Friday’s clash with New Mexico State comes down to stopping the “Big 3” — quarterback Tyler Rogers, tailback Larry Rose III and proud member of the 1,000-yard receivers club Jaleel Scott.
In Thursday morning’s presser, Utah State head coach Matt Wells cited Colorado State as a comparable opponent to New Mexico State in terms of sporting a solid QB-RB-WR core. While not a perfect comparison, NMSU’s Tyler Rogers and CSU’s Nick Stevens do have incredibly similar stat lines in 2017:
Stevens: 3,799 yards, 61.9 completion percentage, 29 touchdowns, 10 interceptions
Rogers: 3,825 yards, 62.3 completion percentage, 26 touchdowns, 16 interceptions
Put simply, Rogers is legit. His resume illustrates why New Mexico State ranks No. 4 in the nation in passing yards per game. He’s an efficient passer with multiple touchdown performances in all but two of his matchups this season (and even then, he threw a touchdown in losses to both Arkansas State and Louisiana). Rogers’ deep receiving corps also benefits from a special talent in Jaleel Scott.
There is some cause for concern for the USU defense. Utah State ranks third in the Mountain West against the pass allowing 181.8 yards through the air per game, but has also struggled at times to generate an effective pass rush. Utah State’s frustrating lack of pressure against Colorado State back in October let the Rams establish a quick two-score lead in the first half, with Stevens tallying 293 yards and two touchdowns on 22/31 passing by game’s end. USU failed to record a sack or turnover of any kind, and Stevens comfortably led the Rams to a win in Logan.
For Aggie fans hoping not to repeat past mistakes, a few factors appear to lean in USU’s favor in tomorrow’s Bowl matchup. The first is the increased production from the Aggie front seven over the second half of the season. New Mexico State head coach Doug Martin stated his top concern in facing the Aggie defense was the speed at which the linebackers could get to his quarterback — a quarterback who’s taken 28 sacks just this year and suffered 31 sacks back in 2016. Utah State might be the best defense Rogers will face this season, and his inability to escape a collapsing pocket is a glaring flaw in NMSU’s otherwise dangerous offensive attack.
Despite scoring seven rushing touchdowns this season, Rogers actually isn’t much of a dual-threat QB. With his spread offense taking defenders away from the box, Rogers can score in the red zone — but his highest rushing output of the season is still only 33 yards, with an average of just 4 rushing yards per game.
Like any quarterback, Rogers needs good pass protection to function properly. The decisions he makes when that pocket disappears shows another weakness in his game — when pressure hits home, Rogers opts to give his wideouts a chance instead of tossing the ball away, making him prone to big mistakes. New Mexico State’s signal-caller has to be the only QB in the country to simultaneously rank top 5 in passing yards per game and suffer a six-interception outing this year. In fact, Rogers has thrown multiple interceptions in four different games this season, including a dismal three-game stretch featuring 10 interceptions. Those mistakes are precisely what makes All-american CB Jalen Davis and senior safety Dallin Leavitt so fearsome, and what could determine the outcome of this game.
If Rogers can’t escape pressure and instead forces throws into windows that simply aren’t there, the Aggie secondary will surely take advantage Friday.