Logan • Coming to Utah State, Tyler Larsen always hoped to be a part of bowl-bound teams.
Two four-win seasons threw a wet blanket on some of those early expectations.
But now, Larsen is a part of the winningest senior class in school history, with 27 wins in the past four seasons. Larsen has started every one. And he has designs on being the first class to go to three consecutive bowls.
“We always want that to happen,” he said. “Knowing that we’re in the position now, it’s one of the best feelings knowing that I was fortunate enough to be a part of it. It’s been a long journey for the seniors.”
If Utah State (5-4, 4-1) and UNLV (5-4, 3-2) have ever played a meaningful game in November, it was before Matt Wells’ time — as a coach or a player. But this Saturday in Las Vegas, both programs are playing for the same thing: that much-sought sixth win that’s the difference between playing in December or making plans to go home.
Wells was careful to emphasize that his team’s goal is to keep pace with Boise State in the Mountain Division race, which the Aggies could lead if they win out and the Broncos slip up. But in the program’s 116 seasons, the football team has never gone to three straight bowl games.
Even if getting bowl-eligible is not Utah State’s main goal, it certainly is on people’s minds.
“I can’t even begin to tell you what it means to this program from stories and from what I’ve heard,” kicker Nick Diaz said. “It’s a really big deal for the school and community as well. Just listening to everybody talk the positive vibes not just around the program but around the community. It’s really special to be a part of it.”
The Aggies are glad to be back in the conversation after winning each of their last two games by 35 points or more. Utah State’s offense has embraced a new quarterback in freshman Darell Garretson, who threw for 370 yards last game, and Joey DeMartino bruised for his fourth 100-yard rushing game against Hawaii.
Defensively, the Aggies have also stepped up, keeping their last two opponents to 10 points apiece, improving to the the No. 16 scoring defense in the country. Utah State looks worlds improved since getting stomped by BYU and Boise State in back-to-back weeks by a combined score of 65-37.
“We’re right where we want to be,” Wells said. “A little bit different avenue: We had some roadblocks, some potholes, we had to sidestep a few. We had to revamp the plan, we had to pull together, and we faced a lot of adversity, but here we are.”
UNLV has been similarly resilient this season under coach Bobby Hauck, who started the season on the hot seat. After dropping their first two games, the Rebels went on a four-game winning streak. UNLV has not gone to a bowl since 2000, and missed the chance to qualify last week in a loss to San Jose State.
The Aggies beat up on UNLV last year in a 35-13 win at home. But Wells was quick to point out that Rebels team has little in common with this team. Between running back Tim Cornett, quarterback Caleb Herring and receiver Devante Davis, UNLV has some serious offensive weapons, Wells said.
“Coach Hauck and his staff have done a real nice job of flipping that thing — they’re playing with a lot of confidence right now,” Wells said. “[Cornett, Herring and Davis], it’s a trifecta a little bit. Anytime you’ve got a quarterback, a real tailback and a real wideout, you’re explosive on offense.”
Utah State at UNLV
P Saturday, 6 p.m.
TV • ESPNU