State defense that has struggled thus far this season. In games against Alabama A&M and powerhouse Clemson, the Bulldogs allowed an average of 536.5 yards of offense and 45.5 points per game.
Still, Martin is not taking the Bulldogs for granted. After watching video of SCSU’s first two games, New Mexico State’s coaches and players came away impressed.
“There’s no power edge for us in this game,” Martin said. “South Carolina State has two of the most athletic linebackers you’ll see and an outstanding corner (Decobie Durant), who picked off two passes against Clemson. Our offense has to execute, or these guys will make us pay.”
On the other side of the ball, SCSU showed it can produce in a 42-41 loss to Alabama A&M. Sophomore quarterback Corey Fields, Jr., has passed for 345 yards and rushed for 104 this season.
“They’re a very athletic team,” Aggies defensive back Torren Union said. “They’ve got some juice on offense, definitely.”
New Mexico State’s defense has done an effective job of bending but not often breaking through its first three games. Opponents have averaged 450 total yards per game but have converted just 30% of their third-down opportunities and are 3-for-7 on fourth downs.
The Aggies will also get two key pieces back on defense Saturday in linebacker Trevor Brohard and cornerback Syrus Dumas. Brohard missed two games under COVID-19 protocols, while Dumas was recently cleared after an NCAA Clearinghouse issue forced him to sit out NMSU’s first three games.
South Carolina State at New Mexico State, 6 p.m., FloFootball.com (streaming). 99.5 FM (Las Cruces)