<strong>LOGAN—</strong> The annual WAC “Aggie Bowl” has been a hard fought affair since USU head coach Gary Andersen took over. However, the 2012 version looked nothing like the previous three installments, as Utah State blasted New Mexico State, 41-7.
The home Aggies scored on a 76-yard screen pass from Chuckie Keeton to Kerwynn Williams on the first play from scrimmage, and USU just kept rolling from there.
“That play doesn’t happen without the linemen getting out there and making the blocks that they did,” Williams said. “Kevin Whimpey got out there and he cut the corner and set it all up … it was big for that play to hit like that.”
With the win, Utah State (6-2, 2-0) became bowl eligible for the second consecutive year – a feat that hasn’t happened since the 1996 and 1997 seasons – and continued its quest for a WAC title.
“Absolutely … this is a huge accomplishment. We talked about it in the locker room, to get to six wins and become bowl eligible is a tremendous feat for these kids in this program, and they need to celebrate it,” Andersen said.
In what could have been a trap game for the Aggies coming off a big road win and facing a NMSU team that was coming off a bye, Utah State dominated from start to finish. Big plays, long drives, and solid defense led a balanced USU attack. The Aggie offense piled up more than 500 yards of offense (260 passing, 256 rushing), while the USU defense forced two turnovers.
“We’ve learned from the past and what we’ve been doing. You just have to be consistent, week in and week out,” Williams said. “We’ve learned to be consistent, and that’s basically what we attribute that to.”
Following USU’s opening score, New Mexico State drove down the field and appeared to score a touchdown when quarterback Andrew Manley found a wide-open Austin Franklin for a 36-yard score. However, a chop-block penalty negated the touchdown and pushed the visiting Aggies back. They were eventually forced to punt and USU took over.
A few plays later, Utah State was in the end zone again.
Making his first catch of the game, Chuck Jacobs caught a 17-yarder on a crossing pattern to pick up a first down at the NMSU 49 yard line. The very next play, Jacobs finished off the drive as he hauled in a deep ball from Keeton and waltzed into the end zone as his defender fell down. Jacobs caught four passes for 94 yards and that score.
Keeton had a solid game as well, as he finished 16-of-26 passing for 257 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. The sophomore also had a fantastic game rushing the ball. He broke a career-long 76-yarder early in the second quarter, and then added a 9-yard TD scamper in the third. He finished with seven rushes for 81 yards.
“Last year we were kind of a systematic, let’s just pound the ball and move it down a little bit at a time, but this year I feel like we’re a big play explosive team,” Keeton said.
Despite trailing 21-0, New Mexico State kept fighting. Manley led the visitors inside the USU five yard line where NMSU had a first and goal. The NewMags weren’t able to convert though, as the USU defense – one of the best in the nation in the red zone – caused a turnover.
Senior cornerback Willie Davis – who has had his share of chances on the season – recorded his first pick of the year and returned it all the way out to the 35 yard line to give USU the ball back and kill the NMSU momentum once again. Davis also tallied eight tackles on the day, including two for loss.
“Man, I’ll tell you what, it was long overdue. Since even Colorado State, every time it came game day, that fans – which I love our fans – would always tweet me, ‘I feel it this time.’ I couldn’t get it, couldn’t get it, but to actually finally do it, it felt great,” Davis said.
“When I got it, I just went. I didn’t know where I was going, but I just went. I’m going to be 100 percent honest, I just went. After I got tackled, the whole sideline was like, ‘Come on man, you’re supposed to go to the house.’ I said man, can’t you just be happy I got the INT, we’ll work on that later.”
Williams, who finished with 83 yards rushing and 96 yard receiving, finished off the first half scoring with a 3-yard scamper with 39 seconds left in the second quarter to send Utah State to the locker room leading 28-0.
The second half was more of the same for USU as the Aggies added on 13 more points. Keeton scored his second rushing TD late in the third quarter, and that was sandwiched between two Nick Diaz field goals. After going 7-for-7 on PAT’s last week, Diaz attempted his first field goals of the season and was rewarded with applause as he connected on attempts of 52 and 48 yards. Perfection wasn’t reached though, as he did have a 44-yarder blocked.
“Nick coming in and making two big field goals was great to see. I think special teams overall was solid,” Andersen said.
For New Mexico State, receiver Austin Franklin turned in another big game. Though he was held well below his season average in yards per game, he still hauled in eight catches for 84 yards and the visiting Aggies’ only score of the game – a 6-yard catch midway through the third quarter.
USU will hit the road again, but be back in action next week at the University of Texas-San Antonio. The roadrunners (5-2, 1-1) fell at home to San Jose State Saturday, 52-24. That game is scheduled for noon local time.
“Now that we know that we’re bowl eligible, we just have to keep setting higher goals,” Keeton said. “Our goals from the beginning of the season was being bowl eligible, winning a bowl game, and winning the WAC championship. We’ve got the bowl eligibility scratched off, now we’re just looking for a WAC championship.”