DJ Williams

Associated Press

Utah State bowls over North Texas in New Mexico

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As if there was ever any doubt, players are more important than coaches in college football. Despite the fact Matt Wells and the majority of his coaching staff bailed early, Utah State rolled over an overmatched and undermanned North Texas team, cruising to a 52-13 win in the New Mexico Bowl presented by Progressive.

The win was a fitting close to one of the best seasons in school history for Utah State. The Aggies (11-2) tied a school record for wins and will likely become the fourth team in school history to finish the season ranked in the AP poll, joining John Ralston‘s 1960-61 teams that went a combined 18-3-1 and former and future head coach Gary Andersen‘s 2012 squad that also went 11-2.

The points started early for the Aggies, finding pay dirt on their third play of the game — a 72-yard strike from Jordan Love to Aaren Vaughns — and ripped off 31 unanswered points over the first and second quarters to break the game open for good.

In addition to the 72-yarder to open the game, Utah State scored touchdowns from 26, 37 and 67 yards in the first half (plus another score on a 10-play, 78-yard drive), as the nation’s No. 3 scoring offense played to its paper throughout the day. Love completed 21-of-43 passes for 361 yards with four touchdowns (plus one rushing) and an interception inside the UNT end zone that robbed him of a sixth score, while Gerold Bright and Darwin Thompson combined to rush 37 times for 196 yards and two touchdowns.

In all, the Aggies rolled up 556 yards of total offense — 360 of them in the first half.

As the score indicates, the game was a complete nightmare for North Texas. The Mean Green entered the game without leading receiver Rico Bussey (1,017 receiving yards, 12 touchdowns) and played the majority of the day without franchise quarterback Mason Fine. Visibly hobbled by a bum hamstring, Fine threw only 12 passes and left the game in the second quarter when he had to limp his way to recover an errant snap — a theme for UNT during the game — near his own goal line.

Fine was replaced by senior backup Quinn Shanbour, who completed 2-of-8 passes for 24 yards with three interceptions. Shanbour was replaced by freshman Jason Bean, whose only completion in his two passes was to Utah State safety DJ Williams, setting up a field goal on the final play of the half that pushed UNT’s deficit to 38-7.

Fellow freshman Kason Martin played the bulk of the second half, and hit Jalen Guyton for a 75-yard touchdown on his first pass. After that throw, Martin went 6-of-11 for 36 yards.

The loss served as a bitter end to a bittersweet season for North Texas. Though the Mean Green (9-4) increased or matched their win total for the third time in as many seasons under Seth Littrell, North Texas saw three double-digit leads turn into losses and then closed with a second consecutive bowl loss in which the opponent hit half a hundred, following a 50-30 loss to Troy in the 2017 New Orleans Bowl.

Utah State all over North Texas in New Mexico Bowl

Associated Press
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Utah State is without head coach Matt Wells and six of his assistant coaches, but quarterback Jordan Love, running back Gerold Bright and the rest of the Aggies players are still in uniform, and that has proven more than enough so far at the New Mexico Bowl. Utah State leads North Texas 38-7 at the half in Albuquerque.

Love completed 13-of-26 passes for 248 yards and three touchdowns while Bright carried seven times for 59 yards and a touchdown, allowing the Aggies to roll up 360 yards of total offense in the half.

The Aggies offense started rolling early. On a 3rd-and-7 on the game’s opening possession, Love found Aeren Vaughns for a 72-yard touchdown toss.

After two punts and a North Texas score, Utah State started in UNT territory after a 48-yard kickoff return, and five plays later Bright strolled in untouched for a 26-yard touchdown run.

Most of Utah State’s scores came via explosive plays. Love again found Vaughns, this time from 37 yards out, to put the Aggies up 28-7, and then hit Jalen Greene for an easy 67-yard pitch-and-catch score to push the lead to 35-7 at the 8:55 mark of the second quarter.

While Utah State’s offense did anything and everything it wanted, the UNT offense sputtered without its two most important players. The Mean Green entered the game without leading receiver Rico Bussey (68 catches for 1,017 yards and 12 touchdowns) and played most of the game without quarterback Mason Fine. He was visibly hobbled by a hamstring issue and left the game for good when he could not run after an errant snap — a theme for the Mean Green — sailed over his head.

Senior backup Quinn Shanbour replaced Fine and went 2-of-7 for 24 yards and two interceptions, and he was replaced by freshman Jason Bean, whose second pass was intercepted and returned 31 yards by Utah State’s DJ Williams to the UNT 48-yard line.

That final pick led to yet another Utah State score, a 42-yard Dominik Eberle field goal as time expired in the first half.

Fine did manage to engineer one North Texas scoring drive. Aided by two Utah State personal fouls, the Mean Green moved 78 yards in 10 plays to tie the score at 7-7 at the 2:52 mark of the first quarter.

Barring a miraculous turnaround, that will go down as the highpoint of the day for the Mean Green.