Jordan Love threw for 312 yards passing on 19-27 passing with three total touchdowns and zero interceptions, while Lajuan Hunt ran for a career-high three touchdowns alongside 101 yards rushing as Utah State defeated UNLV 52-28 on Saturday night in Las Vegas to creep ever closer to bowl eligibility.
“Really, really proud of our guys. I think they showed their character, I think they showed their resiliency,” head coach Matt Wells said. “That, to me, is the essence of team. That’s the essence of this (Utah State) logo.”
Utah State found itself in an early hole as the Rebels rushed out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, feuled by 161 yards rushing during the frame. Love responded by throwing a beautiful deep ball, dropping the ball straight into WR Savon Scarver’s arms on a 70-yard touchdown pass. Scarver finished the game with 75 yards on two receptions.
“It’s a great feeling, seeing him run down the field knowing that he’s going to score,” Love said of Scarver’s touchdown reception. “That was our first touchdown, so breaking the chain and getting on the board was a great feeling.”
UNLV’s rushing attack remained potent, however, as the Rebels stretched the lead to 21-7 after a 41-yard TD run by Lexington Thomas, who totaled 161 yards and two touchdowns in the game. QB Armani Rogers also joined in with a 7-yard touchdown for the Rebels. To USU’s credit, the Aggies refused to cave, as two Hunt TDs and a 75-yard TD pass from Love to Jordan Nathan brought Utah State even with UNLV at 28 going into the half.
The Aggie defense continued their season’s tradition of strong second half performances, shutting out the Rebels in the second half of play amid forcing three turnovers.
“I don’t think it’s an issue of playing hard or playing fast,” senior safety Dallin Leavitt said of the defense’s second half rejuvenations. “I think it just has to do with our coaching staff making great adjustments at halftime, and guys figuring out where we’re getting hit and doing a good job of stopping it.”
The Aggie offense continued to find holes in the Rebel defense, as Love put the Aggies up with a 5-yard TD run on 4th down in the third quarter. Two touchdown runs from Hunt and Justen Hervey iced the game in the fourth quarter alongside a 24-yard field goal from Dominik Eberle.
“After a game like Wyoming last week, we knew we had to come together,” Love said. “We knew we had to get a win. It’s all in the gameplan the coaches make for us, and it’s all about heart and effort.”
USU’s comeback seemed doomed following injuries to both senior cornerback and midseason All-American Jalen Davis and junior Ron’quavion Tarver that forced both star playmakers out of action for the Aggies. Aggies both young and old stepped up in their absence, however, bringing USU even with UNLV at the half and leading the Aggies to a 24-0 second half over the Rebels.
“Tonight, what you saw was depth,” coach Wells said. “We lose our top two guys on offense and defense, arguably, early in the game. You saw a lot of redshirt freshman and guys from the last recruiting class playing. I think it does show depth and I’m proud of those guys.”
With Tarver out early in the game, Scarver answered the call along with redshirt freshman Jordan Nathan, who finished with three receptions for 92 yards and one touchdown. Davis’ absence on defense brought sophomore cornerback Cameron Haney into the spotlight. When Haney left with injury in the second half, JC transfer Deante Fortenberry played his best game of the season, recovering a second half fumble in the game. Hunt eased the burden of the rest of the Aggies with his second 100-yard rushing game of his career.
While more medical examination will be necessary, Wells said following the game that he tentatively expects the injured Aggies to return next week. Utah State will surely need them, plus the surprising performances of the rest of the team, as the Aggies will welcome Boise State into Logan on Saturday night.