For the first 59 minutes Saturday afternoon, the worst field position Utah State had was its own 35-yard line. For the game, USU averaged getting the ball at its own 48.3-yard line. Four times in the first half, it got the ball inside the New Mexico State 30.
All six New Mexico State turnovers turned into Utah State points, though none of the mistakes was actually returned by the defense for points. USU picked up 34 points from those turnovers: 4 touchdowns and 2 field goals. The Aggies in blue added six quarterback sacks.USU Coach Chuck Shelton went up to New Mexico State Coach Jim Hess on the turf at Romney Stadium after the game and told him he'd been coaching 30 years and didn't know what to say. Shelton just hoped Hess didn't think Utah State was running up the score.
It was a 55-10 victory for Utah State, now 3-1-1 in the Big West Conference, and the 26th straight loss for New Mexico State, 0-5 in league play, 0-9 for the year.
The 55 points were the most scored by Utah State in 26 years - since a 76-0 win over the same Aggies from New Mexico in 1964. USU surpassed the biggest output by a Shelton-coached Aggie team (42-9 over NMSU in 1986) with 12 seconds gone in the fourth quarter on Roger Grant's second touchdown of the day.
"I don't even like that very much," said Shelton about the point total. "I'm never proud of running the score up, and I don't think we did that today."
USU offensive coordinator Pat Behrns was happier about the output. "No question it's a good feeling," he said. "The points came with playing hard."
Added Shelton, "New Mexico State contributed to their own downfall early with their fumbles and so forth."
But Shelton also took a little credit for the turnovers. "Getting six turnovers," he said, "that's big-time football. You can beat a lot of teams with six turnovers."
"We gave them pretty good field position all day," said Hess. "They're a better team than we are, that much is obvious."
It started right away.
Utag cornerback Scott Munson recovered a fumble on a completed David Chisum pass at the NMS 42-yard line less than two minutes into the game. Grant scored his first touchdown less than two minutes later.
Then Piliki Tauteoli sacked Chisum for -13 and forced a punt on New Mexico State's next possession, leading to a quarterback sneak for touchdown by Ron Lopez and a 14-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
"It wasn't easy, but we had momentum all throughout the day," said Munson, who later added an interception. "It gets you excited, and then other people want turnovers, and it's almost like a competition among the defense."
Munson said the turnovers came because the defensive line was able to put the hurries on the New Mexico backfield.
Munson, Grant and Shelton each said New Mexico State played hard.
Grant, in fact, was more satisfied with the 141 yards he got rushing Saturday than with the 162 he had last week against UNLV. "They keyed a little more on the run," he said of NMS. "I think they played pretty good. To give up 312 yards (to Tulsa's Mark Brus last week) and to come back and keep me to a minimum took a lot of courage," Grant said.
Grant now needs just 49 yards to reach 1,000 for the season. He would be the first USU runner to hit 1,000 in 11 years.
"I thought about it (Saturday)," said Grant, "and was hoping I could just get it out of the way."
Field position could have gotten in the way of a bigger-yardage game for Grant because the drives were quick and short. "It probably did," said Grant. "I thought about that, but I'll give up yards for points."
He meant team points, even though this was his biggest individual scoring day with two TDs. The man who has 951 yards on the ground in eight games had only three touchdowns scored coming into Saturday's contest. "I would like to have twice as many, but as long as the ball's in the end zone, that's all that matters," he said. "Sometimes the holes just aren't there, and when we get close, people look for me to get the ball."
They should also look for Tracey Jenkins, who caught a TD pass for the fifth straight game in the second quarter, then added another in the third period. The last time Jenkins didn't score a TD was at Missouri, when he caught a pass in the end zone and was ruled out of bounds, though films later showed him clearly in-bounds.
It was Jenkins' second two-touchdown performance, and he now has eight for the season.
"I can't explain it, but I'm glad they're coming my way," said Jenkins. "It's a habit I don't want to break."
Behrns can explain it.
"Tracy's a big-play receiver. He runs routes so well and gets up and jumps."
Because of that ability, most of Jenkins' TDs have come on the fade route to the right corner of the end zone. "I shake the DB (defensive back) and run to the corner, and Ron puts the ball right there," Jenkins said.
Utah State's other scores were two Doug Beach field goals, a 2-yard Floyd Foreman run in the second period and a 1-yard run by fullback/linebacker Matt Martinez - he played both offense and defense Saturday - with 3:15 left in the game following a 20-play, 59-yard drive that ate up 10 minutes, 27 seconds, engineered by QB Kirk Johnson.
Interceptions went to Utah State's Munson, Toby Tuler, Tom Hansen and Damon Smith, who leads the Big West with four, even though he's Munson's backup. Stephen Robinson had the other fumble recovery. For New Mexico State, senior free safety Parker Ragsdale of St. George, Utah, had one of two interceptions against Lopez.