It’s hard being a defensive-minded coach in the WAC, and New Mexico State coach DeWayne Walker found that out the hard way last season.
Walker, who took the New Mexico State job last season after serving as the defensive coordinator at UCLA, didn’t know just how tough bringing defense to one of the nation’s most offensive-minded conferences would be. The Aggies, who finished 3-10 last year, ranked 103rd in total defense, allowing 423.62 yards per game -- one of seven teams in the WAC that ranked 90th or lower in the country in total defense.
But Walker hasn’t given up the dream of making New Mexico State one of the better defensive teams in the league. In fact, he’s embraced it. He’s challenged himself and his team to be the defensive team he envisioned -- the team that gave up 24 points per game in the first half of the season, not the one that allowed 44.3 ppg in the second half of the year.
“We don’t want shootouts, we want to be able to play some defense,” Walker said. “I’m a defensive coach. I want to be able to establish one of the better defenses in our conference. I know Boise State, they’ve been kingpin as a team and one of the better offenses and defenses in the conference. We want to be able to play some defense in an offensive conference.”
Walker isn’t naive. He knows that just having a good defense isn’t going to win him games in a conference that featured six of the top 50 scoring offenses in the country.
Last year, New Mexico State was last in the country in scoring with 11.46 points per game. The Aggies had a 1,000-yard rusher that scored just one touchdown. Quarterbacks Jeff Fleming and Trevor Walls combined for 1,141 total yards and six touchdowns. To put that in perspective, Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore eclipsed that passing total before the end of the fourth game of the season and had thrown more touchdowns passes by Game 3. Fleming had more interceptions in his first three games than Moore had all season.
Through the Aggies first six games, the offense averaged 16 points per game. They were down to 8.8 in the second half.
“You hate to pick on one side of the ball, but when we were 3-3, we were averaging 17 to 20 points per game and we’re 3-3,” Walker said. “So, defensively, we were fighting our tails off to keep the scores down. And then when you get to your last half of the season and you’re only averaging seven points a game, you’re not going to win. We’re not the ’85 [Chicago] Bears on defense. We have an identity on defense and I think our guys laid a foundation, but you’re just not going to have a lot of success as a football team if you can’t score some points.”
Walker hired a new offensive coordinator and is in the process of hiring a new running backs coach. He has a lot of confidence in his senior class and has seen a sense of determination this offseason. While a three-win season isn't earth-shattering, it was better than the first year of Walker’s predecessor, Hal Mumme, who went 0-12.
Looking back, Walker said he thought his team could have won two or three more games than it did and he’s using those games as teaching tools and motivation for his players.
Now, he’s hoping that they respond.
“One [winning] year doesn’t really establish consistency when you compare your program to Fresno and Nevada and Boise,” Walker said. “I want to be able to build a program that’s going to be consistent and not just going to be a flash in the pan. You need to have two or three winning seasons to put yourself in that class of quality teams in our conference.
“These kids here, they believe in us, and I just feel like as a coaching staff, we’re obligated to get this thing done.”