WHO: New Mexico State 2-9 (1-6) at Arkansas State 6-5 (4-3)
WHEN: Saturday, November 29, 3 PM, ESPN3
WHERE: Centennial Bank Stadium, Jonesboro, AR
WEATHER: 64°/58° 20% rain
LINE: Arkansas State -24 (opened -21.5)
The Arkansas State Red Wolves must lick their wounds after last week's GIF-worthy efforts against Rob Lowe and the rest of the Texas State Bobcats team. But at least they get to do this in their own stadium. Home is where the heart is, and Red Wolves have hearts too. Not only that, but home is also where the first aid kit is-and wounds heal quicker when you use that first aid kit.
They heal quicker with a win as well, because a win makes everything better. While the Red Wolves will not win a fourth Sun Belt Conference title in as many years, and while they may not even go bowling after this game, it's important to win this last game. If only because players like Qushaun Lee, Sterling Young, Andrew Tryon and all 14 A-State seniors deserve it. Deserve's got nothing to do with it, only let's make sure that this time it does.
Three Keys To The Game
Be opportunistic: The offense hasn't been the problem this year for A-State. Fredi Knighten, Michael Gordon, Tres Houston, J.D. McKissic-when-healthy and Dijon Paschal have scored points and piled up yards relatively well all season long, but they've often been feast or famine. They're among the most explosive offenses in the FBS, sitting a tidy 10th for plays of 40 yards of more, but too often they've sputtered elsewhere.
Pick a stat, and you'll see that A-State just hasn't been quite opportunistic enough, whether it is third and fourth down conversion rates, or red zone conversions. I understand that a red wolf's howl must be sustained, long and drawn-out, like a long play from the line of scrimmage (i.e. yeah, that metaphor isn't the best), but it's okay to a few successive quick and short outbursts as well (i.e. a touchdown drive of 10+ plays). If you scare away the person just as well, then what's the harm?
Avoid the penalties: The Aggies and the Red Wolves are mirror images of each other regarding penalties. The former have been great at avoiding them, ranking 3rd overall in the country and 4th in conference games for penalty yards per game, while the latter have often felt generous in handing out free yards this year, raking 112th and 114th.
Needless to say, it's much better to not cost yourself yards and to not give your opponent a number of them against your struggling defensive unit. And yes, that holds even against New Mexico State's unit, led by Tyler Rogers, Rose and Teldrick Morgan.
Stop the run: At 2-9, the Aggies are not a good football team-it would be silly to think otherwise. Yet, they do have areas where they are merely average, not terrible. (I mean, you take the backhanded compliments where you can find them, Aggies fans.) And not only have the New Mexico State Aggies been semi-decent at running the football this season behind the play of Larry Rose III, they're even better within the Sun Belt. Yep-in conference play, they rank 42nd in the FBS, and that's above average. Waddayaknow, it's like Sun Belt teams know how to run the ball!
And look, I'll include this one for A-State for as long as it takes for them to successfully show that they can stop the run. This is like the football equivalent of the Maslow pyramid of needs-A-State will not have fulfilled its destiny and become its most essential self until it stops the run.
I've been backing the Arkansas State Red Wolves every single week that I've been writing here and, while it's not exactly right to say that I've put the stink on them, the team has gone 2-3 under my watchful eye. That's not even a .500 record-it's not exactly a doomsday scenario, though it certainly did doom the Red Wolves' bid at a fourth straight Sun Belt Championship. I'd be silly to start picking against A-State now, because 1) I probably would pick them to at least cover against, say, the Auburn Tigers, and 2) because they really should win this game. Like, actually. Let's call it 31-13 for Arkansas State.