We knew Matt was going to be very good. ... There is always a learning curve as a first-year coach. He's had to think on his feet and he's come up against some things that none of us expected. To see the way he's navigated that and kept this team together and persevered, he's exceeded our expectations. —Scott Barnes, Utah State athletic director
SAN DIEGO — When Utah State athletic director Scott Barnes promoted Matt Wells from offensive coordinator to head coach last year, he had high expectations. Wells quickly exceeded those expectations, winning the Mountain West Coach of the Year award and leading the Aggies to a Mountain Division title in the Aggies' first year in the MWC despite numerous injuries.
“We knew Matt was going to be very good,” Barnes said. “There is always a learning curve as a first-year coach. He’s had to think on his feet and he’s come up against some things that none of us expected. To see the way he’s navigated that and kept this team together and persevered, he’s exceeded our expectations.”
With eight regular-season victories, Wells tied the school record for most wins by a first-year head coach. Tony Knap went 8-2 in his first year as head coach in 1963.
TICKET SALES: Utah State sold or gave out roughly 2,000 tickets of its allotment of 3,000. The number was lower than Barnes would have liked, but was also understandable considering the date and time of the bowl. With the game coming the day after Christmas and being 826 miles away, most of the Aggie fans in attendance had to come from the California area or travel on the holiday.
“If this game was when it usually is, which is before Christmas, I think we would have tripled that amount in terms of sales,” Barnes said. “We knew it would be a struggle in terms of the day. We’ve done the best we can do.”
Total attendance for the game was 23,408, the lowest in Poinsettia Bowl history.
MAC ATTACK: This is the third straight year and fourth time overall that Utah State has played a Mid-American Conference team in a bowl game. Last year in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl the Aggies defeated Toledo 41-15. In 2012 USU lost to Ohio 24-23 in the Potato Bowl. And in 1993 the team defeated Ball State 42-33 in Las Vegas Bowl II.
Wells was present for all three of those games — as the offensive coordinator in 2012, quarterbacks coach in 2011 and backup quarterback in 1993. In the only previous meeting between USU and Northern Illinois, the Aggies won 42-7 in 1995 in Logan.
NOTES: Utah State wore blue helmets, white jerseys and blue pants for the bowl game. The Aggies went with this combination only once during the season — a 47-10 victory over Hawaii. The helmets included a special silver decal for the bowl game. With the Poinesttia Bowl being broadcast by ESPN the Aggies played 12 games on national television in 2013. Utah State made its third straight bowl appearance for the first time in school history. The Aggies only played on natural grass once prior to the bowl game, losing 17-14 to USC at the Los Angeles Coliseum. The captains for USU were linebacker Jake Doughty, defensive back Quinton Byrd, offensive lineman Tyler Larsen and running back Joey DeMartino.
Kraig Williams is a 2010 Utah State University graduate and regular Deseret News sports blogger. He can be followed on Twitter @DesNewsKraig.