New Mexico State led Nevada at halftime last week, but was outscored 28-7 over the final 20 minutes en route to a 48-34 defeat. That setback dropped the Aggies to 3-5 overall, including 1-3 in WAC play, and DeWayne Walker's squad has now surrendered 93 points combined the last two times out.
"We just have to use the Minnesota game as an example as a BCS school," said Walker when asked to look forward to this weekend's clash with Georgia. "They can lose just like anyone else. We just have to get back to work."
The Aggies beat Minnesota the second week of the season, but knocking off the Bulldogs on Saturday will take a tremendous effort. Georgia fell to Boise State and South Carolina in back-to-back games to open the season and haven't tasted defeat since, running off six consecutive wins to earn bowl eligibility and off-the-charts confidence. Head coach Mark Richt has regained the faith of the Georgia fans, especially after last week's 24-20 win over rival Florida.
"In hindsight, I can say this now that it's over, but this was more than just another game to win and to keep pace in the Eastern Division," said Richt after the narrow victory. "You could see it with our guys, but we didn't want to try to make it any bigger than it needed to be. We wanted them to focus on their jobs, and I thought they did that."
Georgia has won all three of its previous meetings with New Mexico State, the most recent of which took place in 2002.
Last week against Nevada, New Mexico State struggled mightily in its effort to establish the run, gaining just 48 yards on 29 attempts. That lack of success put added pressure on Matt Christian, who only completed 20-of-44 passes with three interceptions. To his credit, however, Christian made plenty of big plays, throwing for 432 yards with three touchdown passes. The QB also ran for a score in the game. Taveon Rogers was sensational, hauling in seven receptions for 203 yards and a pair of TDs.
It is hard to imagine New Mexico State playing any worse defensively than it did against Nevada last time out, as the Aggies surrendered 683 total yards in that affair. They were victimized for 389 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on the ground while yielding 7.8 yards per rushing attempt.
"We can't make mistakes in gap football," said Walker of his team's horrendous performance against the run. "You got to put bodies in the gaps to stop the run. When guys miss tackles and aren't in the gaps, you are going to give up big plays."
Overall this season, New Mexico State is scoring 27.6 ppg while posting 404.9 total ypg, and the team's passing attack accounts for over two-thirds of the total offensive production. Andrew Manley started the season at QB but suffered a knee injury in late September that opened the door for Christian to step in. Since doing so, Christian has completed 57.3 percent of his passes with eight TDs and only one INT. Rogers now has six receiving scores, and Kenny Turner has rushed for 580 yards and four TDs.
Opponents are racking up 30.3 ppg against the Aggies, who have been especially weak against the run. Foes are racking up 5.1 rushing yards per attempt and have scored 15 times on the ground against NMSU.
The Georgia offense is a bit banged up right now, as freshman RB Isaiah Crowell has a sore shin, while WR Malcolm Mitchell is dealing with a hamstring injury. Mitchell is questionable, and his 17.5 yards per catch will be missed if he can't go. As for Crowell, the team's leading ground gainer with 689 yards and four TDs, he is one of three UGA RBs (Carlton Thomas and Ken Malcome) who will serve a one-game suspension this week for a violation of team rules.
As important as those players are, there is no question that Aaron Murray is the key to the Bulldogs' success. The standout sophomore QB has thrown for 1,822 yards and 18 TDs with eight INTs. Georgia is generating 31.2 ppg and 404.0 total ypg, numbers that Richt and company can be proud of.
Murray was far from efficient against Florida last week, completing only 15- of-34 attempts. Still, he tossed a pair of touchdowns and led his team to victory.
Defensively, the Bulldogs are holding foes to 20.4 ppg and 267.0 total ypg. Stopping the run has been a specialty of Georgia, which is permitting just 86.8 ypg at a clip of 2.8 ypc. The fact that opposing QBs have barely completed half of their passes against the Bulldogs speaks to the strength of the pass defense. Georgia has 11 interceptions to its credit to go along with six fumble recoveries and 20 sacks.
The Bulldogs were dominant last weekend, limiting Florida to minus-19 yards rushing on 22 attempts. Clearly, six sacks totaling 43 yards in losses helped the cause, and four of those sacks were notched by linebacker Jarvis Jones.
"Our seniors and coaches deserved this win," said Jones. "This was a big game for (Coach Mark Richt), it was huge game for the SEC race. We just came out and did what we needed to do the whole game."