It has been a tough year statistically for the top two running backs in the Sun Belt Conference.
New Mexico State running back Larry Rose III led the conference in rushing last year with 1,651 yards, and Georgia Southern’s Matt Breida was right behind him with 1,608. Both were named first team All-Sun Belt Conference.
Both were pre-season all-conference picks this year, but as the season heads into its second half neither player is having anywhere near the season comparable statistically to what they did last season, or the season before for that matter when Breida ran for 1,485 yards, and Rose checked in with 1,102.
Rose missed the first three games of the season due to surgery for a sports hernia in August, while Breida is a part of a three-headed rushing attack that includes fellow running backs Wesley Fields and L.A. Ramsby along with quarterbacks Kevin Ellison and Favian Upshaw.
Breida has gained 337 yards this season, and his 56.2 yards per game rushing is good enough to rank him in the eighth in the conference. Rose, with 200 yards, is nowhere to be found. The two will be squaring off against one another at 8 p.m. Saturday in Las Cruces, N.M., when Georgia Southern and the Aggies meet in a crucial game for both teams.
The Eagles (3-3, 2-1) will be looking to snap a three-game losing streak and remain a player in the conference race as they play the fourth of four straight road games. Georgia Southern is the only FBS team to play four consecutive road games this season. New Mexico State (2-4, 1-2), which has not had a winning season since 1992, is simply in need of a win.
The last time Georgia Southern lost as many as four straight games was in 2006 when it lost its last five games to finish 3-8 in Brian Van Gorder’s lone season.
If Breida is bothered by his diminishing numbers, and any post-season honors it might cost him there is nothing about him, either in voice inflection or body language, that would indicate it.
“He’s a great running back,” center Andy Kwon said of Breida, “but as good a running back as he is he’s an even better teammate and person. Great competitor, and he’s like everyone else on this team: he’s all about winning.”
Breida, who scored 17 touchdowns rushing each of the last two seasons, is known for his explosiveness, but his trademark long runs have been hard to come by this season. His longest run this year is 26 yards against Savannah State, and that also produced his lone rushing touchdown. He has caught six passes for 41 yards and a touchdown.
“I’m not worried about statistics,” Breida said. “We’ve still got to focus on our goals. We can still win the Sun Belt and got a good bowl game.”
While the Eagles are still leading the conference in rushing at 266.7 yards per game it has been more difficult to run the ball the last three games. Against Western Michigan the Eagles ran for 202 yards, had 162 at Arkansas State and had 167 in last Saturday’s 35-24 loss at Georgia Tech. That’s an average of 177 yards per game.
“We’re seeing nine in the box all the time,” Breida said. “We’ve got to throw more, and not be a straight running team. That will open the box up more.
“I felt we did a decent job against Georgia Tech. We’re a much better team than our record. We’ve lost three straight, but we haven’t played our best football yet. It’s coming.”