THIS WEEK’S OPPONENT: New Mexico State Aggies (0-3)
DATE & TIME: Saturday, September 21, 7:30 p.m.
SITE: Rose Bowl
TV: Pac-12 Networks
ODDS: UCLA by 42 1/2
After the inspired win over the Nebraska Cornhuskers in Lincoln, and after researching this Saturday’s opponent, the New Mexico State Aggies, it is crystal clear that the biggest challenge for the 13th ranked UCLA Bruins (15th in the coaches’ poll) will be this:
AVOIDING A LETDOWN.
It is never my intention to belittle any team that the Bruins play, but when you look at not only these Aggies from Las Cruces, NM’s current state as they are 0-3 with none of their games being in any doubt, but their whole history, one can’t help but feel sympathy for the lack of success they have had for pretty much their entire existence as a program.
Especially considering that New Mexico State, led by first year head coach Doug Martin, has been playing football since 1894:
* The Aggies have played in only three bowl games in their history, all of them being the Sun Bowl in El Paso, TX, with the last one coming in – get this - 1960.
That is 53 straight years without a post season appearance, the longest current streak in the FBS.
Compare that with UCLA’s 33 bowls, and I think you get the picture.
The silver lining here is that at least the Aggies have never lost a bowl game; they are 2-0-1.
* New Mexico State, playing as an independent this year after the Western Athletic Conference discontinued football, has won but four conference championships, the last one in 1978 – a streak of 34 years without hosting a trophy.
Compare that with UCLA’s 18 conference titles.
* These Aggies haven’t even had a winning season since 2002, when they went 7-5, making it a decade since they’ve won more games than they lost.
Switching to the present, when you look at the New Mexico State players’ statistics, everything points to a mismatch as the numbers of leading rusher Germi Morrison (119 yards, 2.7 yards per carry), leading receiver Joshua Bowen (16 catches, 150 yards, one touchdown), and freshman quarterback King Davis III (14-23, 210 yards and one touchdown) – who will be making his first collegiate start on Saturday – would be good for one game.
However, these are their numbers after three.
On defense, the Aggies, who have given up a whopping 47.3 points per contest, have one guy worth writing about: linebacker Trashaun Nixon, who has 4.5 tackles for loss.
Featuring 37 players from California, including 11 from the L.A. area, there is one thing that New Mexico State has in its favor as they face UCLA (2-0), which is more or less the case of all teams in their shoes:
They have absolutely nothing to lose.
That’s what I would be pounding into those Aggies every day this week if I were their coach.
And that is what Jim Mora’s team needs to keep in mind and guard against this Saturday.
Brett Hundley, Shaq Evans, Jordon James, Anthony Barr, Jordan Zumwalt, and the rest of the Bruins need to treat New Mexico State as if they were – yes, I’ll say it – Alabama, Ohio State, Oregon, Stanford, or any of the other big-name monsters and make it a short night on Saturday.
Go for the quick knockout.
End it early.
No mercy – at least until the game is safely out of reach.
In other words, their goal needs to be to have the starters out by the fourth quarter and let the back-ups like quarterback Jerry Neuheisel play.
In fact, the earlier that UCLA can allow the second and third-stringers to play, the better; that would be a sign that business was taken care of and the team is so far ahead on the scoreboard that it doesn’t matter.
Otherwise, well…I don’t even want to consider the alternative; not that the Bruins have any realistic chance of losing, but if the Aggies are within even four scores, that would be cause for much worry for the Pac-12 season.
On top of everything else, I’m looking forward to seeing how UCLA handles playing an overmatched opponent after such an emotional win over a big-time program on the road, as well as seeing Nick Pasquale’s – who passed away on September 8th – framed jersey #36 given to his parents and his brother in a ceremony after the first quarter.