NMSU preview: If Tide is focused, this could be the biggest blowout in years

 

Alabama has stuck to a system the past few years in regards to its out-of-conference schedule: one good team, one mediocre team and two bad teams every year.

In 2019, the system’s compliance with earlier directives is in jeopardy. The 2019 schedule looks more like: one mediocre team, two bad teams … and New Mexico State.

Put simply, the Aggies are awful. They’ve been awful for quite some time. They’re so awful, their last conference dropped them – the Sun Belt.

(Actually, the last two conferences dropped them. New Mexico State was a member of the Western Athletic Conference – or the Wacky WAC, if you prefer, which is now trying to make a go of things as a non-football conference, and New Mexico State maintains membership there in non-football sports. But the conference ended football after the 2012 season, and NMSU was a victim of that decision.)

Current head coach Doug Martin was hired with a career record of 29-53. He has since gone 20-54 at NMSU.

So how bad can New Mexico State be in 2019? Well, Washington State defeated the Aggies in the opener, 58-7, and it’s not like Mike Leach kept the pedal down the whole time. Alabama was looking for a breather when it scheduled New Mexico State; instead, the Crimson Tide got a wind machine.

OFFENSE
New Mexico State employs four wide receivers on every snap. Not only is there not a fullback on the roster, there are no tight ends. Head Coach Doug Martin also serves as offensive coordinator and will call all the plays. How a former player for Paul Bryant assistant Jerry Claiborne at Kentucky comes out as a full-time, four-wide guy is unclear. What is very clear is that NMSU is struggling. Coming out of the first week, the Aggies ranked 94th in total offense, 101st in rushing offense and 70th in passing offense despite throwing it a lot. There’s surprising balance to this offense in regards to a near-exact 50/50 split between called runs and passes, but there’s no actual ability. Alabama comes out of the first week with a familiar set of stats, mostly those indicating high efficiency.

QUARTERBACKS
Josh Adkins completed 66.7% of his passes for 221 in the opener, not bad numbers. But he was also sacked 3 times and threw 2 interceptions. He’s an average-sized quarterback with a little more muscle than most, but he’s not playing at New Mexico State because he was overlooked. Senior Matt Romero will probably play a bit after things get out of hand. Alabama counters with Tua Tagovailoa, who will probably play the first half before building a lead big enough to sit on. Tagovailoa’s opening-week line score showed him back to peak form. Mac Jones figures to play almost half this game and Lia Tagovailoa ought to get some action as well. Paul Tyson may even see first action. Adkins didn’t do a bad job running the NMSU offense in week one but he’s not as good as any of Alabama’s quarterbacks. Advantage: Alabama

RUNNING BACKS
NMSU didn’t put up big overall numbers against Washington State, but the top two running backs, Jason Huntley and Christian Gibson, did come out averaging 6.3 yards per carry. Both are seniors who know what they’re doing. Huntley is a scatback, while Gibson has surprisingly good size (6’1”, 220) for this level of a program. It’s a tossup between running back and receiver as to what is the team’s strongest unit. Alabama will counter with Najee Harris and Brian Robinson Jr. as the top two backs, but neither had a particularly impressive opening week. Harris would have looked far better had a hold not wiped out a long pass play out of the backfield. Alabama’s leading rusher ended up being freshman Jerome Ford thanks to a late, long touchdown run. Keiland Williams played a bit against Duke and will almost certainly play in this game as well, while Chadarius Townsend should also get some carries. Alabama is still looking for the right change on pace in the backfield and there may be some actual opportunity for depth chart movement coming out of this game. Advantage: Alabama

WIDE RECEIVERS
Of the top five receivers coming out of the opener for New Mexico State, four of them averaged well below 10 yards per reception. O.J. Clark and Baylor transfer Tony Nicholson were the top two receivers, snagging 7 balls apiece, but both players are severely undersized for typical FBS receivers. NMSU will utilize at least seven receivers in its primary rotation, with Drew Dan having enough size to cause some matchup issues. Dan was the only receiver in the top five to average more than 10 yards per catch. Alabama counters with Jerry Jeudy, DeVonta Smith, Henry Ruggs III and Jaylen Waddle, with John Metchie, Slade Bolden, Tyrell Shavers and Xavier Williams also getting work. Alabama’s tight ends, primarily Miller Forristall and Major Tennison, are tall, sure-handed receivers but on second look through Saturday’s game tape, need to tighten up their technique as blockers. Look for a lot of Cameron Latu and Giles Amos in this game as well. As previously noted, New Mexico State has no tight ends on the roster. The Aggies will throw for nearly every yard they need, but results were shaky in Week 1. Meanwhile, Alabama has the best receivers in the country. Advantage: Alabama

OFFENSIVE LINE
Alabama ostensibly has more questions here than does New Mexico State. The Aggies have upperclassmen at the tackles (Jalen Guerrero, Brian Trujillo), a freshman at center (Max Wilhite), and one senior (Tony Bello) and one freshman (Austin Young) at the guard slots. The C-RG gap, which features the two freshmen, ought to be a spot Alabama can exploit. But Alabama has issues of its own. The run blocking against Duke was substandard, and Alabama might not be finished playing around with personnel groupings. Expect Alex Leatherwood and Jedrick Wills to continue to start at the tackles, but the interior could see some upheaval. Evan Neal and Landon Dickerson started at the guards in Week 1, with Chris Owens at center, but Dickerson might be tried at center more this week with Matt Womack working in at guard. Reserve guard Emil Ekiyor was injured against Duke and will miss this game, which creates an opportunity for Kendall Randolph, while Tommy Brown, Scott Lashley and Darrian Dalcourt also figure to get playing time at tackle and center, respectively. No one in their right mind thinks New Mexico State’s OL is better than Bama’s, but Alabama needs to put a better performance on the board. Advantage: Alabama

DEFENSE

Both teams run a version of the 3-4 over/under, but figuring out who runs it best is no mystery. Alabama has a heavy talent advantage across the board, while New Mexico State ranks close to dead last in pass defense categories. One thing that was not in doubt against Duke was Alabama’s ability to disrupt the opposition with its defense. Look for more of the same this week.

DEFENSIVE LINE
Size issues abound here, particularly at the combo end/tackle positions outside. Nosetackles Roy Lopez and Myles Vigne both have decent size (295 pounds or more) to hold down things over the center, but Cedric Wilcots and Xander Yarberough are both small for ends in a 3-4. Reserve end Donovan King showed a decent first step in the opener, coming up with a sack, but there’s just not enough depth here. Alabama will start D.J. Dale in the middle with LaBryan Ray and Raekwon Davis at the ends. Phidarian Mathis, Stephon Wynn Jr. and Byron Young form a talented second line. Really no contest here, and Alabama’s offensive line should push around this defensive line with no problem. Advantage: Alabama

LINEBACKERS
No one could be anything but pleased with the debut of true freshman inside linebackers Shane Lee and Christian Harris, both forced into service due to injuries to the veteran starters ahead of them. Both did solid work against Duke and were helped by pressure from outside linebackers Anfernee Jennings and Terrell Lewis. There appeared to be somewhat of a dropoff inside once Markail Benton and Jalen Moody took the field, but we’ll need a larger sample size to see. Christopher Allen and Ben Davis provide depth outside. For NMSU, size isn’t an issue with Devin Richardson and Javahn Fergurson at weakside and middle linebacker, respectively. Richardson, a freshman, looked especially promising in Week 1. Jonathan Hood, a senior like Fergurson, will start on the strongside. Trevor Brohard is an active, skilled backup. This group could prove to be an advantage for NMSU going forward against like competition, but against Alabama it’s just another area where the Tide is stronger. Advantage: Alabama

DEFENSIVE BACKS
The New Mexico State secondary of Ray Buford and Shamad Lomax at the corners and Rodney McGraw and Austin Perkins at the safeties got lit up in a bad way by Washington State in the opener. Perkins is undersized for a safety. Buford and Lomax are thick at corner but not particularly athletic. Reserve corner Jason Phipps only goes about 160 pounds. Other than McGraw, who had seven tackles and a PBU in Week 1, no one else put up notable stats. Alabama counters with Trevon Diggs and Patrick Surtain II at the corners, with Jared Mayden, Shyheim Carter and Xavier McKinney at the safeties. Expect Alabama to stay in a dime look all day, which would bring Josh Jobe into the game along with the above names. Daniel Wright and Jalyn Armour-Davis would probably be next in line for playing time. Alabama mostly shut down Duke’s offense aside from a couple of deep passes thrown against single coverage. This one isn’t close. Advantage: Alabama

SPECIAL TEAMS
NMSU punter Payton Theisler had a difficult opener, averaging just 37.5 yards per punt. Placekicker Dylan Brown missed his only kick. That doesn’t sound much different from Alabama’s struggles, as Will Reichard didn’t have the kind of opener he could have had. NMSU hasn’t returned a kickoff yet, so the Aggies are unranked there. Alabama has good return teams and coverage teams ought to be a place Alabama’s superior athleticism shines. Until NMSU steps up in the kicking game, athleticism matters more when there’s this much of a gulf between the two teams. Advantage: Alabama

OVERALL

Another straight eight for Alabama, and the Crimson Tide strongly controls both OL-DL matchups. This game will not be close.

Alabama couldn’t have picked a weaker opponent if it had tried. The Aggies are overmatched to a degree we don’t usually see here. The gap is worse than some matchups Alabama has had against Division I-AA opponents.

Therefore, this game becomes all about putting up the “W” and keeping starters healthy. The success of this game will be determined, inversely, by the number of times a starter has to leave the game after getting banged up.

Alabama 59
New Mexico St. 7

Follow Jess Nicholas on Twitter at @TideFansJessN

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