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Brad Rock: Utah State football has basically zero to nitpick

Utah State safety Shaquez Bond (25) returns an interception 100 yards for a touchdown against New Mexico during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018, in Logan, Utah. (Eli Lucero/The Herald Journal via AP)
Utah State safety Shaquez Bond (25) returns an interception 100 yards for a touchdown against New Mexico during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018, in Logan, Utah. (Eli Lucero/The Herald Journal via AP)
AP

LOGAN — Wins are coming so easily for Utah State this year, it must be hard for Matt Wells to keep a straight face. But he soldiers on, happy with the results, alert to details he might unearth.

In reality, there’s not much nitpicking he could do. USU beat New Mexico 61-19 Saturday. Finding fault with that would be like faulting a sunrise.

“Nitpicking, yeah, I wish those two field goals in the third quarter would have been touchdowns,” Wells said.

The Aggies compiled 704 yards on offense, most in school history. Just two USU wins this season have been by fewer than a dozen points. The rest have been downright obstreperous. It’s no secret the Aggies are making opponents miserable. Saturday the score was 28-3 in the first quarter, 52-5 at midway.

“It’s fun winning like that — except when you’re on the other side,” Wells said. “I’m very appreciative and humble.”

A surprisingly spotty crowd that arrived for kickoff was halfway gone by the early third quarter. That’s a wonderful dilemma. Lose and nobody comes. Win by too far and no one stays.

In the second quarter, Jordan Love eclipsed his career high for passing yards. Already bowl-eligible, it’s now a matter of destination for USU. Las Vegas? Boise? Albuquerque? Honolulu?

Lately they look good enough to be in Phoenix, Pasadena or New Orleans. Last time USU was this hot to begin a season was practically never (1965). The last time they won so consistently was in 2012, when they claimed their final seven games.

This naturally has Beehive State dreamers imagining: Could a Utah-Utah State Las Vegas Bowl pairing be in the works? Utah would have to finish sixth in the Pac-12 for that to happen, and USU first in the Mountain West. But right now the Utes have their hearts set on the Rose Bowl and both teams have miles to go before they sleep.

So don’t book Caesars yet.

Just 10 minutes into Saturday’s game, it was clear the Aggies lost none of their swag in a hard-fought 24-16 win last week at Wyoming. After trailing 3-0, they came back with an offensive touchdown, followed by a 100-yard interception return by Shaq Bond.

Yes, a Shaq Attack.

Being ranked isn’t customary for the Aggies — they may break into the top 25 this week — but being bowl eligible is. They’ve qualified for the postseason in seven of the last eight seasons. But never has USU qualified this early. After a one-touchdown loss to Michigan State, the Aggies have reeled off seven straight wins. They ejected Air Force, stoned BYU and bankrupted Las Vegas. During their seven-game win streak, they have averaged 52 points and allowed 20.

It stands to reason USU would be a good offensive team. Wells was a quarterback, and he thinks like one. He has more games with 50-plus points than any coach in school history.

Meanwhile, the Aggies have eight non-offensive touchdowns. They’ve run back kickoffs and punts, delivered pick-sixes and blocked a punt — all for touchdowns. But two non-offensive scores they haven’t executed were taken care of by New Mexico. The Lobos scored on a safety and a recovered fumble.

USU now has 50 touchdowns, 10 shy of the school record, with four games remaining. Last week the Aggies garnered 50 votes in the Associated Press poll, 27th in the country. Saturday’s win could push them into the rankings for the first time since 2012.

Few coaches know New Mexico’s tendencies better than Wells, who spent three years as an assistant in Albuquerque.

“We play them tough, they play us tough,” Wells said Monday. “However you want to look at it.”

Right now you could look at it as either an exaggeration or a gross miscalculation.

Regardless, the Aggies are looking like contenders, which hasn’t happened since 2013, Wells’ first year as head coach. But that year they were 4-4 after eight games. This year they’re 7-1 overall, 4-0 in conference. Although Gary Andersen is often cited as the best USU coach in modern history, Wells has outstripped him in overall wins with a .554 percentage, compared to Andersen’s .520.

“We tell them, every time we talk about it, to put ourselves in a place to win the championship in November. You know what? Here we go,” Wells said. “Saddle up.”

After three consecutive losing seasons, Wells’ status at the start of 2018 was debatable. Right now, that too sounds like nitpicking.