The 2015 season was a bit of a roller coaster for the New Mexico State Aggies. They went from looking like a lock to go 0-12 to winning three games in a row to losing in the season finale to a dreadful Louisiana Monroe squad.
The continued emergence of running back Larry Rose III and actual belief that they can win at this level have given the Aggies a belief that 2016 can be their year.
Finding a balance between passing and running the football was the best thing to come out of this season on offense. By the end of the season, the Aggies had a 50.4/49.6 mix of pass to run.
The running game was all about Larry Rose III. The sophomore running back ended the season with 1,647 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground. Rose rushed for over 175 yards versus Troy, UTEP, New Mexico, Texas State, and Louisiana. He ended the season seventh nationally in rushing yards. Only a sophomore, he will rewrite the NMSU rushing record books.
The season ending injury to Tyler Rogers did not hurt he Aggies as much as one would thing. The Aggies now have a passing attack with three fairly experienced quarterbacks. Andrew Allen and Nick Jeanty, replacements after the Rogers injury, played about as well as you can ask considering the situation.
Injuries really hurt the production of the wide receiver corps. Teldrick Morgan finally looked like his old self in the final games of the season with 23 catches in the final three games of the season. The ascension of Tyrain Taylor gives the Aggies two very impressive receiving options moving forward. The duo combined for 83 catches, 1,234 yards, and eight touchdowns.
The 2015 season was a tough season for the NMSU defense. The Aggies were among the worst in the FBS in many defensive categories, including points allowed per game. The defense gave up over 40 points on eight occasions in 2015. Only Georgia State, New Mexico, Texas State, and Louisiana could not break 40 points versus NMSU. As a whole, the defense gave up 45.0 points per game last season.
The Aggies got another good season out of linebacker Derek Ibekwe. He was the team's leading tackler with 92 (6.5 tfl), a slight drop from his 102 in 2014. Having only played two seasons for the Aggies, Ibekwe has a chance to leave as the team's all-time leading tackler. Fellow linebackers Dalton Herrington and Rodney Butler, combined 116 tackles (10 tfl), we decent in 2015 and will be back alongside Ibekwe next fall.
The secondary, a group that gave up over 275 yards per game, has a couple of pieces to work with moving forward in Jacob Nwangwa and Terrill Hanks. The duo combined for 166 tackles (8 tfl) and six of the team's 12 interceptions on the year.
Special Teams: C
While punting and field goal kicking were solid, the grade has to be lowered due to punt coverage. The Aggies gave up 10.9 yards per punt return and two touchdowns on the season. Punter Anthony Torres had a solid season with a punting average just over 40 yards per punt. Only 27 punts on the season were returned. That makes the fact that two were taken back for touchdowns that much worse.
As a freshman handling kickoff and field goal duties, Parker Davidson has a very solid season. He had his downs as evidenced by seven kickoffs going out of bounds and only connecting on 60% of his field goals, but that is to be expected from a freshman. He made up for much of that with 49% of his kickoffs landing for touchbacks.
The improvement this team made over the second half of the season was nothing short of amazing. The more Rose got the ball, the better the team as a whole looked. Defense is still an issue that needs to be resolved, whether with scheme or talent, before the Aggies can actually compete on a regular basis. It makes no matter if the offense scored nearly 30 points per game if they give up 45.
Larry Rose III. Was there ever any drama for this award? With a 1,651 yard season in 2015, Rose is on pace to obliterate every rushing record for NMSU and possibly for the Sun Belt as a whole. He earned the MVP with his play in 2015, but Rose already has 2,753 yards rushing and 23 touchdowns in only two seasons of play.
Hope. That would be the best way to describe the frame of mind within and around the NMSU football program. They looked much better as the season progressed and honestly saved the jobs of at least part of the coaching staff. There are still issues that need to be addressed, namely the future of defensive coordinator Zane Vance. He was named the defensive coordinator earlier this year so you would think he would get another chance in 2016 to prove himself, but the defense was absolutely dreadful in 2015.