Heading into Saturday's matchup against the University of New Mexico Lobos, the Utah State Aggies were plenty beat up from the previous two contests against BYU and Boise State.
The absence of key offensive starters like Chuckie Keeton and Joe Hill had some worried about this game, and for good reason, too. Another loss would seriously have jeopardized the Aggies' bowl hopes.
Would Utah State's offense produce points? Would the defense hold against New Mexico's explosive rushing attack? Perhaps most of all, would any more injuries rear their ugly heads?
As it turned out, those concerns got put to bed early and in resounding fashion.
Utah State pushed the Lobos around right out of the gate. The Lobos fumbled the ball inside their own red zone and Utah State capitalized on a one-play touchdown run by Joey DeMartino. The game started brilliantly for the Aggies.
And it got even better. On the Ags' next possession, they marched straight down the field with a bit of passing and the power-run game mixed together to go up to 14-0 within the first six minutes.
It was all Aggies, all the time. Darell Garretson looked solid in his first collegiate start and handled the pressure extremely well. He completed 15 of his 23 passes despite taking some big hits. Plus, he didn't turn the ball over, a major improvement over last week's game against Boise State.
DeMartino looked and played the part of a bruiser back, even though he has a nagging injury. He touched the ball 15 times and ran for more than 140 yards. In all, he scored three touchdowns on the ground and one through the air, showcasing his pass-catching skill.
As for special teams, this was easily that unit's best game of the year. Bruce "Jojo" Natson returned a punt 65 yards for a touchdown. Jaron Bentrude, the punter, added to the scoreboard with a fake punt run for more than 70 yards.
Not many teams can say their punter holds the biggest run of the season, but the Aggies can.
And the defense? Just straight-up dominant. The Aggies held the Lobos to less than 170 rushing yards, far less than half of their per-game average this season. Most impressive of all, they held superstar Kasey Carrier to only one rushing touchdown. Seeing Connor Williams back on the defensive line is a huge gain for morale and leadership moving forward, too.13 comments on this story
Needless to say, this victory was cathartic for the Ags. It's tough to take back-to-back losses, especially when so much production and leadership becomes absent on the offensive side of the ball. By stepping up as a team, the Ags have not only proved they are more than just one player but that they are still firmly in control of their destiny to make a bowl game for the third straight season.
The remaining games on the schedule are a huge break from the first half of the season, and three of the last four are inside the friendly confines of Romney Stadium, to boot.
Rest easy, Aggie fans. This team will go bowling.
Sam McConkie is a technical and professional writing graduate from Utah State University. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org