Photo by Robert K. Scott
LAS CRUCES—Utah State football was expected to win big Saturday afternoon, and it did. the team just waited until the second half to do it. After falling behind 13-7, USU outscored New Mexico State 28-0 in the second half to cruise to the non-conference victory, improving to 7-2 overall. NMSU fell to 1-8 overall.
“I’m proud of the win,” head coach Blake Anderson said. “Not proud of how it looked.”
Anderson described his team’s first half play as uninspired, which was exactly what worried him going into the game. Not only was it nearly 40 degrees hotter than what the players had been used to back home in Logan, but Anderson had coached in that stadium before. He said the small crowd makes the stadium lack energy, and he didn’t want his players to match it.
“I’ve been honest with them all week about how tough this road trip is, about what this opponent really looked like,” he said, “and that it was our responsibility to play at the level we are supposed to play at, not to play to the crowd, not to play to the environment, not to play to the opponent.”
USU quarterback Logan Bonner threw for 355 yards, four touchdowns and an interception. His receiver Deven Thompkins had nine receptions for two touchdowns and a career-high 215 yards that is tied for the most in USU history.
Thompkins, who now leads the nation in total receiving yards this season, said he has been eyeing a 200-yard game all year.
“It’s something I’ve wanted and something I’ve been getting close to every single week,” Thompkins said. “Like, 100-yard games, 177-yard games, that’s cool and all, but I’ve just been waiting for this 200-yard game. Honestly, in a way it’s a relief, but it makes me even more hungry.”
USU running back Calvin Tyler Jr. ran 10 times for 60 yards while teammate Elelyon Noa added another 14 touches for 50 yards and a touchdown. Tyler left the game early with the possibility that he re-aggravated an injury that kept him out of the previous couple of games.
“I’m hoping it looked worse than it is,” Anderson said, “but I really don’t know at this point.”
The first quarter wasn’t even close, with the Aggies from New Mexico taking a 10-0 lead, gaining 187 yards to USU’s 22 and 11 first downs to just one from USU. A blocked field goal from USU’s Justin Rice on the opening drive was one of the few positives for USU and kept the score from getting even more out of hand.
Utah State’s offense had more success moving the ball in the second quarter, but turned the ball over on downs just eight yards from the endzone on its first try. The second try went better. Thompkins went airborne to reel in a 23-yard Bonner pass in the endzone, cutting the other Aggies’ lead to 10-7.
New Mexico State continued its scoring with another three points on the following possession. USU’s final drive of the half ended in a Bonner interception, with USU trailing 13-7.
The second half was completely different. It began with Thompkins finding the endzone less than a minute after it started. The Aggie defense stepped up too, forcing two straight three-and-outs while Derek Wright and Elelyon Noa scored on the alternate possessions, giving USU a 28-13 advantage entering the final quarter.
“We started looking like the team we are capable of being,” Anderson said. “That’s how we should’ve played the whole game.”
Utah State scored once more when wide receiver Justin McGriff used his size advantage early in the fourth to bring in a one-yard touchdown pass, while the USU defense held when it needed to, pitching a shutout in the final 30 minutes.
USU will return to conference play next Saturday night, 8:30 p.m. at San Jose State. At 4-1 in conference the Aggies will look to keep its foothold atop the Mountain Division.