(Courtesy: NMSU Athletics)
LAS CRUCES, New Mexico - After clinching a spot in the CUSA Championship game with a win over Western Kentucky on Saturday, the Aggies draw what will be their biggest test all season as they travel to Auburn, Ala., to take on the Tigers of Auburn.
This will mark the fourth time in program history that the Aggies will meet up with Auburn and they will be seeking their first win over the SEC opponent.
NM State (8-3, 6-1 CUSA) at Auburn (6-4, 3-4 SEC)
Date: Saturday, November 18, 2023
Time: 2:00 p.m. MT
TV: SEC Network
- Dave Neal (Play-by-Play)
- Derek Mason (Color Analyst)
- Taylor Davis (Sideline)
Radio: The Aggie Radio Network, Powered by LEARFIELD
- Jack Nixon (PxP)
- Cory Lucas (Color Analyst)
5 - With a win over Middle Tennessee on Saturday, the Aggies have put together their first five-game conference win streak in program history.
63 - With a win on Saturday, the Aggies became bowl eligible in consecutive seasons for the first time in 63 years when they did so in the 1959-60 seasons.
4 - A win over WKU on Saturday would give the Aggies an opportunity to win just its fourth conference championship in program history.
15 - The Aggie defense has held its opponents to 15 points per game across the last seven contests.
58 - A victory over Western Kentucky would give the Aggies four road wins for the first time in a single season since the 1965 campaign.
6 - Head Coach
Jerry Kill now ranks 6th all-time in win percentage among NM State head coaches with at least 10 games under their belt. Entering Saturday, Kill hoists a 14-9 record for a .609 win percentage.
With Saturday's victory over Western Kentucky, NM State clinched a spot in the CUSA title game in just its first season in the re-construced league.
This marks the first time in history that the Aggie football program will play in a conference championship game and a win would give NM State its fourth conference title in program history and the first since 1978 when it was crowned champions of the Missouri Valley Conference. The Aggies also won the Border Conference in 1960 and were co-champs of the Border Conference in 1938.
When the Aggies take the field to compete for the title of CUSA Champion, they will do it against a fellow first-year member in Liberty who is currently ranked No. 25 in the AP poll and is one of just six remaining undefeated teams at the FBS level.
The 2023 CUSA Football Championship is scheduled for Friday, Dec. 1, at 5 p.m. MT, in Lynchburg, Va., where Liberty will host inside Williams Stadium. Fans unable to make the trip to the Old Dominion can watch the game on CBS Sports Network.
IN FOR THE LONG HAUL
With the Aggies qualification for the CUSA Championship game, NM State is now guaranteed to play 15 games this season - a number that is two greater than any other Aggie team in program history.
In fact, the Aggies will play the most games of any FBS team during the 2023 college football season as only a small number of teams have the possibility of reaching 15 games.
For the Aggies, the path to 15 games came via a 13-game regular season schedule made possible by playing at Hawai'i coupled with an appearance in both their conference championship game and a bowl game. The only other way a team can get to 15 games is by way of earning a spot in its conference championship game, then qualifying for the College Football Playoff and reaching the National Championship.
While the Aggies schedule may feel lengthy, it comes nowhere near the grueling slate that the Chicago Maroons played in 1894 when they competed in 22 contests while finishing the season with a 14-7-1 overall record.
BIG TIME MEHKI
On Saturday versus WKU, redshirt junior safety Mehki Miller became the first Aggie to score a defensive touchdown this season when he intercepted a pass from Austin Reed and returned it 57 yards for the score. The big play from the Park Forest, Ill., native also helped put the Aggies ahead by 17 points with less than three minutes to go to essentially secure the victory and a spot in the CUSA title game.
NM State wide receiver Trent Hudson is amid one of the more impressive seasons for an Aggie wideout in recent history.
With his impressive one-handed touchdown grab on Saturday against Western Kentucky, Hudson now has seven total receiving touchdowns this season - a mark that is good for third among CUSA pass catchers and 31st among all FBS receivers.
Hudson's breakout season also makes him the first Aggie since eventual NFL Draft pick Jaleel Scott hauled in nine touchdown passes during the 2017 season.
In his second year with the program, sophomore linebacker Keyshaun Elliott has made big strides and is currently coming off his second game of the season with double-digit tackles.
The Richmond, Mo., native currently paces the team in tackles with 79 which is 19 more than the next-closes Aggie defender. Elliott also consistentlly causes havoc in the opposing team's backfield as he is the team's leader in tackles for loss with 7.5 on the season.
AHEAD OF SCHEDULE
Jerry Kill has widely become known as the "fix-it" head coach in college football as he has successfully turned around several programs he has taken over. Typically, it takes three seasons for the turnaround to fully take form. With Southern Illinois, he led the Salukis to a 10-2 record in year three after going 4-8 in year two. He then led Northern Illinois to a 10-3 record in year three after going 7-6 in the second year. Then led Minnesota to an 8-5 record after posting a 6-7 record in year two with the Gophers.
That rise to success has been expedited with NM State as the Aggies have already reached the eight-win mark in Kill's second year as the leader of the Crimson & White.
AGAINST THE SEC
Saturday will mark the 28th time that the Aggies will line up against an SEC opponent. Currently, the Aggies are 0-27 all-time against the Power Five conference.
DEFENSE WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS... AND GAMES
In the first three games of the season, Aggie opponents averaged 31.7 points per game. Since then, Nate Dreiling and Melvin Rice have the NM State defense clicking as the last seven opposing offenses are averaging less than 17 points per game (16.75). This includes performances against UTEP and Middle Tennesse in which they held the opposition to just seven points apiece.
Against Middle Tennessee, this stout defense proved to be essential to collecting the Aggies' seventh win of the season as NM State earned its first win while scoring 13 or fewer points since Sept. 13, 1980 when it knocked off UTEP 6-3.
PROTECT THIS HOUSE
With the Aggies' win over MTSU on Oct. 11, NM State has now rattled off four consecutive home wins, a feat that has been accomplished only four times since 1992.
During the win streak, the Aggies have outscored opponents 132-58. NM State's offense has averaged 487.3 yards of offense per game while holding opposing teams to just 339.3 yards per game. On the ground, the Aggies have limited opponents to just 92.3 rushing yards per game while averaging 201.8 rushing yards themselves.
This is also be the second consecutive season that the Aggies would stack four home wins to mark the first time that NM State have done so since 1966-67.
OCTOBER'S VERY OWN
Since Jerry Kill took over the Aggies, the month of October has been friendly to the men in crimson and white and that trend has only continued this season.
With last Tuesday's result, the Aggies finished this October with a 4-0 record and moved to 6-1 in the 10th month of the year across the last two seasons. With the win over LA Tech, the Aggies surpassed their number of October wins during the previous regime which spanned nine seasons.
In this year's October span, the Aggies put up some staggering statistics that rivaled that of the best in the nation.
• T-5th in rushing yards per attempt (6.0 yards per rush)
• 6th in opponent 3rd-down conversion percentage (22.9%)
• 10th in scoring defense (15.3 ppg)
• 19th in yards per play (6.6 yds)
• T-19th in rushing offense (210 ypg)
• T-19th in rushing defense (106.8 ypg)
Additionally, in the month of October, the Aggies were one of only five teams inside the top 20 in both rushing offense and defense.
During this stretch, the Aggies were also among the top two teams in CUSA in 12 different categories - total defense (1st, 359.8 ypg), touchdowns allowed (1st, 8), scoring defense (1st, 15.25), yards per play (1st, 6.6), rush yards per attempt (1st, 6.0), rushing defense (t-1st, 106.75), rush yards per carry allowed (1st, 3.5), turnover margin (1st, +3), opponent 3rd down conversion percentage (1st, 22.9%), touchdowns scored (2nd, 14), total offensive yards per game (2nd, 415.75), rush yards per game (2nd, 210).
WHAT CAN CRIMSON DO FOR YOU?
Despite often leaning on the passing attack, this year's Aggie squad has also been dominant in the trenches as they have outgained their opponents in rushing yards in all but one game this season.
Thus far, the Aggies are one of only three CUSA teams to average more than 200 rushing yards per game this season as both Liberty and Jax State also average 200-plus.
The Aggies have also now rushed for over 170 yards in 14 consecutive games and rushed for over 200 yards in three of their last three games.
With a win on Saturday, NM State pushed its win streak to six games - something that it had not accomplished since the historic 1960 season when the Aggies finished the season with a perfect 11-0 record. This is also just the fourth time in program history that the Aggies rattle off six wins in a row.
"IT'S A SIMPLE GAME"
As Jerry Kill would say, "It's a simple game, we just like to make it hard sometimes." A primary focus for all offenses, including the Aggie offense, is to protect the ball. When that happens and the Aggies commit zero turnovers, NM State is a perfect 5-0 this season.
On the contrary, the Aggies are 3-3 when the opposing defense comes up with at least one turnover.
GO-GO GADGET ELI
In his first season with the Aggies, quarterback Eli Stowers has quickly become one of the Aggies' top weapons and has done so from almost everywhere on the field.
The Denton, Texas, native made his first appearance at the tight end position against FIU on Oct. 4 and has since appeared at tight end, wide receiver, running back and even safety.
In four of the last five games, Stowers has led the Aggie offense in receptions, receiving yards or both after beginning the season as the Aggies primary backup at the quarterback position. Last weekend versus Western Kentucky, Stowers also recorded his first receiving touchdown of the season.
On the season, Stowers ranks second on the team in receptions (25) and third in receiving yards (278). Stowers also has one touchdown pass this year as he hooked up with Jordin Parker for a 63 completion on Sept. 2 against Western Illinois.
The win over UTEP in El Paso coupled with the win over New Mexico in Albuquerque earlier in the season helped NM State accomplish something it hadn't done since 1923.
The pair of victories marked the first time that the Aggies knocked off both of their rivals on the road in the same season in 100 years. However, the 2023 season is just the first time since 1999 that the two tilts came on the road as most years the Aggies host either the Lobos or the Miners.
KINGS OF NEW MEXICO
For the first time since 2017, NM State tallied a win in Albuquerque as they defeated the Lobos 27-17 on Sept. 16. This also marked the second consecutive win over the Lobos and makes Jerry Kill the first Aggie coach since Dewayne Walker to begin his career with a perfect 2-0 record against the Aggies' in-state rival.
In the win, the Aggies were led offensively by Albuquerque native Diego Pavia who finished the night with 203 passing yards, two throwing touchdowns and 99 rushing yards. The 99-yard rushing total marked the most by any Aggie at that point in the season.
Since his arrival in 2019, Ethan Albertson has established himself among the top kickers in the country. Earlier this season, Albertson received recognition for his performance against New Mexico as he was named the Conference USA Special Teams Player of the Week.
The award came on the heels of a Saturday performance in which he made a pair of field goals and went a perfect 3-for-3 on PAT attempts.
Amid his senior season, the San Diego native ranks inside the top ten in NM State history for field goals made (t-2, 40), field goals attempted (t-4, 54), field goal percentage (1st, 74.1%), extra points made (5th, 93), extra points attempted (5th, 97) and extra point percentage (4th, 95.9%).
After an impressive first season in the Crimson and White, quarterback Diego Pavia already finds himself among the Aggie greats. He currently ranks 14th all-time in program history in career passing yards (3,707) and third in career rushing yards by a quarterback (1,211). Against LA Tech, Pavia also became just the second quarterback in program history to surpass 3,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing in an Aggie uniform.
AIR IT OUT
Between Offensive Coordinator Tim Beck and Wide Receivers Coach Tony Sanchez, the Aggies have formed an offensive attack that produces big play after big play in the passing game.
Currently, the Aggies rank ninth in the nation in passing yards per completion - averaging over 14 yards per reception (14.6).
Thus far, the Aggies have compiled 23 passing plays of 25 yards or more in nine games. This also includes 11 passing plays of 40 yards or longer (40, 40, 42, 42, 49, 52, 63, 75, 75, 78, 80). This all begins in the backfield with Diego Pavia who now ranks 12th among FBS quarterbacks in yards per completion at 14.38.
NO LIMITS ON THE AGGIES
As the Aggies enter the heart of their conference schedule, some of NM State's numbers stack up against the best of the best in the new league.
Currently, the Aggies have three individuals who rank inside the top five in the conference in a total of 17 statistical categories.
Pass Efficiency (2nd, 151.1)
Passing TDs (4th, 19)
Passing Yards (3rd, 2,257)
Passing Yards per Game (5th, 205.2)
Passing Yards per Completion (2nd, 14.38)
Total Offense per Game (4th, 269.1)
Yards per Pass Attempt (2nd, 8.58)
Rushing Yards (4th, 703)
Rushing Yards Per Game (4th, 63.9)
Rush Yards per Carry (3rd, 5.58)
Completion Pct. (2nd, 59.7%)
Completions Per Game (4th, 14.27)
Field Goal Pct. (3rd, 75.0%)
Field Goals Per Game (1st, 1.36)
Scoring (1st, 82 pts)
Receiving TDs (3rd, 7)
Total TDs (5th, 7)
BEHIND ENEMY LINES (AUBURN)
The Aggies will travel to historic Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Alabama for their fourth meeting all-time. In the previous three matchups, NM State has failed to record a win against the Tigers.
Hugh Freeze leads Auburn in his first season at the helm, currently sporting a 6-4 record and a 3-4 mark in SEC play.
Junior running back Jarquez Hunter leads the charge for the Auburn offense, recording 745 yards on the ground to go along with seven touchdowns – a team high. Also a threat in the passing game, Hunter is tied for second on the team in receptions with 13, totaling 108 receiving yards.
Junior linebacker Eugene Asante leads the team with 75 tackles during the 2023 campaign, while also ranking third in tackles for loss (8) and sacks (5).
As a team, the Tigers' defense ranks second in the SEC in interceptions, and leads the conference in fumble recoveries with six.