Deven Thompkins celebrates after making a catch vs Hawai’i on Oct. 30, 2021 on Merlin Olsen Field in Logan, Utah. Photo by Robert K. Scott
LOGAN—It has been a wild first season for the new Utah State football coaching staff. For the past two months the Aggie football team completed comebacks, found a way to win shootouts, waited until the final minute to pull out close victories. The team as a whole has vastly exceeded expectations by putting up a 6-2 record and finding itself atop the division standings.
While the rest of the Mountain West will be battling it out with each other this weekend, USU will break from the norm and travel to Las Cruces, New Mexico for a game against a non-conference opponent
Win or lose, Saturday’s game against New Mexico State will not affect the USU’s place in the division standings. With bowl eligibility already secured, what, if anything, is on the line?
USU head coach Blake Anderson isn’t too sure the game impacts his team very much at all.
“We clearly don’t want to give a game up here, but it doesn’t have the ramifications of losing a conference game,” he said. “So I don’t know if it relieves some stress from guys’ shoulders for a week, I don’t know. We just talk about being 1-0 each week, anyway.”
Of course, for the fans who will mostly view this game as an easy victory, there are other storylines to follow. Like, how much closer can Deven Thompkins get to getting the most receiving yards in any season in USU history? Or, can Savon Scarver get another kickoff return for a touchdown to break the all-time NCAA record?
But Anderson’s main focus is getting the win and getting better, and he did point out some things his team can learn from this game. He said Las Cruces is hard to get to and there are generally very few fans that show up, which means USU will be in an unfamiliar position of playing in a quiet stadium. New Mexico’s Aggies are used to that environment, Anderson said, and are comfortable with it.
“The challenge for us is to just continue to improve and travel well against an opponent that I expect we’ll be favored to beat,” Anderson said.
New Mexico State is 1-7 with its lone win coming against South Carolina State on September 18. It has played five different Mountain West opponents—twice against Hawaii—and has lost big in most cases. Anderson pointed out that NMSU has played a few teams tough, including San Jose State, who they lost to by a score of 37-31.
“Late in the fourth quarter, still tied with Hawaii,” he said. “That kind of tells you all you need to know. You’ve got to play good ball.”
Anderson said that NMSU head coach Doug Martin isn’t afraid to run the ball, but that he puts an emphasis on spreading defenses out and throwing the ball from sideline to sideline. Season statistics back up what Anderson believes about his opponent. Led by quarterback Jonah Johnson, New Mexico State’s offense is putting up more than double the passing yards (276 per game) than it is rushing yards (105 per game).
“You’ve got to be sound and you’ve got to rush the passer well,” Anderson said. “They’ll light you up.”
On the other side of the ball, New Mexico State’s defense Anderson described New Mexico State’s defense as “tough nosed” and “blue collar.” The statistical leader of that defense is linebacker Chris Ojoh, who has 44 tackles, five sacks and two forced fumbles on the season.
“They bring the pressure and try to create negative plays,” he said. “That’s kind of always been their style.”
Calvin Tyler Jr., who has been USU’s go-to running back until he was injured, is expected to play in this week’s game after missing the previous two weeks. Anderson said he could have probably played last week, but was held out. Offensive lineman Jacob South could also make his return from injury as well.
The game will kick off at 2 p.m. Saturday and can be viewed on FloSports.