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Georgia Southern beats NMSU, but looks shaky as App State looms

AP Photo/David Goldman

Georgia Southern is still a good team with a good record – 4-3 and 3-1 in the Sun Belt Conference. Lately, though, the Eagles have looked shaky, and going into Thursday night’s game against Appalachian State, Southern could be in trouble.

On Saturday, Georgia Southern’s offense was held without a touchdown after three quarters at New Mexico State, with the only points coming off three field goals by Younghoe Koo. However, the Eagles got an onside kick and a blocked punt that set up two touchdowns to help Southern rally for a 22-12 win on the road.

The win keeps the Eagles in the mix for the SBC title, and with bitter rival App State coming up; this win was a must-have. A loss would have put Southern two games from conference leader Troy, and with a tough schedule remaining, it would have been very difficult to catch up.

Now, Georgia Southern still has some control of its run to another SBC title, and has both App State and Troy at home in its upcoming schedule.

Things did not look good early in Las Cruces. Southern moved the ball effectively against the Aggies, but the offense bogged down in the red zone. Three times the Eagles got deep in NMSU territory to start the game, but came away with only a couple of Koo field goals. The GS defense bent some in the first half, but didn’t break, holding NMSU to a touchdown and a field goal for a 12-6 Aggie halftime lead.

Kevin Ellison has been the offensive MVP for the Eagles this season, and delivered a strong performance on Saturday, rushing for 117 yards while throwing  7-of-8 for 101 yards and two touchdowns, both coming in the fourth quarter. After an onside kick was recovered deep in NMSU territory, Ellison hit Matt Breida for a 9-yard touchdown pass to put Georgia Southern back in front, 15-12.

Then — a few plays after a blocked punt gave Southern the ball at the NMSU 40 — Ellison hit Wesley Fields on a screen pass that went 42 yards for the touchdown to put the Eagles up comfortably.

While the offense came alive in the fourth quarter, turnovers and penalties hurt Georgia Southern throughout the game. The Eagles converted only 7 of 18 third downs and threw two interceptions, including one late in the game that could have helped NMSU come back.

These offensive situations must be worked out before Thursday, because App State’s offense is hitting on all cylinders. App State looked really good in a 37-19 win over Idaho on Saturday. The Mountaineers gained 100-yard-plus efforts by running back Jalin Moore and receiver Shea Meadors. ASU is the most complete team in the conference, and will be a tough opponent despite what should be a great atmosphere in Statesboro.

As for NMSU, this was a crushing loss considering how the Aggies squandered a chance for a key win that could have put them back on track for a bowl berth.  Quarterback Tyler Rodgers did throw for 250 yards and two touchdowns, while running back Larry Rose was held to only 81 yards on 22 carries. The Aggies are 1-3 in the SBC and 2-5 overall, and will be massive underdogs to No. 9 Texas A&M on Saturday.

Thursday’s meeting between App State and Georgia Southern is always a fun game — there is no love lost between either team. Ever since the two teams joined the Sun Belt, each meeting has had an impact on who would be the conference champion. This year’s meeting is no different, with App State needing a win to stay with Troy, and Georgia Southern needing a win to stay alive.

If the Eagles want to win, they must take care of the football and finish their drives with touchdowns, not field goals. If not, App State’s offense will cash in on its opportunities and keep rolling to a possible SBC title.

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