A pretty good Utah State football team still has a shot at greatness, according to coach Gary Andersen. It just needs to win its final two games of the season, including Saturday’s road tilt against a New Mexico team that is winless in the Mountain West Conference this year.
Two more wins would give the Aggies an 8-5 overall record and a bowl game victory.
“It’s like I always say, six and seven is good, and there’s a reward potentially. With seven wins, there will be a reward. Eight and nine wins equates to a great year, and double-digit wins is an elite year,” Andersen said. “That’s what college is all about, and right now we’re at six. To get to seven will be one step closer to having something there at the end that means something special to you and a chance to get eight wins.”
Yet while the Aggies (6-5, 5-2 MWC) became bowl eligible two weeks ago, when they beat Wyoming for their sixth win, there may not even be a postseason game for USU if it can’t win Saturday in Albuquerque, N.M. And that won’t be as easy to do on the field as it appears on paper.
It has undisputedly been a rough year for the Lobos (2-9, 0-7). Not only are they seeking their first conference win, they lost a beloved defensive lineman, Nahje Flowers, to suicide and lost their starting quarterback as a repercussion for an indecent exposure allegation. They’ve lost 14 players to season-ending injuries and suited up just 57 scholarship players last week against Air Force, according to the Albuquerque Journal. They’ll also be losing their coach, Bob Davie, who has agreed to step down after the season.
Still, New Mexico hasn’t surrendered to its adversity. Take out a 42-9 loss to MWC Mountain Division champion Boise State, and the Lobos have dropped each of their league games by two touchdowns or less. That Boise State score, by the way, is only two points more than what the Broncos pinned on Utah State last week.
“Those guys are playing hard,” Andersen said. “The season hasn’t gone the way they wanted it to go, but they play extremely hard, and I’m sure they’re going to play extremely hard in this last game at home.”
New Mexico would traditionally rely on its run game, which is the third best in the conference with an average of 198.8 yards per game thanks in large part to the efforts of senior Ahmari Davis. But Davis injured his knee vs. the Broncos and the team will have to rely on backups such as redshirt sophomores Bobby Cole and Micah Gray. Still, the Aggies will have to be on the watch for long runs from redshirt freshman quarterback Trae Hall. In his starting debut last week in a loss to Air Force, he threw for 55 yards on 5-for-7 passing and rushed for 33 yards.
On the other hand, this could be the game in which Jordan Love and the Aggies offense can finally put on the aerial show the Hurd has been hoping for all season. New Mexico has allowed a league-worst 335 passing yards per game on average. Love needs just 337 yards of total offense this weekend to set the school record for total offense and needs just 87 yards to become just the second Aggies quarterback with two 3,000-yard seasons.
Caleb Repp, the USU tight end whose one-handed touchdown catch was the No. 1 play on SportsCenter last Saturday, said he thinks fellow graduate transfer Siaosi Mariner will be on the receiving end of many of Love’s passes against the Lobos’ man-on-man defense.
“To be honest, Siaosi is a pretty fun player to watch. To even think about going one-on-one with him, that’s going to be exciting to see long bombs all day,” Repp said. “Hopefully, we’ll see that. As far as me, I love one-on-one, too, but I think Siaosi is going to be the big matchup if they want to try and do that.”
The Aggies will have to stay disciplined — New Mexico also ranks among the top three in the MWC in drawing penalties — but if they can keep their focus for one more game, the payout could benefit USU for seasons to come.
“Going to a bowl game is a big accomplishment, but it’s also a program builder,” Andersen said, “to be able to get the young guys, especially as many young guys as we have, more repetitions and practice depending on when the bowl game is.”
He added, “It’s a great opportunity and what we need to do is go back and understand that this is a huge game for us. It’s a big game for the Aggies, and we need to approach it that way.”
UTAH STATE AT NEW MEXICO
At DreamStyle Stadium, Albuquerque, N.M.
Kickoff » Saturday, 2 p.m.
TV » Facebook Live
Radio » KZNS 1280 AM/97.5 FM; KBLU-LP 92.3 FM; KACH 1340 AM/105.5 FM; KRPX 95.3 FM/102.7 FM/100.3 FM/95.9 FM
Records » USU 6-5, 5-2; New Mexico 2-9, 0-7
All-time series » New Mexico leads 13-12
About USU » The Aggies are coming off a loss to rival Boise State that cost them the MWC Mountain Division title. … USU is bowl eligible with six wins, but they may not receive an invitation if they lose to New Mexico. … RB Gerold Bright is looking for just 62 yards to become the 10th Aggie to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a season. … QB Jordan Love needs 87 yards for his second 3,000-yard passing game and needs 337 yards of total offense to set the school record.
About New Mexico » The Lobos had lost 14 players to season-ending injuries prior to last week’s game against Air Force … QB Trae Hall, a redshirt freshman, is expected to get the starting nod over senior Tevaka Tuioti, who has been inconsistent at best. … The Lobos are looking for their first conference win of the season. … Bob Davie, who was hired in 2011 and is 35-63 with New Mexico, has agreed to step down after Saturday’s game.