Utah State had opportunities but couldn't capitalize as New Mexico State defeated the Aggies 26-20 in overtime at the Arizona Bowl.
In a bizarre game filled with kickoffs returned for touchdowns, costly mistakes, penalties and horrible special teams play, Utah State came up short in an ugly match. Now, the Utah Aggies will return to Logan wondering what might have been had they simply executed at key times.
Here's a breakdown of Utah State's grades in its loss to New Mexico State.
If there was a theme on offense for Utah State, it was missed opportunities. For example, Jordan Love fumbled the ball on first and goal from the 1-yard line and it was recovered by New Mexico State. Three other drives that went inside the NMSU 35-yard line ended with no points. Utah State also went 2 for 18 on third down in this game. Had USU capitalized on some of these opportunities, this game would have been a blowout.
Instead, Utah State will return to Logan with a loss.
LaJuan Hunt had some great runs, including a 58-yard gain that unfortunately led to no points. Love had OK stats, going 25 of 44 for 254 yards, but he just wasn't as sharp as we've seen him over the season.
Ultimately, the Utah State offense came up a day late and a dollar short.
There was no lack of big plays on defense. Jontrell Rocquemore forced a fumble with less than a minute to go in the first half that USU was able to cash into a field goal. Dallin Leavitt made a pick to end an NMSU drive that had just converted on fourth down near midfield. David Woodward made another big pick deep in USU territory that likely took points off the board for New Mexico State.
However, the defense simply broke down at the end when it was needed most. It gave up the game-tying touchdown with 6:31 left in the game and an all-too-easy 21-yard touchdown by Larry Rose III in overtime to clinch the loss.
To say that special teams was all over the place is the understatement of the year.
First off, Dominik Eberle kicked the ball out of bounds to give New Mexico State the ball at the 35. Then Savon Scarver got things going with a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. On the very next kickoff, NMSU's Jacob Huntley scored a 100-yard touchdown of his own.
All of this within the first five minutes of the game.
Jacoby Wildman made another critical mistake as he fumbled the ball on a punt fake. Eberle didn't have his best kicking game as he missed a 42-yard, 49-yard and a 48-yard field goal, more than doubling the total amount of misses from the rest of the season. Worse, Eberle missed a 28-yard field goal in overtime that opened the door for New Mexico State. However, punter Aaron Dalton had a solid day that included a 55-yard punt and three punts downed inside the 5-yard line.
Special teams lost this game for the Utah Aggies despite the kickoff return for the touchdown. If it weren't for Scarvers' TD and Dalton's solid punting, Utah State would have earned an F.
Matt Wells could have secured his return for at least one more year with a bowl win. Now he'll probably have to sweat it out as Utah State decides whether to keep him or not.
The biggest head scratcher were some decisions to kick field goals when Eberle was clearly struggling. Granted, it's somewhat understandable wanting to depend on a Lou Groza Award finalist. It's also hard to go for it on fourth down when Utah State struggled so badly on third down. At any rate, it's clear that Utah State wasn't as prepared for this game as New Mexico State was, and Wells just might pay the price.
Utah State can play the "woulda, coulda, shoulda" game on this one, but it simply couldn't secure the win. Special teams was terrible, the offense floundered and the defense couldn't hold on. Now USU will head into the offseason with the bitter taste of defeat against a team that hadn't been bowling since 1960.
Lafe Peavler is a sports strategist for the Deseret News and KSL.com. Follow him on Twitter @LafePeavler.