As far as Utah State head football coach Gary Andersen is concerned, his team hasn’t locked up a bowl invitation yet.
The Aggies are bowl eligible for the eighth time in the last nine seasons, but are not currently guaranteed of a postseason bid. However, USU should be a shoe-in for a bowl invitation if it takes care of business in its regular season finale against New Mexico.
The Lobos will host the Aggies on Saturday in a Mountain West contest streamed live on Facebook. Opening kickoff from Dreamstyle Stadium is scheduled for 2 p.m.
“It’s a pride thing and pride in your team,” USU tight end Caleb Repp said. “You’re not just going to roll over and accept not going to a bowl game. You want to finish the season strong. You don’t want to not look forward to a bowl game. I personally want to play in a bowl game, just because football is not guaranteed for me after this. As many games as I can, while I can, is good for me.”
Conversely, it will definitely be the final game of 2019 for New Mexico. It’s been a rough season for the Lobos, the only team in the Mountain West to yet to win a league game. Nevertheless, UNM has really only gotten blown out by one MW opponent this season and that was a 42-9 setback to No. 20 Boise State on the Broncos’ Senior Night. Of the Lobos’ six loses in conference play, only two have been decided by more than two touchdowns.
“I’ve focused on all (UNM’s) games, but I’ve really focused on the last two against two very good teams in Boise State and Air Force,” Andersen said. “Those guys played their tails off. They played hard in all phases. We’re going to get that same thing this week. There is no doubt in my mind.
“We better get that from the Aggies, too. That’s what needs to take place — extreme effort, play the right way, compete the right way, prepare the right way. It’s all hands on deck. Everybody associated with Utah State football needs to be on their A-game this week, from trainers to equipment guys to film guys to coaches to graduate assistants to myself to every player. That’s where we need to be. Period.”
The Aggies (6-5, 5-2 MW) will be facing a Lobo (2-9, 0-7) squad likely motivated to send head coach Bob Davie out a winner. The university announced earlier this week Saturday would be Davie’s final game in his eight seasons at the helm.
“It’s important to note that we have seniors going out on that football field, we have a football team going out on that football field again this week and we have a coaching staff that is going out on that football field again this week with a game left to play, and under some very difficult circumstances,” Davie said. “And I could not be more proud of this group of young men and coaches.”
Davie praised his team for its “resilience” and “fight” this season. And while the Lobos have been competitive in several of their games in ’19, they’ve ultimately struggled because they haven’t been opportunistic on offense, have given up a lot of yards and points defensively, and have been dominated in the turnover margin.
New Mexico ranks among the bottom three teams in the Mountain West — there are 12 teams in the conference — in several defensive categories, including last in scoring defense (37.1 points per game), passing defense (335.0 yards per game) and total defense (496.4 ypg). The Lobos have given up 51 touchdowns, which is seven more than any other squad in the league.
Additionally, the Lobos rank dead last out of 130 FBS teams in passing defense and have allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 63.7 percent of their passes for a whopping 31 TDs, vs. just three interceptions. A week ago, Air Force signal caller Donald Hammond III went 9 for 10 through the air for 327 yards, and tossed TDs of 46, 59, 27 and 76 yards. The Falcons racked up 540 yards of total offense and averaged an eye-popping 9.8 yards per play.
The Lobos have made a wealth of big plays defensively this season as they have accumulated 22 sacks and 60 tackles for loss, and have forced 11 fumbles, recovering seven of them.
“Defensively, they are aggressive,” Andersen said. “They play man coverage. They are going to try and get after the quarterback, especially on throwing downs. You have to get the ball out quick, catch it and do a good job there.”
New Mexico ranks seventh in the Mountain West in total offense (401.8 ypg) and averages more yardage than USU. However, the Lobos are 10th in the league in scoring offense (22.0 ppg), while the Aggies are seventh (27.4 ppg). One of the biggest reasons for this is UNM has turned the ball over 22 times and has a turnover margin of minus-12.
The Lobos have also left a lot of points on the field because they rank 11th in the Mountain West in third down conversion percentage (37.2) and red zone offense (73.5 percent). USU is the only MW squad ranked below UNM in red zone offense (68.3 percent).
Nevertheless, the Lobos have put together some explosive performances offensively. They scored 55 points against New Mexico State and 31 against Hawaii, and moved the ball pretty efficiently against AFA.
“They will throw it, but they definitely want to be aggressive with their run game and cause you a lot of miss-direction,” Andersen said. “They get physical upfront and they’re not afraid to run with the quarterback. You have to be ready for a lot of things with their offense.”
New Mexico has played well on special teams this season. The Lobos’ punter is one of 10 semifinalists for the Lou Groza Award, their kicker has been successful on 8 of 11 field goals from 40-plus yards out and they average 24.8 yards a kickoff return. Additionally, New Mexico has blocked a trio of kicks this season — all by different players — plus it had a blocked kick return for a TD negated by a penalty.
“Getting three kicks in a year is very good,” Andersen said. “This (UNM) team has been well prepared and has reacted extremely well to adversity every single time it’s hit them this year.”
• A victory would give the Aggies their sixth seven-win season in a nine-year stretch. USU has won at least seven games 25 times during its history.
• Should the Aggies prevail, they will win six Mountain West contests for the fourth time during their seven years in the league. USU only won six conference games in a season on two occasions prior to joining the MW.
• Tailback Gerold Bright needs 62 yards on the ground to become the 10th Aggie with 2,000 career rushing yards. The senior already ranks ninth in the USU record books with 20 rushing TDs.
• Quarterback Jordan Love needs 337 yards of total offense to break Chuckie Keeton’s program record of 8,808. Love is also 87 yards passing away from joining Jose Fuentes as the only Aggies to throw for more than 3,000 yards in two seasons.
• USU can pull even in the all-time series with UNM with a victory. The Lobos currently hold a 13-12 advantage. The Aggies have won two straight games in the series after losing by a combined four points in the previous two contests.