LOGAN — Every week it seems like the Utah State football team is breaking a school record or hitting a milestone. This week, a program that has only played in seven postseason bowls in its history, can become bowl eligible by clinching its sixth victory of the year in the All-Aggie battle against New Mexico State (1-5, 0-2 WAC).
Vegas oddsmakers list the Aggies to be a 31-point favorite, a huge jump against the team the Aggies only beat by three last season.
Saturday's game, coming on the heels of the Aggies' game big road win at San Jose State last week and a week before their trip to San Antonio to play a frisky UTSA team next week, has all the ingredients of a classic "trap game" for Utah State. With head coach Gary Andersen at the helm, however, don't expect the Aggies to overlook New Mexico State.
“I am always on guard and I am paranoid," Andersen said. "The way I state that is every week, these kids know me well enough now that if I sense anything at all that is negative, I am going to address it right out of the gate. We cannot take a backseat. I will educate them on it, but they have handled it well all year long and hopefully they will continue to do that.”
While New Mexico State may not sport an impressive resume — their only victory coming against FCS Sacramento State — these southern Aggies have the ability to hurt Utah State. If there has been a chink in the armor of the USU defense that ranks 12th in the country in points allowed, it’s been big plays in the passing game.
Last week San Jose State threw for 467 yards despite getting sacked 13 times. New Mexico State quarterback Andrew Manley has thrown for at least 250 yards in all but one game this season and will look to hook up with sophomore wideout Austin Franklin early and often. That means Utah State will again be looking to pressure the passer.
“It is the most annoying part to an offense and an offensive coordinator and to a quarterback if he doesn't quite understand where you are coming from and kind of get the clock in his mind going fast. So if we can do that again it will pay big dividends as we move through the game,” Andersen said. “That is two key parts to their offense that we have got to get pressure on them and we have got to look at Franklin.”
Bowl eligibility was not clinched last season until the penultimate game of the regular season and was cause to celebrate with a Gatorade dump on Andersen. This year it seems like just another step on the larger mission. With a showdown at Louisiana Tech looming in November that will likely decide the conference championship, Utah State cannot afford to fall a game behind the Bulldogs if they want to achieve the preseason goal of a WAC title.
“It is round eight for us and that is what it is. It is a 12-round fight with a possibility to play 13,” Andersen said. “We have put ourselves in decent position at 5-2 and to be bowl eligible with a bunch of games left would be a big accomplishment for this group of kids.”
Kraig is a 2010 Utah State University graduate and regular Deseret News sports blogger. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or followed on Twitter at DesNewsKraig.