Freshman Aaron Flowers has twice relieved sophomore starting quarterback Matt Wells and moved Utah State's miserable offense pretty well - an offense that has lost almost as many offensive linemen as it has scored points.
Saturday night, despite Utah State coach Charlie Weatherbie having said all week that Wells was still the starter, Flowers indeed got the nod and the chance to operate against UNLV, one of the worst defenses in the nation and statistically the worst in the Big West Conference.But it was UNLV that took a 23-21 victory out of Romney Stadium Saturday night with 21,302 watching in horror.
True to form, the Aggies got relief from Wells, who provided the fireworks at the end after three quarters of near-futility for USU. Wells entered to start the fourth quarter and threw two long touchdown passes to Kevin Alexander - for 41 and 85 yards - to bring the Aggies back to within two points (after being down by 16) with 7:37 left in the fourth quarter.
"He has great speed," Weatherbie said about why Alexander scored all the TDs. Alexander also caught a PAT pass that would have tied the game, but the Aggies were called for holding and the play failed on the next try.
Alexander had five total receptions for 157 yards.
Wells was 6-for-9 for 181 yards and two TDs. Flowers was 7-for-13 - 53 yards and one TD - but was sacked six times for 54 yards in losses.
"To be honest, it helped me not starting," said Wells.
"He did the same thing Aaron had done in previous games - kinda sparked us," said Weatherbie.
But a failed PAT pass, knocked down by UNLV's Rodney Mazion, and a failed Micah Knorr field goal of 25 yards that was wide right with just 1:25 left shot down the Aggies.
Alexander had one 15-yard TD catch from Flowers with :06 left in the first half to give USU a 7-6 lead though UNLV had dominated play.
"Everyone is sad about losing the game," said Alexander, "but we know we can still win the conferece. We can put points on the board. We have to understand our offense is coming together.
"We just have to get it started earlier," said Alexander. "We can't wait until three quarters are up."
He said his 85-yard TD scamper that put the pressure on the Rebels was an adjustment route, and his job was to beat the defensive back so Wells could let loose.
"We knew we could throw deep on them," said Weatherbie, "but it's hard to throw deep when you're being chased around."
Though Weatherbie also insists the Aggies can still win the Big West despite this loss, he admitted, "I didn't feel we played the way we're capable of playing."
Flowers started and promptly got sacked twice for -19 yards on the first, second and third downs of his starting career.
UNLV's defense had the Aggies reeling most of the first half, although the second-in-the-NCAA Rebel passing attack could only put two field goals on the board despite exceptional first-half field position.
The Rebels got the ball on the Aggie 33-yard line on their second drive (resulting in a 47-yard field goal, on their own 48 to start the third, on the Aggie 41 to start the fourth drive (a second field goal, 23 yards, to give kicker Nick Garritano the UNLV school record 39th of his career), on their own 20 and 30. He added a third field goal of 47 yards with :10 left in the third quarter, and that turned out to be the winning points, though it made the score 23-7 at the time.
The Aggies had -26 yards of total offense for the first quarter and ended the half with 39 net yards.
And a 7-6 lead.
The Aggies couldn't sustain their good fortune to start the second half. UNLV's Henry Bailey muffed Morreale's first punt of the second half with Tod Townsend recovering for Utah State on the Rebel 49, but the Aggies went three-and-out. Morreale pinned UNLV on its own 6, but Jason Davis directed a 14-play drive that put UNLV in the end zone about seven minutes later. Their two-point PAT worked this time for a 20-7 UNLV lead with 2:30 left in the third quarter.
Big West Standings
Team W L T W L T
Nevada 1 0 0 3 1 0
New Mex. St. 1 0 0 2 2 0
UNLV 1 0 0 2 2 0
San Jose St. 1 0 0 1 3 0
SW Louisiana 1 1 0 1 3 0
Pacific U. 0 0 0 2 2 0
La. Tech 0 0 0 1 2 0
Utah St. 0 1 0 1 3 0
N. Illinois 0 1 0 1 3 0
Arkansas St. 0 2 0 1 3 0
UNLV 23, Utah St. 21
Nebraska 70, Pacific 21
Nevada 34, NE Louisiana 22
N. Illinois 49, E. Illinois 17
San Jose 31, SW Louisiana 28
New Mexico St. 24, Arkansas St. 17