Thursday, October 06, 2005

New Mexico State Game Preview

As posted on the Barkboard

It is a strange season for Fresno State fans. Since Pat Hill became coach in 2005 the Bulldogs have had two types of seasons. Season A, Fresno State beats multiple Bowl Championship Series schools in September, and begin October aiming for a BCS bowl bid. Season B, Fresno State loses multiple games in September to BCS schools, and begin October reeling and struggling to win the Western Athletic Conference.

The 2005 season is neither A nor B. Fresno State has only lost to one BCS school in September, are considered favorites to win the WAC and have the ultimate program defining game left against Southern California on November 19 . This is Pat Hill’s most talented team and is very close to having a Season A. It is still an awkward season for the average or hardcore Bulldog fan.

In a Season A scenario every fair-weather fan would be talking BCS by October, while the hardcore fan would be happy, but still worried about getting through the WAC unscathed. In Season B scenario every fair-weather fan would be off the bandwagon by October, while the hardcore fan would be worried if Fresno State could still make it to a bowl game and win the WAC.

This year there will be no talk of the BCS, but there is no doubt Fresno State is the best team in the WAC, a top 25 contender and will be in a bowl game this year. The next three weeks, however, are all no-hum, oh well sort of games. Fresno State takes on former Sun Belt defects and WAC newcomers, New Mexico State, Utah State, and Idaho consecutively.

The school of thought by most fans, is the Bulldogs will not be challenged until the road trip to Hawaii on October 29. For the first time in Hill’s tenure, Fresno State aims to not lose a game in October. If they succeed, Hill can show the nation how good his team is come November with back to back games against Boise State and Southern Cal. First the Bulldogs must beat NMSU.

Many Bulldog fans might be overlooking NMSU or the entire stretch until November 10 when Boise State comes to town, but not Hill.

"We have never taken an opponent lightly, nor will we” Hill said.

“We respect everybody we play and we know that when people play us, they are ready to go. We've had some tough games against teams that did not have a good record at the time. The way New Mexico State played against California is the way they'll play against us."

Fresno State has not lost to a team with a losing record since SMU in 1999. Even Louisiana Tech finished 6-6 last year. That game in Ruston is still on the coaches and players mind.

"We need to get familiar with starting fast,” says Hill.

“Las Cruces is an environment that we don't know too much about and we need to go in there ready to play and be focused. Last year at Louisiana Tech, I thought we started great and we talked all week about doing that. We just had some things happen to us early and all of a sudden everyone was panicking to make plays. On Saturday against New Mexico State, we just need to be the better team. That's one thing I like about watching USC play- they don't panic and keep going, come from behind and win the game like it's no big deal. The number one priority is to win."

Fresno State is the better team, and on paper the game should not even be close. However, the same could have been said last year about the game against Louisiana Tech.

The Bulldogs and Aggies are familiar foes. They opposed each other in the PCAA and Big West conferences from 1985-1991. Fresno State has never lost to NMSU. They are 11-0 all time in the series, but have not played in Las Cruces since 1991, a 42-28 win.

The Aggies’ coach Hal Mumme uses a spread offense. He patterned his offense after the successful system used by BYU. Mumme studied the offense while an assistant with UTEP from 1982-85. He was head coach of Kentucky from 1997-2000, and led the Wildcats to back to back bowl games in 1998 and 1999. From 2003-2004 he was the head coach at Division I-AA Southeastern Louisiana. SLU led I-AA is total offense last year with 537 yards per game, with 408 of those passing.

Defensively, the Aggies use a base 3-4 defense. Their defensive coordinator is Woody Widenhofer. He is the former coordinator of the Pittsburgh Steeler Steel Curtain defense of the late 1970’s and coach of the Oklahoma Outlaws of the old USFL. Widenhofer followed Mumme from SLU, but was also a successful defensive coordinator at Vanderbilt in the late 90’s.

NMSU has given up at least 34 points in each game this year, and have only top 20 points offensively once this season. Mumme is still optimistic about the rest of this season and believes his offense will improve.
“We're still trying to put this thing together and I'm not giving up on this and I don't think anyone else has either,” he said.
“We've got seven good conference games left and this is our first chance to play in the WAC. We have some exciting games coming up and our guys are going to be excited to play every week and this week's no exception. We get to be on national TV against Fresno State and the good thing about that is that it's at home.”
The Aggies will be hosting their third straight national televised home game, but it will be the first WAC home game ever for NMSU. If Fresno State does not start fast, the Aggies might gain some needed confidence and play the Bulldogs tougher than expected.

The Aggies need to settle on a starting quarterback first. Joey Vincent accounted for 221 yards of total offense against Cal in his first career start, but struggled at Louisiana Tech. Royal Gill started the first three games, and came off the bench last week and played good against Louisiana Tech.

“The best thing I can tell you right now is that I don't know who I'm going to start” said Mumme.

“We'll just have to see who plays better in practice this week. If you look at the stats, we've got the leading rusher and the leading receiver in the conference, but the key statistic has been turnovers. Most of those are interceptions. We haven't made very many fumbles so obviously that's one place we've got to improve.”

The Aggies can not afford to turn the ball over against Fresno State; otherwise the game could get ugly fast. The Bulldogs took control of a very good Toledo team last week after the Rockets coughed up the ball on consecutive possessions.

Taking care of the football is something NMSU is focusing on.

“Turnovers have been a problem for us throughout the season and this week our focus will be on executing the plays without turning over the ball; making the right decisions,” says Mumme.

Ironically, the Aggies best player in not on offense, but defense. Jimmy Cottrell is arguably the best linebacker in the WAC. The 6’1 238lb senior plays the Mike position and will be all over the field Saturday night. Too bad he will not be enough to slow down the Bulldogs alone.

Fresno State can run and pass equally effective. The Bulldogs passed on Oregon and ran on Toledo. NMSU will have to pick their poison Saturday night.

“They're a good football team, they're a top 25 team,” said Mumme.

“They have two running backs that they tandem and they're getting good results with them. Fresno State is kind of like California, they're offenses are very similar.”
Cal struggled against the Aggies in the first half of their game, something Fresno State will avoid. The Bulldogs start fast and do not look back. Fresno State 59, NMSU 14.

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