It was an ominous start for the Aggies, but their struggles were short-lived.
Utah State tight end Dax Raymond fumbled on the first play from scrimmage, but Utah State quickly bounced back and rolled to a 73-12 victory over FCS foe Tennessee Tech in front of an announced crowd of 15,011 on a beautiful Thursday night at Maverik Stadium.
The Aggies (2-1) racked up 424 yards of total offense in the first half alone en route to taking a commanding 45-6 lead into the break. In those two quarters, USU quarterback Jordan Love completed 21 of 26 passes for 236 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while running back Darwin Thompson rushed for 107 yards and one score on six carries.
"First of all, I'm proud of our team and our guys for their level of preparation this week," USU head coach Matt Wells said. "I thought they did a nice job throughout the week preparing and practicing on a short week ... and then I thought we came out and started fast. Plenty of praise to go around."
TTU (0-3) partially took advantage of Raymond's fumble as Nick Madonia booted an impressive 54-yard field goal to give the visitors a 3-0 lead less than a minute into the game. The Golden Eagles' lead lasted fewer than five minutes.
A holding penalty loomed large on USU's next possession, which resulted in a 34-yard field goal by Dominik Eberle. They were the first three of 52 unanswered points for the Aggies.
USU capped off the first quarter with back-to-back touchdowns runs. Gerold Bright found the end zone from 5 yards out, while Thompson broke an arm tackle and scampered 65 yards up the middle to paydirt for a 17-3 Aggie lead.
The Aggies scored four TDs in the second quarter and, with the exception of a 10-play drive that resulted in a TTU field goal, their defense was also dominant. USU’s defense had five tackles for loss in the quarter.
Love kept the ball on a read option for a 2-yard TD early in the second quarter. Less than six minutes later, sophomore speedster Savon Scarver got behind the TTU secondary and hauled in a sublime 36-yard pass from Love for a 31-6 Aggie advantage.
USU then proceeded to put 14 more points on the scoreboard in less than one minute. Love found Aaren Vaughns for a 2-yard TD reception, and Jordan Nathan brought back a TTU punt 59 yards to the house. Nathan received a nice sideline block from Logan High product Chase Nelson before deftly cutting back and putting on the afterburners.
This is the second straight week the Aggies have scored a special teams touchdown as Scarver had a 100-yard kickoff return against New Mexico State.
"Those guys are weapons in the Mountain West," Wells said. "Our guys, the other 10 guys on both of those (special teams) units, take a lot of pride. They know those two guys are talented — and Deven Thompkins got a chance as a punt returner and a kickoff returner (tonight) — and I think those guys take a lot of pride around them to spring (those guys) free."
Love sat out the entire second half and backup quarterback Henry Colombi led the hosts to a TD on the team's first possession of the third quarter. Tre Miller powered his way into the end zone from 4 yards out, giving USU a 52-6 advantage.
Following a third Tennessee Tech field goal, another Utah State backup tailback got his first career touchdown. Morian Walker Jr. capped off an eight-play, 55-yard march with an easy 1-yard run.
The Aggies substituted at will in the second half.
Justen Hervey became the fifth Aggie tailback to find paydirt Thursday on his 14-yard run in the fourth quarter, putting the hosts up 66-9. Later in the fourth quarter, Walker Jr. scored again, this time from 2 yards out, one play after USU linebacker Ofa Latu nearly brought back a fumble for six points. Latu returned the fumble, forced by Dalton Baker, 25 yards.
The Golden Eagles added a fourth field goal late in the final quarter.
USU outgained TTU by a 621-227 margin and averaged 8.1 yards per play to TTU's 3.4. It was a balanced effort for the Aggie offense, which rushed for 320 yards and added 291 through the air.
Colombi completed all nine of his passes for 55 yards.
"That's what we're looking for every week," Wells said of the balanced attack. "We're trying to do that every week. ... We don't go into each game saying we're going to try and be balanced. We're going to take what (the opposing defense) gives us."
The Aggies drove for touchdowns on seven straight possessions — not counting when they ran out the clock on purpose at the end of the opening half — and their 10 TDs were accounted for by nine different players.
"We've been saying all year we've got a lot of weapons on this offense," Love said. "I mean, whoever touches that ball, they've got that potential, that big playmaking potential. So, like I said, we've got a lot of weapons, and the thing for us is just finding a way to get them the ball and get them the ball in good space."
Defensive tackle Fua Leilua highlighted another strong performance by the Aggie defense with 3.5 of the team's 12 tackles for loss. Nelson led the way with a career-high six tackles, while Gaje Ferguson had his second interception of the season. Six different Aggies recorded at least three stops and 11 different Aggies had at least a partial tackle for loss.
Half of TTU's 16 possessions resulted on three and outs for the USU defense, and the visitors only managed to convert on 1 of 15 third downs. Meanwhile, the Aggies went 7 for 11 on third downs.
"I felt like we executed pretty well for the most part," said Leilua, an Oklahoma State transfer. "There were a couple of mistakes that we've got to clean up, but honestly I felt we came out swinging, which is what we want to do as a defense. And we just wanted to impose our will on them all game long, (and) I felt like we did that."