ALBUQUERQUE — Three minutes, 20 seconds.
That’s all the time it took for Utah State to score on five of its seven touchdown drives in the Aggies’ 52-13 win over North Texas in the New Mexico Bowl at Dreamstyle Stadium on Saturday.
That was more than enough for Utah State (11-2) to run away with the postseason victory that saw the Aggies amass 556 yards of total offense under interim head coach Frank Maile. The 11 wins tied a program single-season record, equaling what the Aggies accomplished in 2012.
“Man, just winning felt great. You know what I mean? An amazing win, and it was all due to these kids right here," Maile said. "We stuck to the blueprint, and that was the outcome of the game. So great job by them."
North Texas (9-4), which was held 23 points under its season per-game average by Utah State, had never trailed by more than one possession the entire season. That changed in the second quarter, though, as the Aggies scored three touchdowns in a little over five minutes to push its lead up to 35-7 and break the game open.
The first came on a 9-yard touchdown run from sophomore quarterback Jordan Love to cap a 10-play, 78-yard drive. The next two scores ended drives that took just 28 and 38 seconds, respectively. Love hit Aaren Vaughns for a 37-yard touchdown with 9:43 to go until halftime, then connected with a wide-open Jalen Greene for a 67-yard score less than a minute later.
Vaughns also had another quick touchdown, scoring on a 72-yard pass on the third play of the game 40 seconds into the contest.
“(We have) explosive playmakers everywhere. It's hard to stop," Love said. "It's also hard to stop our tempo. We've been doing that all year. We've been demolishing defenses, and it's fun to be a part of.”
Utah State added a 42-yard Dominik Eberle field goal on the last play of the first half, the final points in a 24-0 second quarter for the Aggies, as they broke the New Mexico Bowl record for points in a half with a 38-7 lead at the break.
In a game primed to be an offensive showdown, the Aggies delivered. Love completed 21 of 43 passes for 359 yards and four touchdowns while adding the touchdown run. He earned New Mexico Bowl offensive MVP honors and threw touchdown passes of 72, 37, 67 and 13 yards.
Utah State converted 12 of its 20 third-down attempts and averaged 6.7 yards per play.
The Aggies dominated with only four full-time coaching staff members at the game. USU's coaching shakeup came when Matt Wells accepted the head coaching position at Texas Tech and took offensive coordinator David Yost and defensive coordinator Keith Patterson with him. Maile served as head coach Saturday, Yost called the plays on offense, while Stacy Collins called plays with Uani 'Unga on defense and they received help from graduate assistants and support staff.
"All the coaches that stayed here, they got us ready for this game. We didn't skip a beat," Love said. "It's a credit to the whole team and to them."
North Texas quarterback Mason Fine, who had throw for 3,734 yards and 27 touchdowns going into the postseason, missed much of the game with a hamstring injury after getting hurt in the first quarter. He completed 8 of 12 passes for 59 yards before leaving for good. The Mean Green, who averaged 36.4 points per game heading into the bowl, ended up using four quarterbacks in the contest. Kason Martin, the fourth QB inserted into the game, led the team with 110 passing yards. North Texas was also without its leading receiver, Rico Bussey Jr., who was a game-time decision with a hamstring injury.
"When you have a guy go down, another man has to step up," North Texas coach Seth Littrell said. "I thought Kason and (Jason) Bean did some good things. It'll be a great learning experience for them."
Still, the Aggies' defense had plenty to do with the Mean Green’s struggles. D.J. Williams, the defensive MVP of the game, had two of Utah State's four interceptions against a North Texas offense that had thrown just five interceptions all year.
The Aggies also held North Texas to 2 of 15 on third downs and just one trip to the red zone.
On defense, USU linebacker David Woodward had a game-high 10 tackles and added an interception when he picked off a pass that tipped off the intended receiver. Tipa Galea'i, who served a suspension in the first half after being assessed with a targeting call against Boise State, added six tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks and a forced fumble in one half of play.
"We just came to play today," Williams said. "We had a goal, and we got that goal, and that was to leave with a win."
The Aggies, meanwhile, also had several top individual performances on the offensive side of the ball, in addition to Love's day. Two Utah State wideouts finished the game with 100 yards receiving, as Greene had a game-high six receptions for 151 yards and a touchdown, while Vaughns totaled 109 yards on his two touchdown receptions.28 comments on this story
The Aggies nearly had two running backs reach the 100-yard mark as well. Gerold Bright had 16 carries for a game-high 103 yards and two touchdowns, including a 26-yard score in the first quarter that put USU ahead for good at 14-7. Darwin Thompson carried the ball 21 times for 93 yards. North Texas had only given up 100 yards to an individual rusher twice this season prior to the postseason.
In a season full of memorable performances and plenty of wins, though, the Aggies emphasized just how important it was to focus on the team concept.
"These guys have put in a lot of work and a lot of emphasis into doing their job and doing it fast. That's the outcome you see today," Maile said.