This is not necessarily the kind of schedule-filler New Mexico State University’s football program had in mind.
The Aggies will host Alcorn State today in their home finale and want nothing more than to start building positive momentum for next season. The 2018 season has been a disappointment for NMSU (2-7) after breaking a decades-long bowl drought in 2017.
One might think today’s contest would be exactly the type of Senior Day tonic the Aggies need. The visiting Braves (7-2) undoubtedly have other ideas.
From Lorman, Miss., Alcorn State comes into Las Cruces as one of the nation’s top FCS programs and is statistically solid on both sides of the ball. The Braves have speed, can punish opponents with their running game and feature a stout, ball-hawking defense that’s forced 19 turnovers this season.
So much for that feel-good schedule-filler.
“Alcorn State has a very good program,” Aggies coach Doug Martin said. “They have a lot of tradition and history. Their program has produced 53 NFL players — think about that. New Mexico State has produced 48.”
Nor is history Alcorn State’s only advantage. The Braves have consistently found ways to win this season, something NMSU has been largely unable to do.
“We’re disappointed because of the way we’ve played,” Martin said, “but we’ve got to right the ship. This senior class has played a lot of football here, and we want to send them out with some success. I finally started seeing us play with a little bit of a chip on our shoulder at Texas State. We need to see more of that (today).”
The good news for New Mexico State last week was an improved performance on defense. After being steamrolled for 114 total points in their previous two games, the Aggies limited Texas State to 27 — a total that could have been less but for short fields afforded the Bobcats by a long punt return and an interception.
“We improved,” defensive lineman Roy Lopez said, “but at the end of the day it was not good enough. We’re not satisfied with anything right now.”
The same sentiment holds for an Aggies offense that has been long on yardage and short on points of late. New Mexico State has been particularly anemic on third downs (36 percent conversion rate) and in the red zone.
The latter weakness could be a problem against Alcorn State, which allows opponents to score just 19.1 points per game.
“They’re really good in the red zone, which is where we struggle,” Martin said. “We’ve got to get touchdowns when we get down there this week.”
For several years Martin has pointed out that his program would benefit from playing one FCS opponent every season. The Aggies last faced one (Cal Poly) in 2014.
Still, today’s late-season matchup was as much a product of trying to fill NMSU’s FBS independent schedule as it was a matter of trying to schedule a win.
“Playing an FCS team is good,” Martin said, “but I don’t particularly like doing it so late in the season. I’d rather play it early like most (FBS) teams do so it gives you an opportunity to get off to good start. Hopefully we can figure out some way to do that in the future.”