Utah State took a crucial step towards achieving bowl eligibility with a 24-10 victory over New Mexico on Saturday in Albuquerque, moving to 5-5 on the year. USU forced four Lobo turnovers during the contest, scoring 14 points as a result.
The Aggies looked to be in trouble early, as New Mexico intercepted freshman QB Jordan Love off a deflection on the first play from scrimmage. The Lobos drove deep into the Aggie redzone, before sophomore Justus Te’i forced a fumble to keep New Mexico out of the endzone. USU’s offense, however, continued to struggle against the Lobo defense before a 1-yard TD run by Lajuan Hunt broke a 0-0 deadlock late in the first quarter. Following a New Mexico field goal, Hunt broke a 65-yard run to paydirt to give USU a 14-3 lead heading into halftime.
In the second half, with New Mexico attempting to pull off the comeback, the Aggie defense continued to hold strong, as a Dominik Eberle field goal pushed the lead to 14-3. Freshman linebacker David Woodward iced the game in the fourth quarter with a 70-yard fumble return for a touchdown to extend Utah State’s lead to 24-3. A late 34-yard touchdown run by New Mexico QB Tekava Tuiota drove the game to its final score.
Utah State’s offense looked out of sync at times, as Love struggled for the day, throwing for 114 yards on only 13-24 passing for zero touchdowns and one interception. The Aggie rushing attack was able to pick up the slack, however, as Hunt tallied his second 100-yard rushing game in the past three contests, running for 117 yards on 14 attempts. Hunt also recorded his third career multi-TD game, rushing for two scores on the day.
The star of the show, however, was the Aggie defense. USU held a potent New Mexico rushing attack to a 4.6 yards per carry average on the day, well short of the Lobos’ average for the season. Sophomores Devon Anderson and Te’i each recorded two forced fumbles on the day, while junior safety Gaje Ferguson led the team with eight tackles and also recorded his first career sack in the game.
The win came at just the right time for the Aggies, who entered the game needing to go 2-1 over their final three games to again reach the bowl postseason after a one-year absence. Utah State now needs one more win, either at home versus Hawaii or on the road at Air Force, to qualify for the team’s sixth bowl in seven years.
Prior to that, USU will enjoy their first and only bye week of the year after playing 10 straight weeks to open the season. Utah State has shown a remarkable ability to prepare themselves through a bye week, as the team has gone 4-0 after regular season bye weeks under head coach Matt Wells.
The Aggies will have their first chance to qualify for bowl season in two weeks, when Utah State will welcome Hawaii to Maverik Stadium. Kickoff is currently set for noon on Saturday, November 18.