San Jose State vs. New Mexico State: Game Preview, How To Watch, Odds, Prediction
Spartans look to bounce back after tough loss to Fresno State
Week 8: San Jose State Spartans (4-2, 2-1) @ New Mexico State Aggies (2-5)
When: Saturday, October 22nd – 4:00 MT, 3:00 PT
Where: Aggie Memorial Stadium; Las Cruces, NM
TV: Flo Sports, Comcast New Mexico
Odds: San Jose State -21.5 Over/Under 43
How do you handle adversity? It’s a question that coaches across all sports and spanning many generations have wondered about their teams. And it’s now a question San Jose State Head Coach Brent Brennan will be asking his men after a disappointing loss Saturday night to rival Fresno State, in a game many Spartans fans felt was there for the taking.
Facing a backup quarterback, and against a defense that had been statistically poor, San Jose State looked rattled when things did not come as easy as they had been coming the prior few weeks. The result was a batch of uncharacteristic errors, both physical and mental, that contributed to the 17-10 defeat. The Bulldogs deserve credit for bringing their “A” game, as most knew they would, and forcing the Spartans into some of those aforementioned mistakes. And while it’s frustrating to lament some of the missed opportunities and the fact that SJSU didn’t put their best foot forward, that’s why the games are decided on the field and not on the stat sheet.
Which segues perfectly to this week’s encounter with an overmatched opponent. Yes, New Mexico State owns two wins over Mountain West Conference teams this year (more on that in a bit), but this is a squad that should not be competitive with San Jose State beyond much of the first half. The Aggies have a combined 8 wins from 2018-2021, and own only one season with more than 3 wins since 2012, a staggering statistic. To be sitting at 2-5 this year actually shows progress under first year coach Jerry Kill, a respected veteran head man brought in after nine poor seasons under Doug Martin.
Kill will be tasked with improving the talent level of the Aggies, an under-resourced program that plays as an independent. He is off to a good start in one aspect–beating their rival. Last week’s 21-9 victory over New Mexico was their first since 2017 and set off wild celebrations throughout Las Cruces. It will be interesting to see if there is any hangover on the part of New Mexico State, or if it gives them an extra bounce in their step. The suspicion here is that the former is more likely than the latter.
That gives us two teams in this Saturday afternoon tussle coming off of high-emotion rivalry games. The mindset of the respective teams will be a key factor in how close this game is, or if the Aggies can throw a little bit of a scare into the Spartans. The numbers point to a SJSU blowout. New Mexico State ranks near the bottom of the country in most important metrics, and it is difficult to find one area where they might have an advantage in this matchup. They did play Wisconsin and Minnesota out of the Big Ten, which hurt their stat lines, but that is countered by the other end of the spectrum–games against Nevada, UTEP, Hawaii, FIU, and New Mexico, five of the worst offensive teams in the country. Therein lies the difference between this week and last week. While Fresno State was also near the bottom of many defensive categories heading into the clash with San Jose State, much of that came against PAC-12 high-flyers USC and Oregon State, and in Boise against the Broncos. Their only bad loss was against UConn, but that was more on the shoulders of the offense. Point being, there does not seem to be much hidden behind these abysmal numbers of New Mexico State like there may have been with the Bulldogs.
The Aggies struggle mightily offensively, averaging only 15 points per game, and are really porous throwing the football, 2nd worst in all of Division I. It is tough to find a standout on that side of the ball, though the appropriately named Star Thomas might fit. The Sophomore Running Back has scored in three straight games after beginning the season as the backup. With NMSU being unable to generate much of a passing attack, expect Spartans Defensive Coordinator Derrick Odum to stack the box, make it difficult for the Aggies to gain yardage on the ground, and ultimately force them into 3rd and long situations. Quarterbacks Gavin Frakes and Diego Pavia have split reps this season, mainly because neither has been effective, and the two have combined to throw 10 interceptions.
That’s bad news against an opportunistic San Jose State defensive unit that collected 3 turnovers last week, and kept the Spartans in the game while the offense floundered. Kyle Harmon was all over the field again, and became the fifth all-time leading tackler in SJSU history in the process. Junior Fehoko made a game-changing play (temporarily, anyway) at the end of the first half, and Nehemiah Shelton grabbed his first career INT. Veterans Tre Jenkins and Cade Hall continue to make plays in addition to providing leadership, and Bryun Parham has the look of a breakout talent. Expect another top-shelf performance from these guys on Saturday.
The group that needs to get back on the horse is the offense, which was finally taken out of high gear, and unfortunately sputtered all the way down to neutral. Sometimes it’s just not your night, and that seemed to be the theme on that side of the ball against Fresno State. Untimely penalties, a few drops, a missed short field goal attempt, and the first offensive turnover of the season (in the end zone to top it off), added up to keep the Spartans to their lowest point total in 2022. The main culprit was the reappearance of the early season offensive line struggles, and as a result the running game never got going. Additionally, Bulldog defensive end David Perales had a career night, with four sacks. This matchup should give the men in the trenches a quick opportunity to right the ship, against an undersized Aggie front that allowed 297 yards rushing to Minnesota, and 260 to Wisconsin. While the Spartans don’t need to achieve numbers in that range to succeed on Saturday, it would be a good sight to see Kariee Robinson bursting through some wide running lanes.
Chevan Cordeiro could also use a feel-good outing. The Spartan QB threw his first interception of the season, was under heavy pressure all night long, resulting in 5 sacks, and even had to leave the game for a play late in the 4th quarter after taking a hard hit. To see that he still threw for 302 yards speaks to just how talented Cordeiro is. Of course it helps to have #4 as your main target–Elijah Cooks is an absolute stud. He hauled in 6 catches for 134 yards and the only SJSU touchdown of the night. He seemingly grabs everything in sight and will likely draw double coverage from New Mexico State. As long as Cordeiro has more time in the pocket than he had last week, and that should be the case, he’ll be able to spread the ball around in a way similar to the UNLV game.
This is a good opponent for the Spartans to have on the schedule, following not only last week’s deflating loss, but important conference wins against Wyoming and UNLV preceding that. No disrespect to New Mexico State, as they will improve under Kill, but they cannot match the talent of San Jose State. The two best units on the field Saturday will be the Spartan defense and the Spartan offense. The only potential roadblock is if SJSU allows Fresno State to beat them twice. In other words, if they carry negative feelings from the loss through practice this week, or take their opponent too lightly, they may find themselves in a battle into the fourth quarter. Otherwise this should be a chance for Brennan to get reps for many of the backups.
San Jose State leads the all-time series 5-0 including a 37-31 home win last year. This one will likely not be as close. The Aggies emptied the tank to get the emotional win against an in-state rival last week, and it would be surprising to see them replicate that effort here. As for the Spartans, this is a well-coached, veteran team with vocal leaders on both sides of the ball. That’s exactly what you need to avoid let-down spots over the course of a season. The hunch is, it may be a sluggish start for both squads before SJSU kicks it into gear. A similar hunch thinks the Spartans defense plays lights out, allowing only a garbage-time TD. Add it all up and it says here San Jose State earns its 5th win of the season in a hand-ride.
Prediction: San Jose State 31 New Mexico State 9
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