2017 NOVA Home Loan Arizona Bowl Preview
This year’s Arizona Bowl has a compelling story line despite both teams’ 6-6 records. The Aggies of Utah State will face off against the Aggies of New Mexico State in Tucson this Friday. New Mexico State head coach Doug Martin appears to finally turned his Aggies around. This is the first bowl the New Mexico State Aggies qualified for in New Mexico State’s 123-year history. Utah State comes into the game a four-point favorite despite New Mexico State’s historic momentum.
What: Arizona Bowl
Where: Arizona Stadium, Tucson, Arizona
When: 5:30 EST, Friday, December 29th
Regular Season Results
Based on their regular season results, the Arizona Bowl should be competitive. Both squads come to Arizona with .500 winning percentages. They also both played the University of New Mexico on the road in Albuquerque, where each set of Aggies defeated the Lobos.
Utah State’s four best regular season opponents were Wisconsin, Wake Forest, Boise State, and Wyoming. Unfortunately for these Aggies, Utah State lost to all four of those opponents. Only the Wyoming game was competitive. Utah State did drub teams at the bottom of the Mountain West Conference like San Jose State and Hawai’i. Perhaps most concerning for Utah State fans is that Aggies from Utah only bested one team, UNLV, with a winning record. Every other opponent with a .500 winning percentage or better defeated Utah State.
Meanwhile, New Mexico State faced an easier schedule yet produced similar results. Their four best opponents were Arizona State, Arkansas, Troy, and Appalachian State. These Aggies too, lost to all four of their best opponents with only one game, against Troy, being competitive. The Aggies from New Mexico failed to beat any team with a .500 or better record and only their game against 0-12 UTEP was decided handedly.
The Unstoppable Force vs. The Immovable Object?
The most exciting match-up during this game will likely be when New Mexico State’s offense faces Utah State’s defense. New Mexico State comes into this game averaging 452 yards per game. The overwhelming majority of that comes through the air. The New Mexico Aggies rank fourth in the nation in pass yards per game, averaging 352. Utah State’s pass defense however, ranks 17th overall in the nation. However, the Utah Aggies allowed a mere 181 passing yards per game this season.
In order to slow down the air attack, Utah State will have to pressure New Mexico State quarterback Tyler Rogers. The senior threw 16 interceptions and was sacked 28 times. Utah State will need big games from senior cornerback Jalen Davis and junior-college transfer linebacker Suli Tamaivena. The two have combined for seven of their team’s 23 sacks.
The Achilles’ Heel of this Utah State defense is defending the run. They allowed 216 yards per game, one of the worst in the FBS. But fortunately for them, New Mexico State does not run the ball often. They averaged roughly 124 yards per game, also near the bottom of the FBS. If New Mexico State can run the ball it might be dire for Utah State.
Average vs. Average
The game will likely be determined by the other units, New Mexico State’s defense and Utah State’s offense. Whichever unit can step up to support its counterpart will likely propel their team to victory. Utah State has a much more balanced offense than their opponent. Between leading rusher Lajan Hunt and duel-threat freshman quarterback Jordan Love, expect the run to utilized against this New Mexico State defense that gave up an average of four yards per rush attempt this season.
Love did not start until midway through October. However, the offense received a much needed spark once he took over the reins. He was sacked a mere four times in the second half of the season compared to 21 sacks of his predecessor Kent Meyer. Utah State’s offense never scored less than 24 points under Love. His mobility should aide him in avoiding a sack which will be critical against this New Mexico State team which is ranked fourth in the nation with 40 total sacks.
On top of pressuring the freshman quarterback, New Mexico State’s defnse must get off the field at every opportunity. Utah State’s offense struggles on third down conversion attempts. Luckily for New Mexico State, this another strength of their defense. They are ranked 15th in the nation, allowing only one in three conversion attempts.
Expect the Arizona Bowl to be a competitive one. Both teams should come into the game fully healthy and ready to play. The outcome will likely be decided by one key stop or mistake late in the game. In the end, New Mexico State might get an emotional lift thanks to their historic momentum.
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