Everything that Utah State was not in its first three football games, it was on a sunny Saturday afternoon in Romney Stadium against previously unbeaten New Mexico State.
"Every dog's got his day," said USU coach Charlie Weatherbie, who walked off the field carrying a game ball and who blamed a sip of Coke for the fuzziness in his voice as he spoke to reporters after the very first win of his head-coaching career. (Emotion? Nah.)It was a rollicking 48-21 victory that left the Big Blue Aggies 1-0 in Big West Conference play - tied for the league lead, no less, with Nevada, since nobody else played a Big West game this week. Utah State led 34-0 at the half.
Certainly Weatherbie doesn't consider his team a dog; he'd had faith through losses to Arizona, Utah and Baylor that some day all those turnovers and wrong-way bounces would start going right and give Utah State a chance to play the way the Aggies were sure they could.
Saturday, the intangibles were there, allied with an intense effort evident from the opening kickoff - a 37-yard return to by USU's Cotie McMahon.
"Utah State is considerably better than what we've been led to believe," said New Mexico State coach Jim Hess.
On a third-and-3-inches play, the first of his career as a starting NCAA quarterback, Anthony Calvillo's cadence drew NMS offside for a conversion - third-down conversions have been rare for USU, which was 10-for-17 Saturday - and one play later Calvillo tried a little bootleg play and found nothing but nothing in front of him.
"There was nobody out there, so I kept running," said Calvillo. To the end zone - 45 yards. Two minutes into the game, USU was ahead.
"He took a leadership role," said Weatherbie.
New Mexico State, ranked nationally in total offense, got three downs and had to punt because of a Joe Jacobs tackle behind the line. He would have two negative tackles the first quarter; Michael Coe would surpass him with three for the game, and Jermaine Younger would have two negative tackles and 12 total to lead a smothering defense.
The NMS snap was fumbled, and Coe dropped the punter for a 19-yard loss, giving USU the ball on the NMS 5. Five minutes gone; USU was up 10-0 with the first of two Sean Jones field goals.
That's how the first half unfolded. Utah State took every avenue away from New Mexico State's offense and No. 2-in-the-NCAA kick-return team, then shoved new starters Calvillo and running back Abu Wilson down the Red Aggies' throats with what Weatherbie called "smash-mouth" offensive line play.
"When the line is blocking like that, you can throw to anybody," said Calvillo, who spent the first quarter establishing a misdirection-and-then-circle bootleg that paid handsomely.
"We couldn't get adjusted to the bootleg," said Hess.
USU outgained NMS 126-15 in total-offense yards the first quarter and was up 290-27 by the half. Jones made the third-longest field goal in USU history, 54 yards for the 34-0 lead.
For the day, Calvillo ran for two TDs and threw for two, to Aubrey Thompson and Jim Ray, and was 18-for-29 for 207 yards. Toney Jenkins caught seven passes for 100 yards; Greg Watts added five for 66, both making diving grabs for Calvillo. "The kids hav great confidence in him, and he's got confidence in those around him," Weatherbie said.
With Calvillo faking bootlegs, Wilson, slowed since the preseason by a hip pointer, darted through holes in the line or whooshed outside and upfield - Roger Grant with speed. He gained 157 yards and a touchdown in his first start. "The offensive line did a great job," said Wilson. "If we didn't exploit (the holes), we wouldn't be playing."
The defense was also superb, selling NMS quarterback Charles Puleri on its coverage fakes the way Calvillo sold his bootleg fakes. "We made him change plays the first quarter almost every snap," said Weatherbie. "We did a good job faking the blitz, coming on a blitz, hitting him in the back, and we got him down a little bit."
"We got outcoached," said Hess.
"I felt pressure all day long," said Puleri. "They were moving around a lot - blitzing, not blitzing."