LOGAN — Utah State avenged its Arizona Bowl loss and then some as it routed New Mexico State 60-13 in its home opener on Saturday night.
"I'm really excited for our team. Great win on really all three phases," head coach Matt Wells said in his postgame press conference. "The goal was to come in here and be really great at special teams, and I thought we did that."
That just might be the understatement of the year.
Savon Scarver took a kickoff return 100 yards to the house with 4:19 left in the first quarter. Not to mention Dominik Eberle's record-breaking night. The junior set a new Utah State and Mountain West Conference record of points scored by a kicker in a single game with 24, which also ties a NCAA record. Eberle went 6-for-6 on the night, including three 51-yard kicks.
And this after he went a dismal 2-for-6 the last time he faced New Mexico State in the Arizona Bowl.
"Honestly, I didn’t even think of the bowl game. I saw this as another opportunity to get out. Each kick, I thought, ‘I’m going to hit a kick from this yardage.’ Six-for-six, I would not have believed I would have went if I was thinking about last year’s game last night," Eberle said.
"That kid took a lot of grief over the last time we faced that team, which was the only substandard performance that he had. It's nice to see him start off the year like this," Wells said. "He owns his performance, and all he does is put his head down and work. He’s a grinder, which is a weird analogy for a kicker, but he’s a grinder."
Utah State's running backs had big games for the hometown Aggies. Gerold Bright had 14 carries for 134 yards and a touchdown to lead the team. Junior college transfer Darwin Thompson had a big 68-yard rush for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, while Eltoro Allen also added a touchdown of his own from one yard out.
"That's three different backs and three different styles of running, and we were still able to connect and get into the end zone. That's great our O-line and our running backs with different styles could all come together and we're still able to meet our goal and score touchdowns," Bright said after the game.
After a strong showing against Michigan State last week, Jordan Love had a bit of a mixed day as he finished 14-for-27 159 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Ron'quavion Tarver led all relievers with five catches for 41 yards, but it was Jalen Greene who had Utah State's lone touchdown through the air from 14 yards out.
The defense was also as dominant as ever as it forced five turnovers against New Mexico State, including a 75-yard interception returned for a touchdown by Deante Fortenberry. Aaron Wade also had a great game in his first start as he made two interceptions. Tipa Galeai and Maika Magalei both forced fumbles, and in both cases Adewale Adeoye recovered it.
"We just had a lot of energy going around. When someone did something great, we wanted to do something better. It just kept stacking up. If somebody gave up 10 yards, we wanted to make it less the next time and get the sack. It was about the positive, good energy," Wade said. All told, Utah State finished with three sacks and nine tackles for loss on the night.
But that doesn't mean that everything was smooth sailing for Utah State. According to Wells, Utah State was missing 10 players from their two-deep chart Saturday.
"Justus Te’i and Ja’Marcus Ingram were both gone attending funerals, both of them had their dads die this week. Aaron Dalton had back surgery this week and is out for the season. We’ve been banged up a little bit and that’s why I’m really proud of these guys," Wells said.
And there's still work to do as Utah State gets a short week to prepare for its Week 3 game against Tennessee Tech on Thursday.
"There will be a lot to correct. A mature team wants to be coached hard," Wells said. "As a coach, it’s easier to coach off of a win because guys are hungry for another win and to go out and improve. The mature teams I’ve been around want to be coached hard and held to a high standard, and that’s certainly the way we do it around here."