Over the last few weeks, Utah State's football team has been beat up. The Aggies lost back-to-back games and a conference contest for the first time since early in the 2011 season. At least on paper, however, the road looks easier for USU (3-4, 2-1 Mountain West) down the stretch, starting Saturday with a trip to New Mexico to face the Lobos.
While New Mexico (2-4, 0-2) isn't blowing anyone away with its record, the Lobos' running game will give the Aggies plenty to worry about. New Mexico is averaging just shy of 350 yards per game on the ground, the second highest mark in the nation. At home inside University Stadium, that number vaults to 410 yards per game. The Aggies, on the other hand, rank 29th in the nation in rushing defense, allowing just 129 yards per game.
“They are a great rushing team,” said Utah State linebacker Jake Doughty, the nation’s fifth leading tackler at 11.9 stops per game. “They have the run down pretty good.”
While the styles are different, Doughty says preparing for the Lobos has been similar to preparing for Air Force, which USU beat earlier in the season. New Mexico can keep the chains moving on the ground, and then make big plays through the air with a play-action look if the defense cheats up too much. The key for Doughty and the rest of the linebackers and safeties is to make the right reads and avoid falling into traps.
“You have to be aware of that,” Doughty said. “Nine times out of 10 they are running the ball. The defenses that they have played start thinking run all the time and nobody is expecting pass. Then a guy gets behind the defense and it’s a big play.”
Not only do the Aggie defenders have to contend with one of the best running teams in the nation, they are looking to help out their teammates on the other side of the ball. Without star quarterback Chuckie Keeton, the Aggie offense has hit a bit of a skid and will be looking to true freshman Darell Garretson to right the ship this week.
“It does put some pressure on you,” Doughty said about helping his injured offense. “You need to do everything you can to help. ... We still count on (the offense) to move the ball. We expect them to do everything they can.”
The Aggies gave Garretson the reigns in the second half last week against Boise State. The freshman quarterback tossed two interceptions, but did lead the team on a 91-yard scoring drive in the final minutes. He was far from perfect, but Garretson’s poise impressed head coach Matt Wells enough to earn the starting job this week.
“I thought (Garretson) gained composure and played well down the stretch,” Wells said. “In that last drive, there are a lot of pluses to that for him. I thought he was pretty calm from a communication standpoint with the plays and the signals. I thought he carried himself well and I'm excited about seeing what he'll do this week.”
The Aggies will get a little time to rest following their trip to Albuquerque, as they'll have their first bye week of the season next week. The Aggies will then finish with three of their final four games at home as the team seeks a third consecutive winning season and bowl berth.
Utah State Aggies (3-4, 2-1) at New Mexico Lobos (2-4, 0-2)
University Stadium (39,224), Albuquerque
Saturday, October 19, 2013 7 p.m. MDT
TV: ROOT Sports
Radio: Utah State Sports Network
Kraig Williams is a 2010 Utah State University graduate and regular Deseret News sports blogger. He can be followed on Twitter @DesNewsKraig.