If you’ve not heard about the New Mexico State Aggies, here’s a quick recap of their last few years: Coach Doug Martin spent 5 years improving the Aggies, getting them up to a fairly respectable 50th ranked offense by S&P+ by 2017 and a 7-5 record, which got them to their first bowl game in 57 years.
Except then they got dumped from the SunBelt conference, and spent 2018 as an independent. Couple that with the 2017 squad being senior-laden, and last season saw the Aggies drop to only 3 wins and 123rd overall by S&P+. Not quite the worst in FBS, but definitely knocking on the door.
Fortunately for the Aggies, their offense is much more stable and brings experience to the table this season. QB Josh Adkins wrestled the job away from JUCO transfer Matt Romero last season and had a number of dynamic moments. This year, Adkins will get a full season as a starter and will have most all of his receivers back from last year, when he passed for 2563 yards on 393 attempts. While not the most efficient or consistent in the passing game, he was in the top 50 in explosiveness and 20-passes per game and contributed 260 yards on the ground.
He lost his top receiver from last season in Jonathan Boone, but returns a plethora of seniors. And considering his penchant for spreading the ball around, don’t expect the loss of Boone to change things too much. 5’7” slot receiver OJ Clark turned 79 targets into 512 yards last year with a solid 65% catch rate. On the outside, 6’3” Drew Dan was significantly less efficient with only a 50% catch rate, but led the team with 13.3 yards per catch and 3 receiving touchdowns.
Diminutive running back Jason Huntley was highly involved in the passing game as well, racking up 529 yards on on 47 catches. Though under 190 pounds, Huntley made his mark all over the field and led the team in all-purpose yards.
There’s also Tony Nicholson, a Baylor transfer who is the highest-rated recruit on the NM State squad. The 5’10” senior caught 41 passes for 344 yards with the Bears last year. Then throw in senior back-ups Anthony Muse and Izaiah Lottie and a trio of JUCO transfer WRs, and Adkins has a plethora of steady, if not all that dangerous, options to turn to.
Interestingly, the Aggies were actually fairly efficient when they ran the ball the last year. Huntley had 505 yards and 7 touchdowns on 109 carries, and the much larger Christian Gibson had 590 yards on 96 carries (6.15 yards per carry, for those mathematically challenged). Despite the solid yards/carry and success rate, they still opted to pass at a much higher rate.
They return two multi-year starters on the left side of the offensive line in Sage Doxtater and Brian Trujillo, but the center and entire right side are all new starters.
Now, you might wander why I’m only speaking about their performance last season— there’s a good reason for that. They opened with Washington State last week, who obliterated the Aggies to the tune of 58-7.
To copy a quote from our SBNation sister site:
There weren’t many positives but Josh Adkins had a decent game, going 28-42 for 221 yards and a rushing touchdown. Jason Huntley finished with 54 yards and a nice 6.3 yard per rush average. On the receiving end, Tony Nicholson and OJ Clark both had seven receptions.
So yeah. Looks like more of the same. The Aggies rushed well when they could be bothered to try, and got meager yards on a whole lot of passing volume on their way to a 7-point outing.
In all honesty, this team is more likely than not to not score a single time this Saturday. They don’t have an All-ACC all-purpose back like Duke did in Deon Jackson, and the Blue Devils only managed to score one field goal when the Tide gifted them a short field after a fumble.
That said, it will give the Alabama defense some practice in specific matchups. First will be stopping a surprisingly efficient Aggie run game while expecting a pass on every play. DJ Dale, Shane Lee, and Christian Harris will have to not get caught up in selling out on pass coverage else they get gashed up the middle.
The other is going to be Patrick Surtain II and Jared Mayden/Shyheim Carter (and the freshman linebackers, again) having to cover a plethora of tiny slot receivers in short areas. While Alabama has more notably struggled on the deep outsides during Saban’s tenure, there have been instances (such as against Texas A&M in 2012/2013, Clemson in 2015/2016, and Auburn in 2017) where the slot guys have burned the interior defenders for first down after first down. At the very least, it will be good practice for big defensive backs like Surtain and Mayden to have to cover the small, quick players that New Mexico State employs at receiver.