With a bowl game and a three-game win streak on the line, the Georgia Southern Eagles travel to Las Cruces, New Mexico for a clash with the New Mexico State Aggies. We talked with New Mexico State’s student newspaper, The Round Up’s sports editor, James Martin, to get his thoughts on the game.
How has the team handled their first season as an independent following their first bowl game in 50 years?
It’s safe to say that New Mexico State is missing the magic they carried throughout their fairy tale 2017, but that was to be expected. The lack of resources have always made winning in Las Cruces a challenge, but it’s even harder when you consider the team graduated their leading passer, rusher, receiver and tackler last season.
Head coach Doug Martin is doing an excellent job turning the culture of the program around, and his decision to promote redshirt freshman Josh Adkins to the starting quarterback spot puts the Aggies in a good position for the future — this season is a rebuilding one.
Last week running back Jason Huntley had the most all-purpose yards in FBS this season with 373. What’s the likelihood of continuing that production this week?
With Jason Huntley’s speed, it would be foolish to count that out.
Huntley hasn’t gotten a ton of opportunities this year with NMSU’s limited rushing attack, but the junior’s acceleration, shiftiness and soft hands make him dangerous running the ball, catching it out of the backfield and returning kickoffs, as displayed by his 87 yard return for a touchdown last week. I don’t think he’s due for another 350-plus combined yard outing, but if Martin can come up with creative ways of getting Huntley the ball in space, he’s a big play threat just waiting to happen.
Following up with that, how were the Aggies not able to rally around offensive production for a win?
When you consider how NMSU’s offense was their biggest issue in the first five games of the season, the Aggies’ 400-plus yard, four touchdown performance against Louisiana-Lafayette is a great sign of continued improvement with Adkins under center.
That early season script has completely flipped over the last two weeks, though, with the Aggie defense giving up 1283 combined yards of total offense to Liberty and ULL, including a putrid 759 yards and 66 points to the Ragin Cajuns on the road last Saturday. Regardless of how well your offense does, it’s hard to win a game when you allow a team to score points on all but one of their 11 possessions.
What’s been the biggest positives for a 2-5 NMSU team halfway through the season?
The emergence of Adkins as the quarterback of both the present and future has been what’s most encouraging to me. Adkins was being groomed as the heir to the Aggie QB throne throughout the offseason, where he showed enough promise to separate himself from the pack of young passers and earn the third-string spot, but was thrust in the spotlight just four games into the season after upperclassmen Nick Jeanty and Matt Romero struggled with their opportunities. Adkins has already won two of his three starts and showed his ceiling with a 402 yard, four touchdown performance against Liberty two weeks ago, and if New Mexico State isn’t vying for a bowl spot, they will at least be developing a young player at the most important position on the field.
How hostile of an environment is Saturday’s game in Las Cruces going to be?
For Las Cruces standards, the Aggies have been drawing well recently, with three of their last four home games seeing over 20,000 fans in attendance. However, in their last contest at Aggie Memorial Stadium against Liberty, attendance just cracked 8,000… on their homecoming game. NMSU is capable of having a strong home field advantage, but it’s unlikely for this weekend, especially with where the team sits record wise.
Does the team prepare differently for games against former Sun Belt teams, like GS?
Martin and his players talked about having some extra motivation going into last week’s game against ULL, and that will be no different with Georgia Southern coming to town. There’s that “prove it” mentality that comes with facing an ex-conference opponent, and any win against a Sun Belt team will be a little bit sweeter.
What is your prediction of the game?
Georgia Southern 31, New Mexico State 20. Things couldn’t get much worse than they did for the Aggie defense last week, so they will bounce back to an extent, but the Eagles ground game will still be able to take advantage of a NMSU front-seven that allows almost 260 rushing yards a game. The offense is starting to find their groove, but since his insertion into the starting lineup, Adkins is yet to play a defense as good as GS’ has been. New Mexico State keeps it interesting with this essentially being a must-win to keep their chances for bowl eligibility alive, but GS keeps rolling to their sixth win in seven games to start the season.
McClain Baxley, The George-Anne Sports Editor, firstname.lastname@example.org