Mountain West Football: Week 9 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.
Big rivalries, surprising results, lots of stakes: Mountain West football had just as much intrigue as always between Friday and Saturday this week. Here are the winners and losers from Week 9.
1. Fresno State’s offense
The Bulldogs needed to find answers against San Diego State’s defense to have a chance at a road win on Saturday and, boy, did they ever. Only one other team in the past three seasons managed to average more than the 6.3 yards per play that Fresno State put up against the Aztecs and they did it with a balanced attack that kept the home team from keying on quarterback Jake Haener, who finished the day 25-of-42 for 306 yards and a touchdown. Jordan Mims once again provided a spark to the run game, too, with a 186-yard performance that topped his previous career best from just last week.
Not only does it put the ‘Dogs in a decent position to perhaps reenter the top 25 rankings later on Sunday, they now possess a second key head-to-head tiebreaker in the race to the top of the West division. Things are far from over, of course, with Boise State and San Jose State still on the schedule in the next three weeks, but the Red Wave can feel good about celebrating the program’s second win over a ranked opponent this season.
Jordan Mims finds the end zone! Fresno State is now just minutes away from taking down No. 21 SDSU. pic.twitter.com/wUdz1fSa1N
— CBS Sports Network (@CBSSportsNet) October 31, 2021
2. Utah State’s defense
One big question that skeptics of the Aggies posed is how well the defense would play down the stretch, as that would go a long way toward determining whether the team could make good on controlling its own destiny in the Mountain division. Yesterday’s wild win against Hawaii, then, represents a step in the right direction for a few different reasons.
First, the Aggies forced a season-high three takeaways on the strength of a pair of forced fumbles by Byron Hobbs-Vaughns and Nick Heninger and a pair of interceptions from Cash Gilliam and Monte McGary. They also won up front with 11 tackles for loss and a season-high five sacks and, despite the Warriors’ second-half rally, had their best per-play performance since last year’s victory over New Mexico in giving up 5.29 yards per play. Being charmed in close games is one thing, but stringing together another convincing win or two like this will definitely silence the doubters.
— USU Football (@USUFootball) October 30, 2021
3. San Jose State quarterback Nick Nash
It wasn’t exactly an A-plus performance that Nash strung together against Wyoming on Saturday, but he’s looked more comfortable from week to week in replacing the injured Nick Starkel and he was plenty good enough to keep the stingy Cowboys defense off balance. Yesterday marked the second straight week that Nash threw for at least 150 yards and ran for 100 more on the ground, making him just the second Mountain West quarterback to pull off that particular feat (Nevada’s Cody Fajardo is the other), and that’s helped keep the Spartans’ slim hopes of winning the West division alive with three games to go.
𝗧𝗛𝗘 𝗣𝗔𝗦𝗦. 𝗧𝗛𝗘 𝗖𝗔𝗧𝗖𝗛. 𝗧𝗛𝗘 𝗧𝗗. ⚡
— Mountain West (@MountainWest) October 30, 2021
1. Colorado State’s red zone offense
Sooner or later, kicking short field goals catches up with you. While Cayden Camper had the chance to burnish his Special Teams Player of the Year resume with four more field goals in the Rams’ loss to Boise State on Saturday, you have to wonder how things could’ve been different if head coach Steve Addazio and offensive coordinator Jon Budmayr had elected to be more aggressive about scoring points.
That’s because Camper’s four successes came from the 4, 2, 2 and 10-yard line, the last of which also came in a situation where the Broncos had already taken a 21-16 lead late in the third quarter. Considering that Colorado State never got close to creating a scoring opportunity in the fourth quarter, it ended up illustrating the flipside of what can happen when you don’t finish drives and magnified what’s been a significant problem all season long: With only 14 touchdowns in 34 trips inside the 20-yard line (41.2%), perhaps no team in the country has been worse in the red zone than Addazio’s Rams.
2. San Diego State
The Aztecs finally met their match in the loss to Fresno State on Saturday night and learned that strengths can’t always outweigh weaknesses. Lucas Johnson struggled to move the ball in obvious passing situations, converting just one-of-seven third down tries in the first 40 minutes of game time while the Bulldogs built a 23-7 lead, while Greg Bell and the rest of San Diego State’s running backs never really got much traction with just three big plays (Johnson had four by himself for 51 rushing yards).
The secondary also took a few lumps from Fresno State’s big three wide receivers — Jalen Cropper, Josh Kelly, and Keric Wheatfall — and allowed the trio to average 15.9 yards per catch. Add to this that the Aztecs also lost the turnover battle for the first time this season, and they’ll probably ruminate on this one for a little while.
— ✯✯✯✯✯ (@FTBVids_YT) October 31, 2021
3. UNLV quarterback Cameron Friel
Two steps forward, one step back. That was more or less the story for the Rebels freshman quarterback on Friday night as he finished 27-of-41 for 283 yards and two touchdowns against three interceptions. Most galling is that two of the turnovers ended up becoming pick-sixes, courtesy of Daiyan Henley and Tyson Williams, which drove UNLV to its fourth loss of 30 points or more in the rivalry since 2009.