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Opponent Preview: New Mexico State

With a new offense and a new defense, the Aggies are a mystery right now.


Chasing ghosts.

It's the term Texas Longhorns defensive coordinator Manny Diaz likes to use when discussing preparation for oponents undergoing massive schematic changes on one or both sides of the ball entering the season and it's the perfect way to describe how Texas is preparing for the season opener against New Mexico State on Saturday evening.

When former head coach Dwayne Walker bolted for an assistant position with the Jacksonville Jaguars only weeks after bringing Doug Martin back as the offensive coordinator, Martin went ahead and changed the schemes on both sides of the ball, bringing in Gregg Brandon from Wyoming as his offensive coordinator and keeping defensive coordinator David Elson, but switching to a 3-4 defense that is rumored to be an attacking unit.

What does chasing ghosts end up meaning? That Diaz and his defense watched three or four college teams and a handful of junior college teams to try to get a feel for what the New Mexico State offense might do this season. Will it look like Martin's offense at Boston College last season? His offense at New Mexico State when he was the offensive coordinator for Walker in 2011? The Wyoming offense from last season, which is basically the spread offense that Dave Christensen helped run at Missouri? Or perhaps even some elements of Urban Meyer's attack from Brandon's time with Meyer at Bowling Green?

The coaches just don't know, which means that the early part of the game may feature a bit of an adjustment period as Texas figures out how the Aggies plan on attacking them.

One thing that seems relatively clear is that there will be a greater emphasis on the quarterback run game. Last season's starting quarterback, Andrew Manley, was a pocket-bound passer who transferred after it looked like junior dual threat Travaughn Colwell was going to win the starting job. But Colwell never seized control of it during fall camp and was just moved to wide receiver to give way to senior Andrew McDonald, another running option who was a three-star prospect out of Santa Ana CC after starting his career at Ohio.

Colwell will be attempting to replace the production of junior wide receiver Austin Franklin, the team's most valuable offensive weapon who was declared ineligible on August 10 and will redshirt. Franklin posted 74 receptions for 1,245 yards and nine touchdowns last season, though Martin does believe that the team has strong depth at the position.

Texas is preparing to see some triple option and a heavy dose of running from McDonald and there's the possibility that the Aggies could throw in some trick plays using Colwell's throwing ability. After some struggles handling the triple-option offense employed by New Mexico last season, Texas would probably benefit from having to see some triple option, as it would give the defense a chance to show that they understand their option rules better than they did last season.

Dealing with a running quarterback could also provide some important game reps in advance of seeing BYU's Taysom Hill next week, a big and athletic quarterback who could pose some problems for Texas defenders.

The Texas defensive line should have a chance to make some plays against a New Mexico State offensive line that gave up 84 tackles for loss in 2012 and features two players under 300 pounds, though sophomore Isaiah Folasa is a 335-pound mauler who may create some holes against any team he faces this season. The unit also struggled in pass protection, allowing 42 sacks (tied for 120th nationally), but it does feature an all-conference performer in senior left tackle Davonte Wallace, one of those undersized players at 272 pounds.

If there's some hope for improvement offensively, it may come from the improved depth at running back. Senior Germi Morrison averaged 4.8 yards per carry last season and will be joined by freshman Marquette Washington, a consensus three-star prospect out of high school, and junior college transfer Jermichael Selders, whom some recruitniks might remember as a three-star prospect out of Houston Cy Creek who signed with Baylor in 2011, but ended up at the City College of San Francisco.

The bottom line is that the team really needs to improve upon the three yards per carry it averaged last season to have any hope of competitiveness this year. Simply making changes to the offense that threaten the defense with a running quarterback could help make a significant difference.

With a supposed emphasis on movement and creating confusion, the Aggie defense could have some issues attempting to play those type of games against the new up-tempo Texas attack, which will force them to make calls quickly and provide limited opportunities to disguise coverages in the same way they might have been able to against Bryan Harsin's offense in the past.

It's also the side of the ball that could see the most improvement this year. Michigan State transfer Matt Ramondo has some talent and he'll get some help from Arizona transfer Willie Mobley. Senior linebacker Trashuan Nixon registered 9.5 tackles for loss last season and could see some time as a stand-up defensive end this season.

The secondary struggled giving up big plays last season (31 passes of more than 25 yards) and turned opposing quarterbacks into top-25 passers nationally (150.7 passer rating). Senior Davis Cazares led the team with 116 tackles last season, but he can be exploited in the passing game if Texas can isolate him on a faster receiver. Adding former five-star UCLA wide receiver Randall Carroll as a cornerback could be a strong addition if he can finally produce to his prodigious potential.

The word is that the defense will employ more zone coverages to allow for more zone blitzes and slanting along the defensive line in an effort to create penetration. However, the problem is that the defense has struggled to stop the offense from picking up yards in scrimmages in the spring and fall. In the zero-sum game of practice, does that say more about improvement from the offense or continued struggles from the defense?

No way to tell until Saturday night.

It's also worth pointing out that New Mexico State is one of the absolute worst jobs in college football. Bill C chronicled some of the wreckage in his preview for the mothership:

Using Sports-Reference's SRS ratings, the best New Mexico State team of the last 40 years went 7-5 (with no bowl), lost to a 4-7 Utah State team, and ranked 75th in FBS. The Aggies have not attended a bowl since its 11-0 squad of 1960 went down the road to beat Utah State in the Sun Bowl in El Paso. The team has more 0- or 1-win seasons in the last 40 years (eight) than winning seasons (three). The last two head coaches have left Las Cruces with records of 11-38 (Hal Mumme, 2005-08) and 10-40 (DeWayne Walker, 2009-12).

This job basically eats coaches alive and then spits them out again as an amorphous mass of blood and guts. Yeah, it's really that bad.

Consider that in the S&P+ ratings, only Colorado and UMass were worse teams last season -- the offense ranked No. 121 nationally and the defense No. 119. The FEI ratings were even less kind, pegging the Aggies dead last. The team finished with a -18 turnover margin.

Texas may be chasing ghosts, and a few of those ghosts are actually pretty talented, so this team should be better this season ad there may be an adjustment period to what the Aggies want to do on both sides of the ball, but giving up more than 10-14 points and failing to hit the 50-point mark would represent some cause for concern moving forward for the Horns.