Getty Images

Late drive helps No. 11 Michigan State escape tough challenge from Utah State

2 Comments

If there’s anybody who probably doesn’t mind winning ugly, it’s Mark Dantonio. Of course, that doesn’t mean he will like it after the fact.

No. 11 Michigan State looked rusty on both sides of the ball and nowhere near the kind of team their ranking suggested during their season-opener against Utah State on Friday night, needing a few key plays down the stretch to hold on for a 38-31 win. It was surprising to see given how many starters returned from last year’s 10-3 squad but also had quite a bit to do with how pesky the Aggies were on the big stage too.

Though he was unable to pull off the upset and trailed off after halftime, USU quarterback Jordan Love was impressive given the environment and wound up throwing for 281 yards (one interception) and was just about the lone rushing threat too with a touchdown on the ground. Utah State mounted a trio of 70+ yard touchdown drives in the game — including the game’s opener that proved the team was more than ready to play. Five different receivers had more than 20 yards through the air and tailback Darwin Thompson did find the end zone twice despite the run game being pretty much bottled up.

Perhaps just as impressive was Matt Wells’ defense on the night. In addition to creating quite a bit of pressure, Gaje Ferguson hauled in a pick-six in the second half that led to a 10-point swing in just 14 seconds on the clock. In the end though, it just wasn’t quite enough as Utah State nearly pulled off the top 25 upset on the road they’ve threatened to win several times the past decade.

As for the Spartans, there were a few bright spots on defense like Joe Bachie (11 tackles) grabbing game-sealing interception and Khari Willis coming down with another pick in the first half. It was still not quite enough to be encouraged if you were Dantonio or a member of the MSU faithful, especially given the number of veterans in action on the night and the fact that they just recorded just one sack against a Group of Five opponent.

Quarterback Brian Lewerke was far from sharp despite being labeled by many as a dark horse Heisman candidate entering 2018. Though his numbers were solid with 287 yards and two scores through the air, the pick-six came on an awful decision and he never could quite find a rhythm. If anything, he was bailed out quite a bit by his receivers — particularly Felton Davis with 69 yards and a touchdown.

Running back LJ Scott rushed for 84 yards and contributed quite a bit in the passing game as well but never could quite bust out the big run.

You’ll hear quite a bit of ‘A win is a win’ coming out of the Michigan State locker room this week but the bottom line is that the team very much escaped a close call on Friday. If the Spartans are to truly challenge Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State in their division and work their way into Playoff contention, then a much better effort is needed going forward.

Five decades in the making, New Mexico State pulls out overtime win in the Arizona Bowl to beat Utah State

Getty Images
Leave a comment

It was a rematch 57 years in the making and both sides wanted to soak up every extra moment. New Mexico State ended the NCAA’s longest bowl drought in dramatic fashion to beat Utah State 26-20 in overtime on Friday night in an Arizona Bowl full of the highs and lows of college football.

In front of what seemed like half of Las Cruces at the home stadium of the Arizona Wildcats in Tucson, the Aggies put behind several quarters of offensive malaise by marching 69 yards midway through the fourth quarter to tie the game on an incredible Jaleel Scott catch in the end zone. The NMSU defense came up with a stop in the extra period not long after and a missed field goal by USU was just the opening the team needed before running back Larry Rose III burst up the middle for a 21 yard touchdown that set off pandemonium in the stands.

The victory not only gave the Aggies of New Mexico State their first win in the postseason since 1960 — which happened to be a 20-13 defeat of Utah State in the Sun Bowl — but capped off a pretty incredible story for one of the smallest programs in all of FBS. Rose finished the game with 142 yards on the ground and was the team’s leading receiver in the game as well. His running made up for a rather lackluster offensive day for quarterback Tyler Rogers (191 yards, one TD, two INTs) and company as the group had eight 3-and-outs against one of the better secondaries at the Group of Five level.

While those long stretches without points or any kind of offensive production made things hard to watch at times in this one, there was at least plenty of excitement early in the first quarter when Utah State’s Savon Scarver (96 yards) and NMSU’s Jason Huntley ran back-to-back kickoffs for touchdowns not five minutes in.

The loss caps off another tough season for Matt Wells’ Aggies after they led in just about every statistical category but saw kicker Dominik Eberle make only two of his six field goal attempts to let a win slip through their fingers. QB Jordan Love (254 yards passing) and RB LaJuan Hunt (133 yards rushing, 1 TD) both had decent outings but it wasn’t enough as points came at a premium for both sides.

The game also marks the end of an era for New Mexico State as it was their final contest as a member of a conference — in this case the Sun Belt. The program will operate as a football independent in 2018 and, funny enough, will play Utah State again next September up in Logan. Something says both sets of Aggies will have plenty to play for when that one rolls around in what should be a fun footnote to a long, long drought being emphatically ended on Friday.

Ray Lewis’ son reportedly set to transfer from Utah State

Associated Press
1 Comment

It was expected that Utah State would expand Rayshad Lewis‘ role with the Aggies to the defensive side of the ball.  Instead, the son of former Miami All-American standout Ray Lewis has decided to look for a new college football home.

Reportedly.

According to Scout.com, Lewis (pictured, No. 9) has decided to leave USU and will transfer to an undetermined location.  The wide receiver seemingly confirmed the pending movement as he retweeted several well-wish tweets on his Twitter timeline.  He also posted the following cryptic tweet Friday morning.

If Lewis lands at another FBS program, he’ll have to sit out the 2017 season. He’d then have three years of eligibility remaining beginning in 2018.

Lewis was a two-star member of the Aggies’ 2016 recruiting class, opting for USU over offers from, among others, Appalachian State, Ball State, FAU, Idaho, Old Dominion and Toledo.

As a true freshman last season, Lewis started seven of the 12 games in which he played. The 5-10, 165-pound receiver finished second on the team in catches (40) and receiving yards (476), while his two receiving touchdowns were tied for second.  The receptions and yards were second-most in the school’s history for a freshman.

For good measure, he added 110 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries.

This spring, the football program flirted with making Lewis a two-way player, with the rising sophomore logging time as a defensive back. He was also penciled in as a punt returner.

Akron tops Utah State, wins first bowl game in program history

Getty Images
2 Comments

For the first time in Akron’s 30-year history at college football’s top level, it won a bowl game.

The 8-5 Zips shut down Utah State’s offense and capitalized on a few mistakes en route to a 23-21 win in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl Tuesday afternoon in Boise. It was only the second bowl game in Akron history, with the first was the 2005 Motor City Bowl, a 38-31 loss to Memphis.

The win over Utah State was the culmination of an impressive turnaround engineered by fourth-year coach Terry Bowden. Akron had back-to-back-to-back 1-11 seasons from 2010-2012, a stretch which includes Bowden’s first year at the helm. After going 5-7 in both 2013 and 2014, Bowden steered Akron to seven regular-season wins, and the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl win gave the Zips a program-best eight victories.

It’s remarkable Bowden is the one leading this turnaround, too. The former Auburn coach — he was there from 1993-1998 and led the Tigers to five top-25 finishes in six seasons, including a No. 4 final ranking in 1993. But he hadn’t worked as an FBS head coach in 14 years when Akron hired him before the 2012 season, and his last bowl win came 18 years ago.

Utah State took a one-point lead early in the third quarter when quarterback Kent Myers found receiver Hunter Sharp for a 19-yard touchdown. After forcing a three-and-out on Akron’s next possession, Utah State had a chance to pull away a bit, but receiver Andrew Rodriguez lost a fumble at the Aggies’ 40-yard line. Akron promptly marched into the end zone in eight plays, and in the fourth quarter added a field goal that proved to be necessary late in the game.

With Chuckie Keeton back at quarterback — Kent Myers also played — Utah State drove into the end zone with 72 seconds remaining, cutting Akron’s lead to two. The Zips recovered an onside kick, though, and successfully stuffed a few last-ditch Aggie laterals to seal their victory.

Akron quarterback Thomas Woodson completed 14 of 29 passes for 168 yards, rushed 16 times for 47 yards and caught a touchdown from receiver Tyrell Goodman on a slick gadget play in the first quarter.

The bowl game was the final one on the Utah State sidelines for offensive coordinator Josh Heupel, who was hired as Mizzou’s offensive coordinator earlier this month.

Late turnover allows Akron to push Potato Bowl lead to 13-7 at half

AP Photo/Michael Dwyer
1 Comment

Akron jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first half against Utah State in the Potato Bowl in Boise, and nearly lost the momentum as the Aggies battled back. With Utah State driving, Utah State fumbled away the football in the final seconds of the half and Rodney Coe returned the ball 54 yards to the Utah State 12-yard line. That gave Akron four seconds to kick one last field goal to extend the lead in the first half to 13-7.

Akron dug into the bag of tricks to put the first points on the board. Junior wide receiver Tyrell Goodman tossed a nice 14-yard pass to quarterback Thomas Woodson for a first quarter touchdown and a 7-0 lead. Akron tacked on three more points later in the first half for a 10-0 lead, but Utah State managed to score a touchdown before halftime. Kent Myers hit Brandon Swindall for a nine-yard touchdown late in the first half to trim Akron’s lead to three points.

Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton has completed six of 11 passes for 56 yards and he has been picked off by Akron’s defense once. Akron’s Woodson has also been intercepted in the first half.