It wasn't pretty, but a win is a win as Georgia Southern improved to 3-0 in the Sun Belt with a 36-28 victory over New Mexico State.
The game got off to a rough start as the Eagles fell behind 14-0 midway through the second quarter in Las Cruces. The Aggie offense sliced through the GSU defense all too easily on two touchdown drives early in the game. However, Coach Willie Fritz finally righted the ship and NMSU wouldn't score again until garbage time when Southern had a big lead.
The win moves Georgia Southern to 4-2 overall and 3-0 in conference, while New Mexico State drops to 2-4 and 1-1 in the Sun Belt. The victory also puts GSU alone at the top of the conference standings.
Turnovers were a huge plus for Southern. NMSU quarterback Tyler Rogers threw three interceptions on the night, the Aggies lost a fumble and also turned it over on downs twice. Georgia Southern lost one fumble but otherwise was turnover free.
As usual, the Eagles got most of their yards on the ground, rushing for 405 yards. Quarterback Kevin Ellison ran for 145 yards. Alfred Ramsby added 135 yards and one touchdown, while Matt Breida added 96 yards.
The passing game? Not so much. Ellison went three-for-13 through the air for just 18 yards. Even the New Mexico State broadcast announcers wondered aloud why Southern wasn't running more, and I think most Southern fans were asking the same question.
For the gamblers out there, this one was a disappointment as Southern failed to cover the spread for the first time this season. They came in as 18-point favorites and walked out with an eight-point margin of victory. However, the visitors were about 1,500 miles from home, two time zones from the east coast and playing at a daunting elevation.
What was scary for Southern fans was that the Eagles actually trailed at halftime, 14-12, and it would have been worse it not for all of NMSU's turnovers. Southern claimed its first lead of the night on a six-yard Ramsby run in the third quarter. But any good football team has its tougher outings, and that was the case tonight for the new Sun Belt favorites.
The phrase "second half team" certainly applied Saturday night, as NMSU picked up 312 yards of offense in the first half compared to just 170 for the Eagles. In the end though, the boys in blue came home with a "W" and that's all that matters.
Next week, the Eagles will be back in the Eastern time zone and back in gnat country as they take on Idaho for homecoming. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. on ESPN3.com.