By: Derek Gonzales
October tends to be the month that makes or breaks the season for college football programs. This year, New Mexico State went into the month 1-3, but with a win against Louisiana-Lafayette on the first day of October, hopes of ending their 56-year bowl drought began to grow. Four weeks later, those hopes have been all but dashed. The team is leaps and bounds better than a year ago, so what has happened to put them at 2-6 with four games left to play?
NMSU cannot play well with expectations
Doug Martin touched on it with the Las Cruces Sun-News after a 32-point loss at Idaho. “Losing is easy. It is winning when something is expected of you. That is what is hard. Our players are afraid of carrying the load of winning week after week,” Martin said. They have proved incapable of handling expectations more than a couple times this season. Against Troy, coming off an impressive 42-point outburst against Kentucky that opened eyes, the team followed it up with a 52-6 loss at Troy. After beating the Ragin’ Cajuns 37-31, the team improved to 2-3 and was featured in Sports Illustrated’s bowl projections, the first time NMSU has ever been included. Against an FCS-bound Idaho team, the defense was non-existent, allowing Matt Linehan to throw a career-best 476 yards en route to a 55-23 win. Going into 2017, there will be no excuses. They will need to be able to perform with expectations if they intend on going to a bowl game.
Special Teams has been awful
It has been a problem all year, and against Georgia Southern, it cost the Aggies what would have been a huge win against a top-tier Sun Belt team. Sophomore kicker Parker Davidson has missed at least one extra point or field goal in every Aggie game except one (Kentucky). Against GSU, he left four points in the board with a missed field goal and missed extra point, and NMSU lost 22-19. The kickoff return game has not posed a threat all season, and receiver Greg Hogan fumbled a kickoff against GSU that led to points for the Eagles. It is a recruiting issue as coach Martin has said, and until it stops being a reason the Aggies lose, it is going to continue to hurt the Aggies in most games.
Is there still hope?
Last year, Sun Belt member Georgia State began the season 2-6. The team reeled off four straight wins to close the year and went on to the 2015 Cure Bowl. Having a bye week allows the team to mentally and physically reset before the final four-game stretch of the season. NMSU will head to Arkansas State for a November 12 showdown, and the Red Wolves are 2-4 on the year. They will have nine days to prepare for the Aggies, but NMSU will have two weeks to prepare for them. ASU has disappointed this year, and a loss before the NMSU game might suck the life out of the team. The next week, the Aggies will come back to Las Cruces to play a Texas State team that is in the first year of a rebuild under new head coach Everett Withers. They are 2-5 on the year and still have to play one-loss Troy and Appalachian State. Speaking of the Mountaineers, they will come to Las Cruces November 26, and are the best team in the Sun Belt. If the Aggies have some momentum and are still playing for a bowl bid, this game could be interesting. The Aggies have proved that they can play with anybody in the Sun Belt at home. Closing the season at South Alabama will be no easy task, as USA has knocked off Mississippi State and 24th-ranked San Diego State, but the same team heads into November with a losing record in conference play. Four straight wins seems like a stretch, but if the team can win two more games to improve on last season’s three-win total, it will give the program much needed momentum heading into their last year in the Sun Belt Conference in 2017.