For Utah State football, New Mexico State will be a stiff challenge in the NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl. No win is ever guaranteed, and bowl games carry such characteristics especially. The defense especially will be tested to their limit.
NMSU ranks fourth in the nation in passing yards per game. Senior WR Jaleel Scott has over 1,000 yards receiving and eight receptions touchdowns on the season. Senior RB Larry Rose III is already over 1,200 yards rushing. Meanwhile, senior QB Tyler Rogers is on pace to break 4,000 yards passing during the Arizona Bowl. For Utah State, the task of slowing down such an efficient and explosive offense is a daunting task.
But it’s not a task that New Mexico State head coach Doug Martin is sure that USU can’t manage.
“The thing I’m most worried about is protecting the quarterback,” Martin said at NMSU’s press conference before the Arizona Bowl. “(USU) has a lot of team speed… When they start blitzing linebackers and guys in the secondary, they can get to the QB quick. They can really rattle a quarterback.”
To his point, Utah State averages nearly two full sacks per game, with 16 different Aggies recording a sack on the season. Surprisingly, it is a member of the secondary, senior Jalen Davis, who leads the team in sacks, a testament to the variety of different blitzes employed by Utah State.
“On the back end, they do a really good job of disguising their coverages,” Martin said of USU’s secondary. “They will show one thing at the line of scrimmage, but then they can switch into something completely different really quickly.”
Utah State’s ability to confuse offenses and force mistakes has been instrumental in the defense’s 26 forces turnovers on the season, which currently ranks tied for 11th in the nation. Utah State has scored a total of 110 points off of those 26 turnovers on the season, constituting nearly 30 percent of USU’s total scoring output.
On Friday at Arizona Stadium, an unstoppable force will meet an immovable object. Whoever stands at game’s end holding the trophy will rest largely on who wins between New Mexico State’s offense and Utah State’s defense. It seems that Doug Martin already knows what many USU fans already do: don’t count out the Aggie defense.