Game Time: 10:00 PM ET, Saturday, August 31st
Location: Martin Stadium, Pullman, WA
TV: Pac-12 Network
Line: WSU -31.5, O/U 65
I’ll go ahead and get this out of the way now.
- We are not going to win this game.
- It does not matter if we win this game.
Washington State is an excellent team, even for the Pac-12, who loses their quarterback, their depth at running back, their depth at linebacker, and the best parts of their secondary.
This means that, on the surface, they’ll be a little less efficient on offense, and struggle even more defensively (especially on second-level runs).
They’ll still be one of the best teams the Aggies face all season long, by a comfortable margin.
When Washington State has the ball, expect the Cougars to lean on running back Max Borghi until Anthony Gordon gets things figured out under center. The Cougars run a quick-hitting, efficiency-based offense that is designed to keep pressure off the quarterback, and they have an experienced offensive line returning that makes that even more challenging.
One thing the Aggies can be sure of is that they won’t get physically dominated from a size perspective. Wazzu only rosters a couple of linemen on their entire depth chart that top the 300-pound mark, so NMSU defenders shouldn’t be getting rag-dolled at the line.
Second-level discipline will be a big deal here, as the Cougars are more of a death-by-a-thousand-papercuts type of attack that aims to wear you out and then hit a big play or three to salt things away.
There are definite concerns for the Cougars this season, but they are largely centered around a notable loss of depth and experience in a number of areas, and they’re still a leg up on the Aggies even without that depth being around. A lack of depth can mean that injuries can make things interesting quickly, but that’s not something to give much airtime in week one.
The Cougars have never been a great special teams threat, but have at least been mediocre the last couple of seasons and at least have experience in that department, though I don’t anticipate it being a huge factor.
When New Mexico State has the ball, I anticipate something that looks a lot better than last year’s performances against Wyoming, Minnesota, and Utah State, but probably won’t look good enough to win the game.
Last season, the Aggies started out averaging 10 points and 229 yards in those three games. All three opponents had better defenses in 2018 than Washington State did, and I can make that comparison in a meaningful way for 2019 because everyone in that group except Wyoming returns about two-thirds of their production from last season (sacks, TFLs, passes defensed, and INTs).
Also, the Aggies started last season with a big fat question mark at quarterback. They started Matt Romero as an older option at quarterback, intending to see if the best athlete of the bunch could get his mind around the offense quickly enough that whatever wasn’t there could be balanced by the athleticism.
When that quarterback proved his unreadiness in spades and did so against top-notch defenses (USU, MINN, and WYO were all top-40 last season in S&P+), you wound up losing by a combined 137-30. Many things improved as Josh Adkins blossomed, especially the types of things (avoiding turnovers and sacks) that would have helped back in September.
This year they enter the season with a starting quarterback who knows the system, made eight starts last year, spent the entire offseason getting plenty of first-team reps, and hits the ground running the way Coach Martin would have wanted last year.
He also will get to face a defense that is still above average, but not quite as other-worldly as the defenses that started last season’s schedule. He has some returning experience on the line, and plenty of returning experience everywhere else, which should make a trip to Pullman, WA in 2019 a much less daunting experience than a trip to Logan, UT was last season.
The goal of this game is to remain competitive. Produce first downs and points on early drives, strive to maintain some time of possession early on if for no reason than to keep the defense fresh, so that by the time the fourth quarter rolls around you’re not running out an offense that goes three-and-out because they’re unsure and demoralized and a defense that does the opposite out of sheer fatigue.
You know, what we were hoping for last September.
I’m confident the Aggies will not win, but I expect this to more closely resemble their 2016 game against Kentucky than any of their early-season games from last season.
Prediction: Washington State 38, New Mexico State 21