New Mexico State was originally slated to play a game against Nicholls State last week, but that game was postponed because of hurricane Gustav. It’s now been cancelled due to damage to the Nicholls State stadium, but the key is that the Aggies come into Lincoln having not played a game.
Coach Hal Mumme arrived in 2005, and by now will have replaced the option-based players with his own guys, so if there was to be a turn-around expected this would be the season. Mumme established a name for himself at Kentucky where he coached from 1997-2000, but ran into problems with the NCAA at the end of his tenture. He was forced to serve time as a head coach in a lower division before he was allowed to return to Division IA with New Mexico State.
Three coaches from Mumme’s staff became head coaches - Mike Leach at Texas Tech, Guy Morriss who succeeded him at Kentucky and then became the head man at Baylor, and Chris Hatcher, current head coach at Georgia Southern.
Interesting to note that the previous Aggie coach was former Husker Tony Samuel who ran an option-based offense at NMSU. (Samuel is now struggling at last week’s Mizzou foe, SE Missouri.) Barney Cotton, Marvin Sanders, and Jeff Jamrog were assistant coaches under Samuel during his stint at NMSU.
Mumme is known for his "Air Raid" offense and much like Texas Tech under Mike Leach, NMSU will throw the ball. Then they’ll throw the ball some more and some more after that, averaging over 50 passes a game.
The Aggies have a decent combination for success with quarterback Chase Holbrook and wide receiver AJ Harris. Holbrook is a big guy at 6’ 5", 230 lbs, and he finished second in passing yardage in Division IA last season, throwing for 4,619 yards. He completed just over 705 of his passes, with a 34-9 touchdown to interception ratio. He is not a mobile guy, but a traditional pocket passer. Harris caught 81 balls in 2007 and has caught 190 over the past three years, making him one of the more succesful receivers in Aggie history.
If that sounds imposing, consider that NMSU is 2-18 all time against Big 12 teams, the only wins coming against Kansas in 1988 (snicker) and (of course) Iowa State in 1983. The Aggies have played Nebraska twice before, losing both - a 57-0 nailbiter in 1979 and 68-0 in 1982.
The Aggies run a 3-3-5 defense, meaning three down linemen, three linebackers and five defensive backs. Rumored to be a great defense against the spread (as if there is such a thing) with the right personnel (as is true for any defense), it should present an opportunity for the Cornhuskers to establish a strong running game.
The problem with the 3-3-5 is defensive speed - if the Aggies put eight guys "in the box" most of them will be smaller and quicker than our linemen. This translates to little pulling or trapping with a heavy reliance on zone blocking, i.e., blocking the man in front of you. We’ll see a defense that moves around a lot before the snap, so that's not as easy as it sounds. Specifically, the line must make good decisions so they don't end up double-teaming a defensive lineman while another remains unblocked. This is key to a running game that must become more consistent as through two games the Huskers are averaging 37.5% on third-down conversions.
Lydon Murtha will start for the first time this season at right tackle and if he’s bought into Pelini’s program we should see a high level of aggression from him. Murtha is the type of player that can anchor the right side of the line - combine his size and athleticism with Slauson and the Husker should be unstoppable on the right side. Whether or not they will remains to be seen, but the physical, brutal, dominating mentality must be brought out of them and the Aggies are a perfect opponent against which to do it.
One thing you can count on - New Mexico State will score this time in Lincoln. Defense appears to be optional for most teams these days and Nebraska is no exception. Two points of interest for the defense - the Husker defensive line playing against a team that lives (or dies) off pass blocking. Can Suh and Steinkuhler explode the middle like they've done in previous games? That and given the Aggies propensity to throw the ball, I’ll be watching to see how many defensive backs Pelini puts on the field at any one time.
NMSU is another vastly inferior team that’s coming to Lincoln for a body bag game. Like the first two games of the season, this game will be available on FSN Pay Per View. After last week’s sloppy play, I wonder how much interest there will be in this game. It is a chance to see if Nebraska has improved, particularly in offensive and defensive consistency, but won’t be much of a game. I said the same about San Jose State, but the fact that the Aggies haven’t played a game is a huge difference.
Still, if we struggle with the Aggies, prepare to adjust your expectations lower than you already have.