South Alabama Jaguars (4-7, 3-4) at New Mexico State Aggies (5-6, 3-4)
Location: Aggie Memorial Stadium, Las Cruces, NM
Time: 2:30 PM MT Saturday, December 2nd
TV: ESPN3 (via AggieVision)
Line: NMSU -9.5, O/U 54
History: South Alabama won first meeting, 35-28, last year
Each of these teams scared the stuffing out of their fan bases last week. South Alabama got run off the field by a suddenly resurgent Georgia Southern team, and New Mexico State had an unexpectedly close call against an Idaho team playing their third-string freshman quarterback.
Both teams are hoping to wash away that game with their performance this week, but very different things have happened to the two teams in the interim, and the game has very different meanings for each.
That last game was just weird. The Jaguars, per Joey Jones’ own admission, were insufficiently prepared for Georgia Southern, came out flat, and then got trucked by a triple-option bulldozer. A team that had given up an average of 18 points per game in their last eight games was down 21-0 after the first quarter and packed it in after that.
Well, since then, Jones announced his resignation, which will take effect after this game, and the Jaguars have had two weeks to get ready.
Being the less prepared and less motivated team screwed the Jaguars two weeks ago. This week, they’re guaranteed to be more of both – in part because they have their coach quitting as motivation and two weeks to prepare, but also in part because they couldn’t be less of either than they were two weeks ago.
We already knew that the Jaguars were a bit “live by the sword, die by the sword” when it comes to turnovers, but it’s truly night and day over the full season. The Jaguars have posted a turnover margin of +11 in their wins and -7 in their losses, and are 0-5 when they lose the turnover battle.
Now last week we finally got reminded that when they get down too far, they’re not built to pass their way back into a game. A rushing game that had started to struggle with Xavier Johnson has struggled even more without him; Johnson rushed for less than five yards in two of his last three games, hasn’t played in the last three, and is still the Jaguars’ leading rusher by a healthy margin.
You’ll be shocked to know that a team with only 434 rushing yards in their last six games (232 of which came against ULM) has a hard time keeping defenses honest, and as a result, the passing game has been all over the place.
Dallas Davis torched ULM, then vanished against Georgia State. Switch over to Cole Garvin, who is uneven at best against Louisiana-Lafayette, but then has his way with Arkansas State, Then Georgia Southern comes and he vanishes again.
South Alabama has long struggled to put together consecutive strong performances. Since the start of the 2013 season, the Jaguars have lost at least two games in a row 12 times. Don’t be shocked if you see number 13 to close out this year.
New Mexico State
Holy cow, last week was far more interesting than it should have been.
In the first eight minutes, the Aggies got two turnovers and a sack knocked the second string quarterback out of the game and raced to a 14-0 lead. I can tell you all else you need to know by saying that 14-0 lead turned into a 17-10 lead.
The defense certainly did its part. Eleven sacks, three turnovers, and only 41 rushing yards allowed. However, their lone fumble of the game was followed by a blown coverage for a touchdown and was then compounded by two failed field goal attempts to make this game all too close.
A pair of made field goals and the Aggies cruise to a 23-10 win. A more robust red zone performance and they’ve got a laugher of a 31-10 win. Nick Jeanty is not a bad quarterback, but the offense was definitely less complex with him under center.
He’s started for the Aggies before, but not since this season’s shift to a more pass-centric attack, as a distinct lack of deep balls showed in his completing 31 passes for only 231 yards.
The good news for the Aggies is that, per head coach Doug Martin, Tyler Rogers could have played that game and was held out as a precaution, and is almost certain to start Saturday. Hopefully, the offensive line can have more success against a team that has a better overall defense but a less adept pass rush.
Larry Rose is still only 320 yards away from becoming the all-time leader in rushing yards in New Mexico State history, and two touchdowns away from doing the same in that category.
But he doesn’t care about that, and the offense has benefitted from his ceding of personal success for Jason Huntley’s emergence and the offense’s desire to throw the ball down opponents’ throats.
The defense has been coming hard for the quarterback this season and succeeding – Terrill Hanks has four sacks, which is fourth best on a defense that has racked up 35 on the season. To give you some perspective, this program recorded a grand total of 42 sacks in the previous four seasons combined and had more than 18 sacks in a season only once in the previous 14 seasons.
Against Idaho, that aggressive defense let a big lead become a small lead but prevented anything else. Against South Alabama, it can hopefully turn a big lead into an even bigger one.
I’ve become less and less comfortable predicting victory for the Aggies, and my main hesitation here is a game where their opponent has had an extra week to prepare and will be extra pumped to send their coach out on a high note.
But the Jaguars are not the only motivated team here, because the Aggies have gotten strong assurances that if they win the Arizona Bowl will welcome them with open arms, and with a target in front of them and a chance to exorcise 57 years worth of demons on the docket, I have faith that the Aggies will handle their business and start a lengthy party in the Las Cruces area.
New Mexico State Aggies 31, South Alabama 21