I don't know if one could say that this game put the Fun in #FunBelt, but the Texas State Bobcats and New Mexico State Aggies certainly put on a WACky performance in Las Cruces as the visitors from San Marcos ultimately prevailed, 37-29.
New Mexico State looked stronger than a 2-7 (1-4 SBC) team but shot themselves too many times in the foot to prevail, whereas Texas State didn't always look the part of a 5-3 (3-1) team but pulled out a win by minimizing mistakes and making just enough plays when it counted in the ground game.
Turnovers and Mistakes
Although there were times when NMSU looked like the more potent threat to score, the Aggies shot themselves in the foot multiple times with turnovers, penalties, and special teams mistakes. Special teams were a major problem for the Aggies as two drives into Bobcat territory stalled and ended with missed field goals, and Terrence Franks stunned everyone by blocking an NMSU punt and scooping it up for a touchdown to put Texas State up 30-14.
Both teams suffered some soul-crushing penalties, but NMSU had two major gains of 30+ yards wiped out by illegal formation and illegal receiver downfield calls. The Aggies suffered 11 penalty calls for 76 yards, an uncharacteristic lack of discipline for a team that averaged under 30 penalty yards per game. Two interceptions thrown by Tyler Rogers also killed two promising Aggie drives in Texas State territory. One of the picks wasn't Rogers's fault as his receiver saw the ball bounce off his hands and into the waiting arms of Germond Williams, but Craig Mager also dove on a Rogers pass that floated over his receiver.
Robert Lowe and Terrence Franks combined for 26 carries, 129 yards, and three touchdowns, and Tyler Jones rushed for 82 yards of his own as he busted some big runs and averaged 9.1 yards per carry. Receiver Randy Price surprisingly took the place of CJ Best on his usual end around/sweep plays and contributed 6 carries for 58 yards as well. Earning 287 net rushing yards was a good improvement for Texas State's offensive line and backs.
Texas State's passing game was marginally effective for the second straight week, as Tyler Jones continued to have inconsistent accuracy but made some key plays when it counted, including a touchdown pass to senior tight end Lawrence White late in the 3rd quarter. Dennis Franchione somewhat surprisingly called some bombs downfield for Jones in the 2nd half to try and put the game away, but despite having time to throw he wasn't able to connect with his receivers. Texas State's inability to convert third downs (6 of 17), especially in the 4th quarter, played a big role in letting the Aggies hang around.
NMSU, meanwhile, continued their pattern of putting up gaudy yardage numbers with not enough points to show for it. Texas State's defense, after mostly shutting down ULM's struggling offense a week ago, more or less took the week off. The Aggies exploded for a season high 639 yards on 100 plays as running back Larry Rose III broke out for 24 carries, 181 yards, and a touchdown, and receiver Jerrel Brown smoked the Bobcat secondary for 139 yards and NMSU's opening 86 yard touchdown where he made a defender whiff on a 20 yard route and went off to the races. David Mayo got his usual numbers of 17 tackles and 4 TFL, but other than his efforts and the interceptions this was a game the Bobcat defense would like to forget.
Tyler Rogers regained the starting quarterback job for the Aggies after initially losing it because of 15 interceptions thrown through their first 8 games, but he showed some major progress against a Bobcat secondary that did a poor job covering receivers and a worse job tackling in the open field. Unfortunately for him, his two interceptions ended up playing a role in sinking his team's chances.
Just like the Idaho game, Texas State spat in the face of box score statistics and traditional football narratives and pulled out another ugly win that at times defied expectations and reason.
The strange tone for the game was initially set for anyone who tuned in by a low-budget, public television-esque Altitude production and announcing crew that made the oft-maligned ESPN3 Sun Belt crews look like football experts. I've done play-by-play for football and I'm usually loathe to criticize announcers because I know just how difficult the job can be, but the mistakes made on the broadcast were beyond the pale.
Not only did the down and distance display malfunction, but the announcers repeatedly got stats, player names, and play observations wrong. At one point the play-by-play announcer referred to Texas State gaining yards on a bubble screen as "moving the ball on the ground" and somehow mistook past Bobcat opponent Illinois for Iowa. Well, they both have corn I guess.
However, what really sent Bobcat fans into disbelief was the crew's seeming inability to recognize that NMSU was still very much competitive late in the game. When the Aggies scored their final touchdown, they were down by 10 and went for 2 to make it a one possession game. The crew seemed legitimately surprised by the call. As NMSU moved down the field on their final drive, the announcers talked about how Texas State would leave Las Cruces with a win despite the fact that NMSU could still tie it up with a touchdown and 2 point conversion. This realization didn't seem to hit them until the final play of the game with five seconds left.
If it weren't for the bad announcing, the broadcast would've been adorably quaint. Highlights included "the wonder dog" fetching frisbees for 8,623(!) riveted fans, local commercials that looked like they were recorded by camcorder, and a plug for the NMSU Department of Biology's black bear conservation efforts. Ah, #FunBelt football. I'll never quit you.
GAME MVP: Terrence Franks, Texas State