Albuquerque, N.M. • While there were still a few minutes ticking on the game clock, many of the Utah State Aggies began putting on hats declaring them the New Mexico Bowl champions. Players hugged coaches. The team jumped up and down in unison. And after the trophy presentation, there came the rallying cry:
“We all we got, we all we need.”
It was more than enough than enough on Saturday. Playing like a team on a mission following the departure of their head coach at the end of the regular season — and the hiring of a new one just this past week — USU routed North Texas 52-13 amid huge distractions that might have felled a lesser team.
“The way we win was really all due to these kids right here,” Aggies interim head coach Frank Maile said. “Their preparation and focus with all the changes that went down is really a credit to them.”
Sixth-year Utah State coach Matt Wells was hired away by Texas Tech following the regular season finale against Boise State, taking several coaches with him. Maile ran the team’s bowl practices, trying to keep things as routine as possible with a shrunken, reshuffled staff. But that, too, hit a hiccup last week when Gary Andersen was hired as the Aggies' new coach — his second stint with the program after rebuilding USU from 2009-2012. Andersen will officially take over next month.
The way the Aggies played Saturday, though, it might not have mattered who was coaching them.
• The Aggies scored on five touchdown drives that each lasted under one minute.
• Utah State tied the record for most points scored the New Mexico Bowl
• The Aggies finished the season 11-2, tying the school record for wins in a single year.
Sophomore quarterback Jordan Love threw for four touchdowns, complete 21 of 43 passes for 359 yards, and was named the game’s offensive MVP. DJ Williams, who came down with two of USU’s four interceptions, was named defensive MVP.
Senior receivers Aaren Vaughns and Jalen Greene combined for 260 receiving yards. Junior running back Gerold Bright contributed two rushing touchdowns with 103 yards on 16 carries.
With the win, the Aggies finished 11-2 for the season, tying a school record. Love said the team wanted a Mountain West championship, but will gladly take a bowl title as a consolation prize.
“This is going to be a season that everybody on this team will be able to look back on their whole life and just be able to think we did a great job,” Love said.
The Aggies made it known that when playing their A Game, they can be dominant in all phases of football. They rolled 556 yards and held North Texas to just 313. Their four picks gave the USU secondary 22 for the season. That’s tops in the nation.
It likely wouldn’t have altered the final outcome, but the Mean Green was hamstrung by injuries. Standout quarterback Mason Fine hurt his right hamstring early in the game, and did not return in the second half. The Mean Green also played without their top receiver, Rico Bussey, Jr. He was questionable due to a hamstring injury and never got on the field.
As has been their habit this season, the Aggies set the tone quickly. It took only 40 seconds for Utah State to score its first touchdown — the opening one of the game — and it came on a 72-yard pass from Love to a wide-open Vaughns. Utah State scored in less than a minute on three additional occasions in the first half.
The Mean Green tied the game at 7-7, but the Aggies regained control with a 24-point explosion in the second quarter. Up 38-7 at the half, Utah State was never threatened again.
As has been the case all season, the Aggie offense got most of the headlines in this win, but the USU defense also was superb, limiting the Mean Green to just one red zone appearance the entire day.
“We just came to play today,” said Williams, who had the two picks. “We had a goal, and went and got that goal, and that was to leave here winning.”
Despite North Texas scoring just 10 seconds into the third quarter, the Aggies recovered just as quickly as the Mean Green scored. They punched in two touchdowns and didn’t allow North Texas any more for the remainder of the game.
Aaren Vaughns caught multiple touchdown passes in the same game for the first time in his career. … Utah State broke the Mountain West record for most total points in a season. … Utah State reached 22 interceptions on the season, which is the most since 1986. … North Texas set the New Mexico Bowl record for the fastest scoring drive (10 seconds). … Darwin Thompson passed the 1,000-rushing-yards mark.