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New Mexico Football: First Look At The Texas A&M Aggies


New Mexico Football: First Look at the Texas A&M Aggies


The Lobos will hit the road to open 2023 in SEC country against the Aggies. Here’s a first look at Texas A&M.


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The heat is on in College Station.

New Mexico Football: First Look at 2023 Non-conference Opponents

Texas A&M | Tennessee Tech | New Mexico State | UMass

When it comes to feverish expectations in college football, few programs do it quite like Texas A&M. After more than a decade in the Southeastern Conference at this point, it’s hard to say whether things are going according to plan but last year, the program’s first losing season since 2009, was far below the 12th Man’s aspirations.

The pressure figures to be as intense as ever in west Texas, but the Aggies will look to turn over a new leaf much like their first opponent of 2023, the New Mexico Lobos.

Location: College Station, Texas

Conference: SEC

Series History: Texas A&M leads the all-time series against New Mexico, 5-0.

2022 Record: 5-7 (2-6 SEC)

Head Coach: Jimbo Fisher (sixth year; 39-21 at Texas A&M, 122-44 overall). To say the Fisher era at Texas A&M has been disappointing would be an understatement to many of the Aggie faithful. Last year marked his first losing campaign in five years at the helm though close game misfortune certainly played a part: A&M had a 2-5 record in games decided by eight or fewer points.

For a coach who’s paid $9.5 million a year after a recent contract extension, that level of outcome won’t do even if it remains to be seen whether the Aggies can re-establish themselves as a dark horse SEC title contender.

Key Players

Ainias Smith, WR

One of the most electric playmakers in the country, Smith’s 2022 season ended up getting mostly wiped out by injury but he still found a way to make an impact in four games, catching 15 passes for 291 yards and two touchdowns. He’s made 25 starts for the Aggies dating back to 2019 and has 22 career scores as a receiver, runner, and punt returner, so he’ll be a primary focus of the offense should he have a clean bill of health.

Walter Nolen, DT

Rated as the second-best overall high school recruit in the entire 2022 class, Nolen wasted little time finding his way onto the field for the Aggies, appearing in ten games while making four starts. According to Pro Football Focus, he only played 289 snaps but posted a respectable 68.1 overall grade with 29 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and a forced fumble. He could be in line to do much more and lay waste to opponents’ best-laid plans more frequently in 2023.

Conner Weigman, QB

Like Nolen, Weigman saw a fair bit of playing time as a true freshman but, unlike his defensive peer, it certainly wasn’t by plan. Injuries and ineffectiveness gave him a shot to start four of the last five contests and it went mostly okay, completing 55.3% of his 132 attempts for 896 yards and eight touchdowns against zero interceptions. He’ll still have to win the job out of fall camp, but his ability to take care of the football could be a valuable asset.

McKinnley Jackson, DT

Where Nolen is the young star on the defensive interior, Jackson is the veteran mainstay lined up alongside him. He made seven starts and notched 37 total tackles, including seven tackles for loss and two sacks, meaning that the 6-foot-4, 325-pound Lucedale, Mississippi native could be in a position to improve his stock for next year’s NFL Draft.

Demani Richardson, S

Richardson spent 2022 as one of the busiest defensive backs anywhere in the SEC, playing a team-high 782 snaps and picking up 74 total tackles, 2.5 TFLs, five pass breakups, and an interception. Heading into his fifth year as a starter for the Aggies,

Overview:

Offense

This side of the ball has been a problem for some years now, but key injuries made the Aggies reach new lows in 2022. By points per drive and available yards percentage earned per drive, Texas A&M posted its worst marks ever by ranking 97th (1.73) and 92nd (41.6%) by those respective efficiency measures. They also averaged 5.73 yards per play, ninth among SEC offenses, which will put pressure on new offensive Bobby Petrino, who bolted for College Station after a brief sojourn to UNLV, to turn things around.

It’ll start at quarterback, where three different players started a game last year and two of them, Weigman and Max Johnson (60.6% completion rate, 517 yards, three TDs, zero INTs), return for the fall. Four-star recruit Marcel Reed and Fresno State transfer Jaylen Henderson could also factor in if things get messy.

The situation at running back, on the other hand, is more clear and arguably has more potential. Amari Daniels and Le’veon Moss combined for just 63 carries last year, but they managed 4.98 yards per carry between them and also have former Colorado State starter David Bailey and five-star recruit Rueben Owens at their disposal, as well.

Among the pass catchers, Smith’s injury actually enabled other youngsters to establish themselves, a bit of good news for whomever emerges as QB1. Sophomore Evan Stewart (53 catches, 649 yards, two TDs) and junior Moose Muhammad (38-610-4) are the headliners, but don’t be shocked if sophomore tight end Donovan Green (22-233-2) makes a big leap.

Better health on the offensive line should factor into improvements here, as well, especially after center Bryce Foster and guards Aki Ogunbiyi and Jordan Spasojevic-Moko each missed at least six games with season-ending ailments. They’ll hope greater continuity leads to greater results after finishing in the middle of the pack nationally with a 6.3% sack rate allowed (64th in FBS) and below it by allowing a 19.9% stuff rate (101st).

Defense

Where the offense scuffled, the Aggies defense mostly played well as a bend-but-don’t-break unit in 2022, ranking 34th in FBS with 1.93 points per drive allowed and 15th by defensive SP+ despite giving up 48.1% of available yards per drive (76th) on average. It also happens to be one of the most experienced units anywhere in the country headed into this fall, bringing back 79% of last year’s production.

Any rebound is likely to start on this side of the ball and that rebound is likely to start up front, where Jackson and Nolen headline a young but wildly talent-rich bunch on the defensive line. Fadil Diggs (28 tackles, five tackles for loss, three sacks), Shemar Turner (32 tackles, 4.5 TFLs), and Shemar Stewart (23 tackles, 3.5 TFLs, 1.5 sacks) are each capable of disrupting any given play and their ranks can only be bolstered by the arrival of five-star blue chip David Hicks.

Linebacker, by contrast, figures to be the most experienced group here with Edgerrin Cooper and Chris Russell Jr. back in the fray after combining for 127 total tackles and 15 tackles for loss last season. The secondary, meanwhile, restocked around Richardson with the transfer portal by bringing in Tony Grimes (28 starts at North Carolina), Josh DeBerry (14 TFLs, 19 PBUs in 39 games at Boston College), and Sam McCall (Florida State) to compete with holdovers like sophomores Bryce Anderson (28 tackles, 3.5 TFLs), Deuce Harmon, and Jacoby Matthews.

Early Prediction

Even if the Lobos are vastly improved from a year ago, the Aggies are still most likely to win this one going away.

Texas A&M 42, New Mexico 10

Want to learn more about Texas A&M football? Be sure to visit our friends over at Aggies Wire.

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