By: Derek Gonzales
It has been a rare occurrence to see the New Mexico State football team play meaningful football in October, but this year’s team is in the midst of doing just that this season. After two thrilling home wins against New Mexico and Louisiana-Lafayette, NMSU will look to earn its first 3-0 home start since 2002 against Georgia Southern Saturday October 22 at 6 p.m.
Know the Foe
Georgia Southern will come into Aggie Memorial Stadium under the guidance of first-year head coach Tyson Summers. Summers took over this offseason for Willie Fritz, who led the Eagles to a 17-7 record in his two seasons, including an 8-0 conference record in 2014, all while leading the transition from FCS to FBS. He accepted the head coaching job at Tulane this past offseason. They are 3-3 on the year, and bring a three-game losing streak into Las Cruces, all of which have been on the road.
What Georgia Southern does well
Georgia Southern presents a problem that NMSU has historically struggled with. Their offense is built around running the football. The Eagles run the triple option out of spread formations, similar to what New Mexico does. GSU is led by senior running back Matt Breida. Breida was a first-team Sun Belt conference running back the past two years, but is only fourth on the team in rushing this season, averaging just 55.8 yards per game. Quarterbacks Kevin Ellison and Favian Upshaw have split time behind center, with both having thrown 40 passes on the year and Upshaw only having eight more rushing yards than Ellison on the year. The team is averaging 31.6 points per game, is giving up only 21.2 per contest.
How GSU will attack NMSU
NMSU will need to play a complete 60 minutes against a program that has grown into being a top-3 Sun Belt power. GSU will try to keep the high-powered Aggie offense off the field by running the ball on early downs and trying to get into third-and-short situations. Their average time of possession is 35:03, and coupled with a 45.8 percent third-down conversion rate, the Eagles will look to wear the NMSU defense out while keeping Larry Rose III and company on the sidelines.
Things NMSU needs to do well to win
In a game that appears to be evenly matched on paper, this game will come down to whoever does the little things right. NMSU will not be able to get away with kicking woes, pre-snap penalties, or turnovers as they did against the Ragin’ Cajuns. The Aggies will move on the
ball on any team in the conference, but scoring touchdowns in the red zone will be crucial. Not only does it put more points on the board, but it will give the defense a second wind it will need against a run-heavy GSU offense. The Aggies also need to get off to a quick start, as they did in their last home game. Making GSU play from behind will force them to throw the ball, which is not what they are comfortable doing. The Aggie defense will need to play gap-assignment football well, and should do their best to take away the dive option, forcing GSU to take their option plays to the sidelines, where safeties Jaden Wright and Jacob Nwangwa will be to clean up. If the Eagles are successful with the dive, their offense will hum along and it will be a long night for the home team.
The Aggies appear on the cusp of making their 2016 season a special one, and a win Saturday night against a talented Georgia Southern team would put NMSU one step closer towards ending the nation’s longest bowl drought.