It was a great bye week for us. We got better over the bye week. A lot of guys got good rest in, we got our bodies back and we’re ready to go for this game. —Utah State WR Braelon Roberts
LOGAN — The Utah State Aggies are just one victory away from bowl-eligibility with two games left to play, and it certainly seems that everything is lining up for Utah State to pick up that all-important sixth victory Saturday afternoon.
Hawai’i (3-7 overall, 1-6 in the Mountain West) comes into Maverik Stadium having lost three straight games and seven of its last eight. Meanwhile, the Aggies (5-5, 3-3) are coming off of a bye week following their 24-10 victory at New Mexico on Nov. 4.
“It was a great bye week for us,” USU senior wide receiver Braelon Roberts declared. “We got better over the bye week. A lot of guys got good rest in, we got our bodies back and we’re ready to go for this game.”
Utah State, which will wrap up its regular season at Air Force (4-6, 3-3) on Nov. 25, wasn’t terribly excited to have its bye week so late in the year when its schedule was first released. But after getting the opportunity to get his team healthier, more rested and get a jump on preparing for the Rainbow Warriors, USU head coach Matt Wells seemed to feel differently.
“Teams at this time of year get tired. They get tired, they get drained and teams get beat up,” noted Wells, who is 5-0 in his career in games following bye weeks. “ We have a real motivation these last two weeks, and what the bye week has done for us is to help re-emphasize that. It also got us healthier. We’re going to have a lot of our guys back.
“ I think we’re re-energized. And I think we’re re-focused.”
The Warriors, conversely, are making their sixth and final trip to the mainland this season with their lone road win coming at UMass, 38-35, way back in August. Hawai’i will also be up against much colder weather than it has seen all year, with Cache Valley’s forecast calling for clear skies and 37 degrees at kickoff.
About the only thing the Aggies don’t seem to have going their way heading into Saturday is their dismal conference record at Maverik Stadium this year. Utah State is 3-0 on the road against conference opponents, but 0-3 against Mountain West teams at home, thanks, in a large part to hosting the three top teams in the Mountain Division in Boise State, Wyoming and Colorado State.
“No. 1, we’re looking for our first Mountain West win at home,” Wells said of Saturday’s game. “Second of all, we’re looking to send these seniors out as winners at Maverik Stadium for the last time in their careers.”
In its last game at New Mexico, Utah State’s defense carried the day against the Lobos’ triple-option attack while the offense struggled for the majority of the contest. The Aggie defense will face a much different, but equally dangerous, offense in the Warriors.
Despite Hawai’s record, Nick Rolovich’s squad has put up some impressive offensive numbers this season. Senior running back Diocemy Saint Juste is second in the Mountain West and seventh nationally in rushing with 1,349 yards and seven touchdowns on 242 carries. But unlike the Lobos, the Warriors’ passing game is also a dangerous weapon behind the arm of junior quarterback Dru Brown, who is third in the Mountain West with a 239.9 ypg average, along with 16 TDs and eight interceptions.
“This is a Hawaii team that can give you fits if you don’t fit up the run very well,” Wells said. “Their running back can get downhill in a hurry. And Brown is accurate. They’ll also throw it. They have some good wideouts.
“ Coming off the New Mexico game to this Hawai’i game, it’s absolutely different, schematically. It’ll be a big test for our defense to be able to flip gears, change gears and go this type of offense.”
But despite being ranked fourth in total offense (422.8 ypg), the Warriors have struggled to finish off drives this season, and are currently just ninth in scoring offense at 25.3 points per game. Hawai’i is also last in the league in field goals (4 for 8) — well behind the top-ranked Aggies (16 for 17) — and are 10th in red zone offense.
On the other side of the ball, the Warriors are ninth in total defense, 10th in scoring defense and next-to-last in pass defense – seemingly just what USU’s offense needs following a rather rough outing in Albuquerque. Senior running back LaJuan Hunt ended up with 117 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries, but freshman quarterback Jordan Love completed just 13 of 24 passes for 114 yards, one interception and no touchdowns.
“It was a little slow the last game for us because there were a lot of missed opportunities, a lot of guys were not in the right spots,” Roberts said. “But we cleaned it up, and we should be good this week.”