Featured image courtesy Garett Graf/USU Athletics
by Daniel Olsen
While Utah State started slow, a focused defense effort and monumental special teams play led the Aggies to a 27-10 win over the New Mexico Lobos at Maverik Stadium Saturday afternoon. It marked the sixth straight win over the Lobos and third straight in Logan. The last loss to the Lobos came in 2016 when USU went 3-9.
Penalties Limit Aggie Offense Early
While inclement weather ultimately became an issue for the New Mexico Lobos in the final quarter, penalties were an issue for the Aggies early on. Utah State had a total of seven first half penalties for a total of 57 yards awarded to the Lobos.
“Luckily it didn’t cost us the game because I thought we had way too many penalties,” Utah State Coach Blake Anderson said. “I can deal with competitive penalties. I can’t deal with penalties after the snap that are poor decisions. I’m frustrated there, but luckily we survived it because it could easily have been a bigger factor than it was.
After Cooper Legas threw a touchdown pass on the opening drive, the defense and special teams would score the remaining points the rest of the way in a strange way. While that made a more enjoyable game in Logan in the second half, the first half was very scary for Aggie fans as USU trailed 10-7 at the intermission.
Conner Coles has Best Performance in Aggie Uniform
Rarely do kickers and punters make touchdown plays on fourth down, but that’s exactly what kicker Conner Coles and punter Stephen Kotsanlee did. With just under 11 minutes to go in the third quarter and the Aggies on 4th and goal, it appeared that the field goal unit was making their way to try to tie the game up.
They exceeded expectations when they perfectly executed a play they had been working on in practice. Kotsanlee held the ball and pulled it back at the last second, flipping the ball forward to a wide open Coles for the touchdown. The Aggies went up 14-10 and that seemed to give their whole team momentum the rest of the way. Coles converted two field goals, the touchdown and three extra points to outscore the Lobos 15-10 by himself. He was quick to credit his blockers for giving him a wide open lane to the end zone like they executed in practice all week.
“It feels really good to do my 1/11th for the team,” Coles said. “When my number was called I showed up and got it done. The protection all night was incredible so it really made my job easy.”
While special teams is often overlooked, the Aggies showed that it made all the difference in the win. The Aggies are 2-1 this season in games where Coles has at least two field goals. The touchdown was just icing on the cake. The run game relied heavily on backup running back Robert Briggs, who had 82 of the total 131 rushing yards. Calvin Tyler Jr. went down early as he was showing some concussion signs.
Physical Defense Fuels Second Half Performance
While the Lobos are known for their defense, they had an offense that was capable of causing the Aggies some early troubles. In 20 minutes, the Lobos held a 10-7 lead. However, they were shut down 20-0 in the final 50 minutes in a dominant defensive performances that was capped off by a fumble return for a touchdown by USU Safety Hunter Reynolds. With three minutes to go, this essentially put the game out of reach.
“Our defense feels good but there are things we can work on,” Reynolds said. “In the first half, there were a lot of incidents where guys were either missing tackles or not doing their job. At halftime, the point of emphasis was to get back to the basics and do what we can do. While holding them to ten points was good in a day like this with a great defense and bad weather, we can do a better job on defense. When we have them pinned back, we need to keep them pinned back.”
Reynolds recorded a double-digit tackle night with 10 tackles while players like Ajani Carter and MJ Tafisi were sidelined due to injury.
The Aggies will travel to the islands next Saturday to play with the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors. The game can be streamed by downloading the Team1 sports app. The game will start at 10 p.m. MT. Hawaii is coming off a disappointing loss to Fresno State and is now officially out of bowl contention with a 2-7 record.