Special to the Star-Advertiser
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Nov 28, 2010
LAS CRUCES, N.M. » As New Mexico State head football coach DeWayne Walker enters his second full offseason in charge of the Aggies, he goes into an evaluation phase and will be taking a step back.
This isn't a program that needs only a tweak or a nudge to become competitive in the WAC, or whatever the league will be beyond 2011.
After Hawaii rolled NMSU 59-24 yesterday, and the Aggies limped to the finish 2-10 (1-7 in the WAC), that much was clear, as it has been for much of the year.
"We still have a long way to go," said Walker, who called the season a challenge. "There's a lot -- a lot -- of things you could factor in. ... We have to look at definitely what's going on on the field, but also what's going on off the field.
"You have to compare what you have to your competitors. I think if you're on the same level in all the areas, then it's: Are you getting the job done or not."
Though it's clear Walker doesn't think NMSU is on the level of its current and future WAC peers, he declined to elaborate much beyond saying his Aggies have fewer strength coaches than most other schools and a smaller recruiting budget.
Looking back at the numbers, NMSU has some ugly statistical moments this season. Perhaps none more glaring than what Hawaii running back Alex Green did to the Aggies. He broke a 60-year-old school record with 327 rushing yards and a pupil-popping average of 17.2 yards per carry.
Said Walker: "I was always concerned when you put an emphasis to stop the passing game. When you've got a big beast back there and you're using all your bodies to stop the passing game, all it takes is one missed gap. And that's what happened."
But some glimmers have shone through, one being freshman quarterback Andrew Manley, from Leilehua High School. He came into the game against rival New Mexico and completed two key passes that set up the game-winning field goal. Though his numbers haven't been impressive -- Manley hovered around 50 percent completions and threw six interceptions and one touchdown -- Walker has labeled him as the quarterback of the future for NMSU.
He and junior Matt Christian should wage a strong competition for the starting job next season.
"I feel like I've gotten more leadership," Manley said. "I feel like I've been able to talk to the guys about the offense more. ... I'm actually able to see defenses a lot better now."
It's clear that it's also a point of pride for Walker that this season's two wins came against programs (New Mexico, San Jose State) he considers to have an advantage in resources.
In the postgame news conference at Aggie Memorial Stadium, Manley was one of several NMSU players to project confidence in Walker and patience in what likely won't be a quick process of building a winner at NMSU -- the program has had three winning seasons since 1970.
"Every meeting Coach Walker always has something positive to say to us, to get us fired up," Manley said. "We just have to keep getting the program better and better. We will get better."