Know your opponent: Q&A with the NMSU Round Up

Derek Gonzales, director of content for the Round Up at New Mexico State.

Thomas Jilk

The student newspaper at New Mexico State, the NMSU Round Up, weighed in this week on their team coming into the football game Saturday at Paulson.

The answers below are from Derek Gonzales, the football beat writer and director of content for the Round Up.

1. Which weapons make New Mexico State’s offense dangerous and why?

Primarily the playmaking of three players ­­– Senior quarterback Tyler Rogers, senior running back Larry Rose III and senior receiver Jaleel Scott. Rogers is off to a stellar start this season (despite a six-interception game last Saturday at App State), throwing for 352.2 yards per game (most in Sun Belt) and 16 touchdowns. Rogers’ ability to make plays once the pocket breaks down, especially on third down (where the Aggies rank first in SBC in conversion rate) has allowed NMSU to keep drives alive and keep their defense off the field.

Rose III was a 2015 AP All-American, and though he has struggled to break out for a majority of the season against teams stacking the box against him, the Fairfield, Texas native accumulated 95 yards on the ground on 21 carries against a talented App. State defense. Rose III has also been featured more threw the air with his 25 receptions being second on the team behind Scott. His elusiveness in space makes him one of the more fun players to watch in the Sun Belt, and Head Coach Doug Martin looks to get him 25-30 touches a game – whether it’d be on the ground, through the air, or on the special teams unit.

Scott has been more of a surprise. He has all the physical tools, being long and standing at 6’6, but he wasn’t much of a factor last year. This season, he made his introduction to the college football universe week one with this catch against Arizona State. He went on to get eight catches for 149 yards and two touchdowns against the Sun Devils, and against Arkansas, Scott reeled off another nine catches for 174 yards and a touchdown. Scott was injured against App. State, but returned to practice Tuesday and will be a full go against the Eagles.

2. Appalachian State put up 45 points on the NMSU defense last week, was that more the App State offense getting on a roll or the Aggies defense struggling?

The 45 points NMSU gave up last week against App State is a bit of an anomaly. The defense was actually great the entire game. They caused three turnovers (a fumble and two Jaden Wright interceptions) and held the Mountaineers to a 2 of 10 performance on third down. Where App State earned their points were off six NMSU interceptions and a botched snap on a punt. App State scored 38 points off of turnovers on drives that went the following yard length: 4, 25, 28, 54, 29 and 0 yards. The defense side of the ball is vastly improved under defensive coordinator and former Boston College head coach Frank Spaziani and that trend should continue against a Georgia Southern team that runs an offense similar to New Mexico, who NMSU beat this year.

3. Describe the style of offense the Aggies play in a little bit of detail.

Schematically speaking, NMSU runs a spread offense primarily out of the shotgun formation, usually using a 3-WR, 1-TE look or an empty shotgun look that sometimes will have Rose III or running back Jason Huntley motion into the backfield. NMSU has also begun to use more pistol formations to try and get Rose III and the running game going and have found success with it. This is truly an offense that will just take whatever the defense is willing to give up.

Rogers has completed a pass to 13 different receivers this year and has two NFL prospect weapons in Rose III and Scott. Rose III and Huntley provide a thunder-and-lightning duo in the backfield, as Rose III’s physical maturation has allowed him to become a more of a between-the-tackles type of back, while Huntley is the speed back. Martin is one of six FBS coaches who also is the offensive coordinator, and has preached upon his arrival to Las Cruces in 2013 that his offense needs to average 30 points a game for the Aggies to have a chance to win. Thus far, they’re right on que, averaging 30.2 points per game.

4. Where do locals expect the team to finish in the Sun Belt?

Before the season started, most looked at the schedule and saw it as one word – daunting. Two power-5 road games (Ariz. St and Ark.) two non-conference games against rivals that have much better resources than NMSU (New Mexico and UTEP), as well as a SBC schedule that features each conference team that made a bowl last year. The Aggies had to do what they hadn’t done since 1976 – beat New Mexico in Albuquerque AND beat UTEP in Las Cruces (UTEP had won eight straight in the yearly series before NMSU beat them 41-14 on Sept. 23). Those two wins and near-upsets of Arizona State (37-31 loss), Troy (27-24 loss) and App State (45-31 loss but NMSU had lead midway through the fourth quarter) have many believing this should be the year NMSU ends their 57-year bowl drought.

Troy and App State are the top two teams in the league, but with a home game against Arkansas State in a few weeks, NMSU has the opportunity and has looked like a team that can finish as high as third in the SBC standings this season.

5. Would you say the program has improved noticeably since the arrival of coach Doug Martin in 2013?

The overall health of the program has been improved dramatically under Doug Martin. When Martin took over in 2013, he had only 63 scholarship players and the facilities were so poor that recruits would not be shown the locker room when on visits. Now, he has his full allotment of scholarship athletes, improvements to the locker room, field turf and new suites at the stadium to sell to recruits.

Martin has been fantastic and athletic director Mario Moccia rewarded him with a three-year extension for his work a few weeks ago. Though his record at NMSU doesn’t reflect it (because he had to play a lot of young players early in his tenure), Martin has breathed life into a football program that has been awful for the better part of almost 60 years. Those underclassmen who took three years’ worth of beatings are now seniors, and they’re looking to make sure those lumps pay off with a bowl bid.