LOGAN — Utah State learned its bowl destination and opponent on Sunday. The 10-2 Aggies will face 9-3 North Texas in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl on Saturday, Dec. 15, at 12 p.m. on ESPN.
And by the looks of it, the Mean Green are worthy opponents for the Aggies.
True, it wasn't too long ago that North Texas was right at the bottom of the FBS. The Mean Green won just a single game back in 2015 before hiring current head coach Seth Littrell. Littrell won five games in his first season and improved to nine wins last season. Under his leadership, North Texas is certainly no pushover as it's won nine games once again this season.
Just ask Arkansas of the SEC. The Mean Green routed the Razorbacks 44-17 this September. Granted, Arkansas won only two games this season, but for a C-USA team to beat a SEC team with much more resources is no small feat.
Utah State will need to worry about North Texas' passing game while preparing for this one. Junior Mason Fine is certainly a capable quarterback with 3,734 yards passing and 27 touchdowns. He also doesn't make too many big mistakes as he has only five interceptions this season. His favorite target is wide receiver Rico Bussey Jr. The 6-2 junior has 68 catches for 1,017 yards and 12 touchdowns. Plus, the Mean Green have Jalen Guyton, who has 702 yards and five touchdowns.
But the Aggies can't ignore the run, either. Sophomore DeAndre Torrey has 942 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns. He averages 5.9 yards per carry, which Utah State will have to find a way to limit. He's really stepped up his game over the past few weeks as he's rushed for 130 yard or more per game over the past four games.
This is the kind of balanced offense that gave Utah State trouble on the Smurf Turf in its last game against Boise State.
And the defense is strong in its own right. Senior linebacker E.J. Ejiya has been an absolute beast this season with 113 tackles, 23.0 tackles for loss, 9.0 sacks, 11 quarterback hurries, a forced fumble and a blocked kick. Fellow senior linebacker Brandon Garner is just as disruptive in the backfield with 17.0 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. Junior defense end LaDarius Hamilton is another player to watch out for as he's made 10.0 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks.
Clearly, protecting Jordan Love from this trio of Ejiya, Garner and Hamilton will be a top priority for Utah State's offensive line.
The secondary is dangerous as well. Safety Khairi Muhammad and defensive backs Nat Brooks and Kemon Hall have made a combined 14 interceptions this season. With 17 total interceptions this season, North Texas is tied for second in the nation in picks.
Special teams is pretty special for North Texas as well. Who can forget Keegan Brewer's fake fair catch that led to a 90-yard punt return for a touchdown against Arkansas? Torrey had a 96-yard kickoff returned to the house in the season opener against SMU. Kicker Cole Hedlund is solid as he's 19 for 22 this season and has a long of 52 yards.
Anybody expecting Utah State to simply roll over the Mean Green will probably be disappointed. This team appears to have the talent to go toe-to-toe with the Aggies. That should make for a solid early bowl season game in Albuquerque. In fact, the New Mexico Bowl is ranked No. 12 of 39 by Yahoo Sports. This could be a great way for the Aggies to end a memorable 2018 season.30 comments on this story
However, both teams may be without their head coaches in this game. Former Utah State head coach Matt Wells has already taken the Texas Tech job, while Littrell's name has been mentioned in connection with Kansas State. However, nothing has been finalized in Littrell's case.
While Utah State had the Las Vegas Bowl or perhaps even greater things in its sights this season, this New Mexico draw against North Texas has all the promise of a good football game. This game is well worth the time to watch for any football fan looking for something good before Christmas this bowl season.