Mountain West Football: Week 8 Winners and Losers
Who came out ahead and who left something to be desired in the last weekend of Mountain West football?
Some encouragement and some letdowns from the week that was.
If you were looking for high drama in your college football life, this weekend was perfect for you.
Four of the six games on the Mountain West football docket were decided by one score and not everything played out as expected, which made for some unusually tough cuts among the heroes and goats that emerged on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Here are the winners and losers from Week 8.
1. Utah State
Say hello to your new Mountain division leaders. Not only did the Aggies survive a wild finish against the Colorado State Rams, but the rest of the conference did a bit of work to clear the field and give Utah State some breathing room up top: San Diego State beat Air Force, against whom the Aggies already had a head-to-head advantage, while New Mexico stunned Wyoming on the road.
While USU isn’t out of the woods just yet, their toughest conference stretch is behind them and the team controls its own destiny with Hawaii, San Jose State, Wyoming, and New Mexico left on the schedule. Not many people expected them to be here at this point, though perhaps that simply makes Blake Anderson the front-runner to be named head coach of the year. We’ll find out.
— USU Football (@USUFootball) October 23, 2021
2. New Mexico offensive coordinator Derek Warehime
What do you do when your unit has been beset by injuries and seems to have run into a wall, with yet another tough defense on the horizon who could pretty easily extend your current crisis? If you’re Warehime, you retool the playbook and come out with a completely different kind of attack that takes advantage of what your players do well, which was enough to stun the Wyoming Cowboys for New Mexico’s first conference victory of the season.
It wasn’t a perfect showing since the Lobos averaged only 4.7 yards per play and finished the afternoon just 3-of-14 on third downs (though this was off-set somewhat by also converting 3-of-4 fourth down tries), but Isaiah Chavez further established himself as a public menace in the Equality State by going 10-of-11 for 112 yards and a a touchdown — leading the offense with 49 rushing yards, as well — and freshmen duo Luke Wysong and Aaron Dumas combined for 81 rushing yards on 20 carries. 2021 has generated its fair share of frustration for fans of the program, but a coaching performance like this is a good reminder that things are still headed in a promising direction.
— New Mexico Football (@UNMLoboFB) October 23, 2021
3. Backup running backs
One narrative that may have been overlooked this past weekend is that running back depth was on display for nearly every Mountain West team that came out on top. Utah State had to play without leading rusher Calvin Tyler Jr., for instance, so sophomore Elelyon Noa went out and had the best game of his young career with career highs in carries (26) and rushing yards (97) in the win over Colorado State.
San Diego State faced a similar situation when Greg Bell dressed but didn’t see the field right away against Air Force, but the trio of Chance Bell, Kaegun Williams, and Jordan Byrd answered the call yet again and combined for 116 rushing yards and both Aztec touchdowns on 24 total carries in the win over the Falcons. Fresno State’s Jordan Mims stepped up, too, when Ronnie Rivers was forced to leave the game against Nevada with injury and had the best game of his career with 134 yards and a score on 23 carries.
Lastly, Hawaii’s Dedrick Parson helped the Warriors keep New Mexico State at arm’s length with — you guessed it — a career day that included 215 yards of total offense and three touchdowns on 31 touches. It all goes to show that the Mountain West has a ton of backfield talent.
Let Chance Bell EAT pic.twitter.com/UiUL5iRlzx
— CBS Sports Network (@CBSSportsNet) October 24, 2021
— Hawaii Football (@HawaiiFootball) October 24, 2021
1. Colorado State head coach Steve Addazio
There’s losing a game, and then there’s losing a game like this:
Instead of spiking it on first down and stopping the clock, Colorado State rushed their field goal unit onto the field.
With the clock running, they then missed the potential game-winning field goal. Utah State wins the game. pic.twitter.com/vw3sXclgDP
— CBS Sports Network (@CBSSportsNet) October 23, 2021
As many people pointed out in the immediate aftermath, Addazio hasn’t hired a special teams coordinator, a wrinkle which isn’t unusual in itself since seven different FBS teams have chosen the same path for themselves, and that decision backfired spectacularly… and not for the first time. His explanation of things didn’t help much, either, since it implied passing off responsibility to the players. Who sent them on? Coach Addazio, that is squarely on you.
The lack of oversight and discipline manifested in other ways, too, chiefly in numerous penalties which set up multiple Utah State scoring drives. In all, it had a way of reminding everyone that the frustrations of those early season losses to South Dakota State and Vanderbilt aren’t actually that far in the rear view mirror, so to speak, and justifying beliefs that the Rams head man should be on a hotter seat than he probably is.
2. Nevada’s offensive line
Carson Strong set a Wolf Pack record with 49 completions on 61 pass attempts while throwing for 476 yards and four touchdowns, but he nearly got killed while doing it because the Union, frankly, got outplayed by Fresno State’s defensive line on Saturday.
For every punch that Nevada landed, they absorbed one against a game plan that often saw the Bulldogs rushing just three while dropping eight defenders into coverage. It worked more often than not, though, considering the Bulldogs racked up five sacks, including Daron Bland’s red zone interception and a critical fourth-quarter fumble from David Perales that stopped a Wolf Pack drive in Fresno State territory.
The running game also vanished once again since 50 of Toa Taua’s and Devonte Lee’s combined 68 rushing yards happened on just three plays while the ‘Dogs racked up a whopping 11 tackles for loss. The Wolf Pack are still in the hunt for the West division title, but they’ll need some help in the weeks to come and even that might not matter if they can’t fix their issues in the trenches.
3. UNLV head coach Marcus Arroyo
The Rebels once again snatched defeat from the jaws of victory on Friday night, but given the circumstances it’s hard to blame anyone but the man in charge for playing scared when the chips were down.
At the end of the first half, for instance, while holding a 17-6 lead with a little over a minute left before halftime, UNLV handed off to Charles Williams three straight times and the San Jose State Spartans forced a fumble which led to a touchdown. If you weren’t trying that aggressively to push the ball down the field and SJSU didn’t seem all that inclined to burn timeouts and get the ball back, why not simply kneel on the ball once you’d burned enough clock?
Bad as that was, though, the decision to send out Daniel Gutierrez for a field goal on 4th-and-1 at the San Jose State 22-yard line, with nine-and-a-half minutes to go in the fourth quarter, was even worse. Gutierrez has been the conference’s most reliable kicker, to be sure, but in spite of the fumble Williams had already moved the chains five times for a first down, including an early 3rd-and-1 situation on that same drive.
VIDEO – San Jose State blocks a 39-yard field goal! UNLV still tied at 20-20 with 9:37 left in the game. pic.twitter.com/wgyxzCQ48B
— COFIELD (@stevecofield) October 22, 2021
One blocked kick later, UNLV trailed and would see their late rally curtailed by a vicious Kyle Harmon sack. It’s most disheartening because Arroyo’s Rebels looked last year like they were willing to push the envelope to extend drives, going 10-of-15 on fourth down tries in 2020, and that hasn’t always been the case this fall. When you’re trying to instill a winning culture at a flailing program, you have to establish processes that project confidence the players can get the job done and stick with them. On Friday, Arroyo failed in that regard.