Utah State overcomes dreadful start, feasts upon New Mexico State

Utah State overcomes dreadful start, feasts upon New Mexico State

Utah State

Utah State overcomes dreadful start, feasts upon New Mexico State

By

Contact/Follow @SamMcConkie & @MWCwire

Tell me if you’ve heard this story before.

USU comes out as flat as a pancake and digs themselves a double digit hole against their opponent. After making a few key halftime adjustments, they  look like a totally different team and take care of business on the road. Sound familiar?

All in all, just another day at the office for Utah State’s football team. Against New Mexico State, this is the seventh time this season USU has trailed its opponent at halftime. Amazingly, USU has managed to go 5-2 in those contests, proving their mettle and making a case for being the surprise team of the conference this season.

Let’s recap the roller coaster game and how USU made it look all too easy in the second half, making us remind ourselves we never truly doubted them in the first place.

First quarter

No getting around it: this was by far USU’s worst start of the season, even though they were only down 10 points at the end of the first quarter.

New Mexico State came out swinging and drove the ball down the field easily. They got inside the 15 yard line, but ended up settling for a field goal attempt. That was then blocked by Justin Rice ( because of course) and USU started their first drive of the day… and promptly went three and out. No need to sweat yet.

The southern Aggies again picked apart USU’s soft zone defense and capped off a strong drive with an 11-yard TD scamper by Juwaun Price. It looked all too easy and USU clearly had no interest in playing this game in Las Cruces. On their next drive, USU went three and out yet again and nearly lost a fumble in the process. Aggies punted yet again.

New Mexico State put together another impressive drive and ended it with a 45 yard field goal by Ethan Albertson. USU seemed to have no answer for QB Jonah Johnson and these wide receivers and things were getting dicey for the team in blue.

Second Quarter

USU finally seemed like they were aware they had a game to play. They mounted a good drive and took advantage of some sloppy NMSU penalties to get inside their 20-yd line. Fourth and short, USU goes for it. Ranking 8th nationally in fourth down conversion percentage, seems like a surefire bet against a bottom tier defense. Unfortunately, they got stuffed stuffed inches from converting the down. Another wasted opportunity.

After this debacle, USU’s defense finally managed to get a stop and force the southern Aggies to punt deep from their own end zone. USU then marched down the field and Logan Bonner connected with Deven Thompkins on a 23-yard acrobatic TD catch, paring the deficit to three.

New Mexico State responded with a good drive of their own. Jonah Johnson was aided by a pair of pass interference calls on CB Michael Anyanwu and CB Andre Grayson. After a solid catch from Cole Harrity, this got his team down the field near the 20-yd line. Ethan Alberton kicked another field goal from 35 yards out and put NMSU up 13-7. Not pretty for USU by any means, but they were finally limiting the damage this offense was doing.

USU was unable to mount another drive and NMSU’s last opportunity of the half sputtered out as well.

Third Quarter

After what was surely an intense Blake Anderson halftime speech, USU came out of the locker room with a vengeance.

USU got the ball first and Bonner completed back to back catches with Deven Thompkins and Justin McGriff to get near midfield. On the next play Bonner hit paydirt with a 54-yd TD toss to Deven Thompkins, who would go on to finish the game with 200+ yards receiving and two TDs. It took less than a minute to score and USU would never trail NMSU again.

NMSU was unable to respond and their drive ended with a sack by DE Byron Vaughns. The southern Aggies’ offensive line was starting to display some serious cracks and USU had gotten their fifth sack of the game to this point.

USU wasted no time yet again and moved the ball with ease. Bonner completed passed to Thompkins and Derek Wright, and then Calvin Tyler got involved in the running game. He ripped off runs of 19 and 8 yards and got down to the 4-yd line. Bonner then threw up a jump ball to Derek Wright in the end zone, putting up the Aggies 21-13 in the blink of an eye.

NMSU was unable to respond yet again. Johnson got sacked for the sixth time by the Aggie defense and then threw incomplete on 3rd down, forcing the home team to punt it away.

Bonner put together another great drive with back to back huge catches by Thompkins and then Brandon Bowling. NMSU jumped offsides for seemingly the millionth time and then got themselves a defensive delay of game to boot. The wheels were fully coming off the bus at this point and USU was knocking on the door for another score just halfway through the third quarter. Elelyon Noa then bullied his way into the end zone with a 4-yd score, putting USU up 28-13.

In what was likely NMSU’s last gasp breath of the game, they mounted a desperation drive. Johnson completed a pass to Jared Wyatt for 24 yards to get them near midfield. Juwaun Price got running as well and pushed the southern Aggies into USU territory. Next, Terrell Warner played a big factor  and hauled in a key catch to get NMSU down to the 8-yd line.

This is where NMSU’s hopes of an upset died.

Fourth Quarter

Johnson kept the ball and ran down to the 5-yd line. Next, he tried an option play and kept the ball for no gain. On third down, center Eli Johnson snapped the ball early and Jonah Johnson had to fall on it, wasting the down. On a desperation pass, it was then broken up by Zahodri Jackson, forcing the turnover on downs.

Bonner then hit a homerun ball to Deven Thompkins for about 50 yards. This catch put Thompkins over 200 yards on the day and cemented his current #1 ranking in the NCAA for individual receiving yards this season.

Kyle Van Leeuwen hauled in big catch shortly after this to get inside the 30-yd line. Noa ripped off a big first down run and then caught a big pass to get inside the 5-yd line. To put a cap on this drive and game, Bonner threw up a 50-50 ball and Justin McGriff used his size to devour the hapless southern Aggie defender and bring in the TD catch, going up 35-13.

The rest of the game was a mere formality at this point. NMSU had no offensive response and USU was able to salt away the game on some throws to Savon Scarver and kneel it out with under two minutes to go. The defense finished with seven sacks on the day and the team got a convincing win.

Final Thoughts

Par for the course, USU started weak but finished strong. They’ve won these toss-ups so far and Blake Anderson has proven how good he and his staff are at making in-game adjustments. Stressful as it can be, the result is nonetheless extremely gratifying after just how bad the 2020 season was. USU now leads the series with NMSU all time at 32-8.

With three games to go during the regular season, the Aggies are in full control of their own destiny. A road tilt vs San Jose State is going to be pivotal in deciding whether USU makes their first title game appearance since 2013. Boise State is coming on strong in conference and USU has no margin for error if they want to secure the Mountain division title.

The great news is they’ve been up to the task in these conference game almost every time this season. This season has been an unmitigated success either way and the fanbase can rest assured the team is headed back to the post-season with a legitimate shot at getting double-digit wins.

A lot to play for and a lot to be happy about is the story of the day for these Aggies.

 

Latest

More MWWire