When new New Mexico State football Coach Jim Hess first met the Big West press in early August, the first thing he mentioned was that the Aggies were named the worst football program in America.
Since then, New Mexico State has lost eight more ballgames and now is working on a 25-game losing streak as it slides into Logan for a meeting with the rapidly improving Utah State Aggies at noon Saturday at Romney Stadium.The Utah Aggies' coaching staff, however, has a lot of respect for Hess.
Utah State Coach Chuck Shelton mentions the obvious, that "The big concern is you don't contribute to your own downfall." A well-coached underdog can "come in and function well and get some breaks," Shelton says.
"They do have big-play potential," he adds, noting the quarterback (David Chisum) and a couple of receivers (school career record-holder for receptions) Alvin Warren, who averages 14.9 yards a catch, and Richard Sanchez, averaging 9.5 a catch.
But beyond that, Shelton and offensive coordinator Pat Behrns (who once assisted at NMSU) respect Hess' ability to turn teams around and what seems to be a new commitment by the school to its program.
Shelton and Behrns each applied for NMSU coaching positions in the past, and Shelton coached against the school in the Missouri Valley Conference when he was at Drake, so they're familiar with its history.
Recruiting was restricted by budget and coaching changes, Shelton says, but Hess, with a strong background in the Texas area, will get the job done, Shelton says. Hess built Stephen F. Austin into a Division I-AA national contender before moving to NMS, and he also built the program at Angelo State.
New Mexico State came fairly close against a couple of Big West teams, falling 24-20 to UNLV and 31-27 at Long Beach. They also came within three of UTEP, 27-24. Their other games were pretty much blowouts.
Inconsistency is consistent.
Says Hess, by way of example: "(Fullback) Jimmie Mitchell's the toughest human being on earth. He made one run against Tulsa (last week, a 35-10 loss) where he had absolutely no blocking. He picked up 12 or 13 yards.
"What mystifies you is why he can't do it every single play. We only run about four running plays," Hess says.
He notes misalignments in the secondary that cost the Aggies big runs; he notes chances for quarterback sacks that didn't happen - "We've had our hands on some, but we can't tackle 'em," he says.
"We think that wanting to play hard and emotion will win," says Hess. "That' won't win without ability and execution."
One area that is consistent - kicker Dat Ly. He's 13-for-14 on PATs and 6-for-8 on field goals and leads team scoring with 31 points.