Utah State is 0-4 but will have a better chance, all due respect, against New Mexico. The first four games were against Boise State, San Diego State, Nevada and Fresno State, four of the top teams in the conference battling for a spot in the Mountain West Championship game. This is the second game with Frank Maile and it will be the first without Jason Shelley, who was dismissed from the team after the Fresno State game. Deven Thompkins, Cash Gillam and Troy Lefeged have entered the transfer portal and this is a cause for concern as all three were veterans and Thompkins was leading the team in receptions. Utah State has a lot to figure out and it all starts on Thanksgiving night against New Mexico.
New Mexico at Utah State
Location: Logan, Utah (Maverik Stadium)
Line: New Mexico (-6.5)
Date/Time: Thursday, November 26th; 7:00 P.M. EST
Head-to-Head: This is going to be a significantly important game for both teams. Not only will it give one team an opportunity to get their first win of the season, but it will also give one team an overall edge in the series. The series between Utah State and New Mexico is currently tied at 13 wins for each team. For the past three seasons, the Aggies have beaten the Lobos by an average score of 23 points. From 2015-2016, the Aggies lost two games to New Mexico, 14-13 in 2015 and 24-21 in 2016. From 2013-2014 Utah State defeated New Mexico 45-10 (2013), and 28-21 (2014). That wraps up the series within the Mountain West and it’s been close. Utah State and New Mexico have played many times before 2013 dating back to 1951 and while the Lobos didn’t necessarily dominate the series, they did get quite a few wins against Utah State.
Three Things to Watch For
1. What can Utah State do offensively?
This has been a big question since before the season began, and with the losses of Jason Shelley and Deven Thompkins, this becomes an even bigger question. Shelley struggled throughout the four games they played and only passed for over 100 yards in his final game. Andrew Peasley looks to be the next man up but the loss of leading receiver Deven Thompkins is going to hit Utah State hard. The Aggies need to figure something out offensively and maybe Andrew Peasley will be able to provide more answers. Though Peasley will have an impact on the offense, one of the players that Utah State needs to use more is Jaylen Warren. He had a very productive day against Fresno State and also had a lot of success in the Boise State game.
Other receivers are going to need to step up but Utah State does have experience in that area. Taylor Compton is a name well known for Utah State but he hasn’t had any receptions this year. Savon Scarver is another well known name but he only has three receptions for 16 yards. Jordan Nathan is a very important part of what the Aggies do offensively, but this season he has six receptions and 42 yards. In 2019, Nathan had 56 receptions and 581 yards on those receptions and a touchdown. Justin McGriff is another player to get involved. He has 10 receptions for 80 yards and a touchdown this season. Utah State did better offensively against Fresno State but was unable to keep things going because of costly turnovers. With a week off after the Wyoming game was canceled last week, Utah State was able to rest up so maybe they’ll be able to get something going offensively.
2. How does Utah State make up for the loss of Cash Gillam and Troy Lefeged?
This is another big question that needs big answers. The Aggies defense overall hasn’t been bad but there are points in the game when Utah State struggles to prevent big plays. They allowed big plays against the first four opponents and that was especially costly against Boise State and San Diego State. Gillam and Lefeged were veteran defenders and were recognized nationally before the season began. Utah State now needs to get other players to step up and again after a week off, it is very possible that Frank Maile and the defensive staff can make a game plan that works for the Aggies. Utah State is not bad on defense, they have showed signs of improvement. If they can limit the big plays and can be more consistent, Utah State will be better.
3. Can Utah State work out the time of possession battle?
Utah State has lost the time of possession battle significantly in all the games they have played so far and this is going to be an important factor in who wins the game. Utah States offense has to be able to be consistent in driving the ball down the field to keep the defense off the field. The defense also needs to do their part and force New Mexico into three and outs when they have the opportunity to. Turnovers are also very welcome. On the year, Utah State has only forced one turnover. They have an interception by Shaq Bond and a forced fumble, but the fumble was not recovered. If the Aggies are more consistent defensively, they will have more opportunities to force turnovers. One of the ways to get turnovers is to get pressure on the quarterback, and since New Mexico likes to run the ball a lot in their style of offense, getting pressure will also have a significant impact in stopping the run. Utah State has struggled to do that this year, especially against San Diego State, so if they can improve on run stopping defense, they will have a much better chance of winning this game.
The Aggies still don’t have a win and this is going to be a problem for bowl eligibility. Since the game against Wyoming has already been canceled and there is always the potential for more games to be canceled, the most wins the Aggies can get is three. While bowl eligibility is likely off the table, there is still a lot to figure out.
Offensively, Utah State can get Andrew Peasley some snaps. He is a sophomore this season and gets a year of eligibility next year. If Utah State can get younger players on the field and get those players experience, this is going to bode well going into next season. Utah State has been competitive in the Mountain Division during their time in the Mountain West and while this season hasn’t gone their way, they have a good opportunity to build and be competitive next season.
The defense for Utah State has typically been good but if they can get things moving on offense, games against Boise State and Air Force, which are must wins to win the division, may be more competitive. Some may look to next season as the Aggies are already 0-4 but there is no reason Utah State shouldn’t try to figure things out now and improve on what they find out during the offseason.
New Mexico has played San Jose State and Nevada, two of the undefeated teams in conference play, and lost both of those games, 38-21 to San Jose State and 27-20 to Nevada. The Lobos also lost a close game at Hawaii, 39-33, and lost to Air Force 28-0. These games have shown that New Mexico has struggled on offense and at times on defense too and is very similar to Utah State. It can be argued that Utah State has played harder teams in conference because they have played many of the top teams in the conference. Looking at it with this perspective, Utah State seems to have faced more challenges but the important thing to remember is that it doesn’t matter how many challenges the Aggies face what matters is finding solutions to the challenges. So far they haven’t been able to do that and neither has New Mexico.
This game is going to come down to who can solve the challenges they have been facing, and with everything Utah State is going through right now, New Mexico gets the edge. Utah State has struggled against the run and that is not a good sign against a run first team. Defensively the Aggies are better than New Mexico but Utah State has faced a lot of adversity trying to get better offensively. A week off will give the Aggies a better chance, but New Mexico wins a close game as Utah State still tries to find an identity as a team.
Utah State 24, New Mexico 28