It’s fair to say the Aggies suffered no letdown in their first game as a nationally ranked team this season.
Not even close.
Utah State’s ability to score points in a hurry was once again on display in an impressive 56-17 shellacking of Hawaii in a Mountain West football game that concluded early Sunday morning at Aloha Stadium. The then-18th-ranked Aggies scored touchdowns on their first four possessions of each half and only needed 57 offensive plays to tally their eight TDs.
It was also a great night for USU’s defense, which held Hawaii to a season-low point total and a measly 43 yards rushing on 20 attempts. Because the Warriors had no success running the pigskin, the Aggies were able to tee off on standout quarterback Cole McDonald, who was sacked three times and hit on several occasions.
The Aggies did allow passes of 54, 51, 42 and 38 yards, but they stymied the Warriors on third and fourth down. Case in point: The hosts only converted on 2 of 14 third downs and 2 of 6 fourth downs. Additionally, USU got interceptions from linebacker David Woodward — safety Gaje Ferguson deserves a lot of credit on that play — and cornerback DJ Williams.
“I’m happy for our players,” USU head coach Matt Wells said during Monday’s press conference. “I’m really proud of them in their efforts in winning the game over Hawaii. ... Our guys are very business-like. It’s not to say they’re not enjoying what they’re doing because I really think they’re having fun playing ball. Football is important to this group of guys, especially to these leaders, and they take it very seriously. Their ability to continue to remain focused each and every week is kind of remarkable and motivating to me as a coach, and to our assistant coaches.”
Utah State quarterback Jordan Love exited the game pretty early in the second quarter a couple of plays after taking a pretty big hit on a read option run. The Aggies, who have won eight straight games for only the second time ever, had a 28-0 lead at the time.
When asked Monday if he was concerned about Love’s health, Wells said, “No, I’m not concerned.” It appears there’s a good chance the redshirt sophomore will be back for USU’s home finale this Saturday afternoon against San Jose State.
Even without Love in the lineup, the Warriors had no answer for the Aggie offense. Backup Henry Colombi quarterbacked USU to 28 points in the third quarter and ended up completing 9 of 11 passes and rushing for 34 yards on three attempts.
The Aggies amassed 601 yards of total offense — 240 in the first quarter alone — including a whopping 426 on the ground. It’s only the 10th time USU has exceeded the 400-yard rushing barrier in program history.
Utah State tailbacks Darwin Thompson and Gerold Bright ran through, around and past would-be tacklers with regularity during the first three quarters. The duo combined for three carries of at least 41 yards, and Thompson turned a short route into a 34-yard reception.
Thompson finished with a career-high 141 yards and a trio of TDs on the ground on just 13 carries. It was the junior’s fourth time over the century mark this season.
The junior college transfer currently ranks fourth nationally in yards per carry with 7.5 and fourth in the Mountain West in total rushing yards with 702. Thompson is first in the MW and fifth among all FBS players with 13 rushing touchdowns. No. 5 has scored multiple touchdowns in four games in 2018.
Bright, who rushed for 121 yards and three TDs on 16 carries against Hawaii, is right behind Thompson in the conference rankings. The junior is fifth in total yards on the ground (634), third in yards per carry (6.3) and tied for fourth in rushing TDs (seven).
It’s the first time since 2012 the Aggies have had two 100-yard rushers in the same game.
For his efforts, Thompson was selected as the Mountain West Offensive Player of the Week. No. 5 was also named the conference’s Offensive POTW by College Sports Madness and was tabbed as the America First Credit Union USU Student-Athlete of the Week.
“What you’re dealing with is you’re dealing with two backs that are similar, fresh and split in time, 50-50,” Wells said. “If you look at their carries, reps, averages, Gerold Bright and Darwin Thompson both are pretty equal. That’s worked out in their favor, because when you’re splitting reps like that in a game, you’re dividing the amount of hits you’re taking by two, and the same thing in practice. The cumulative effect is starting to work. ... They both are strong in the lower body, which allows them to break tackles. They both have another gear and speed to be able to hit home runs.”
The Aggies now rank third in the Mountain West in rushing offense (216.3 ypg) but first in yards per carry (5.5). Wells praised his team’s offensive line and skill position players for helping Thompson and Bright have big performances.
“It was probably the best (blocking) game we had all year with our outside receivers, slot receivers and our tight ends out on the perimeter,” Wells said. “You don’t really run for that amount of yards without excellent blocking out on the edge and the perimeter down the field.”
Wells was equally as pleased with his squad’s effort in the defensive trenches and declared, “Our defensive line played exceptionally well.” The former Aggie quarterback made a point to mention defensive linemen Devon Anderson, Adewale Adeoye, Christopher ’Unga and Fua Leilua by name.
Additionally, Wells singled out Woodward, fellow linebacker Chase Christiansen and Ferguson, who he said “maybe played his best game of the year and was very productive in the back end.”
The Aggies moved up four spots to 14th in the latest AP Poll and four spots to 16th in the Coaches Poll. USU has only been ranked higher once, and that was when it finished 10th in the final AP Poll in 1961.
Mountain West rival Fresno State is 16th in the AP Poll and 17th in the Coaches Poll.
Scarver strikes again
USU speedy kickoff returner Savon Scarver set up his team’s fourth TD against Hawaii with a 66-yard kickoff return. The sophomore is averaging a NCAA-best 37.3 yards per kickoff return. The Aggies are second nationally in that category as a team (30.2).
Despite having a 28-yard field goal blocked, Dominik Eberle shattered the single-season Aggie record for a kicker with 109 points by booting all eight of his extra points against the Warriors. The junior paces all Mountain West players in points an outing with 11.1, which ranks fourth nationally.
Time of possession
For the second consecutive game, USU handily won the time of possession battle. The Aggies finished with a 33:33 to 26:27 edge in that department.
The Aggies only outpossessed the opposition twice — BYU and New Mexico State — in their first seven games.
Other MW honors
San Diego State junior linebacker Kyahva Tezino was selected as the MW Defensive Player of the Week after contributing a team-best 12 tackles, including 3.5 for a loss and 2.5 sacks, in a hard-fought 31-23 triumph over New Mexico on the road. The Aztecs limited the Lobos to 142 total yards — UNM’s lowest total since the 2012 campaign.
For the fifth time this season, SDSU kicker John Baron II received the league’s Special Teams POTW honor. The 2016 Lou Groza Award recipient went 4 for 4 on PATs and put the Aztecs ahead late in the fourth quarter on a 32-yard field goal. Five of the senior’s six kickoffs resulted in touchbacks, to boot.