It was an Aggie showdown this Saturday for Utah State as it searched for its seventh win of the season against the New Mexico State Aggies.
It was a tale of two halves for Utah State, which trailed 13-7 at halftime despite coming into the game as 18.5 point favorites but scored 28 unanswered points in the second half to pick up what ended up being a comfortable 35-13 nonconference victory.
Logan Bonner followed up his best performance of the season last week against Hawaii with another strong outing, finishing with 355 yards and four touchdowns against one interception while completing nearly 70% of his passes.
But it was Deven Thompkins who was the true offensive star for Utah State. He finished with a career-high 215 yards receiving and two touchdowns on nine catches.
Thompkins caught a 54-yard touchdown pass just 58 seconds into the second half to give Utah State its first lead of the game and spark what ended up being a dominant second half of play for the blue Aggies.
Head coach Blake Anderson said that coming into the game, he was worried about how the environment would affect the way his team started, but he was ultimately pleased with how they finished the game.
“We played very uninspired football in the first half, and I was concerned about that coming in here,” Anderson said. “I’ve been out here before and I explained to the guys how it was going to look, the heat, the way they play a very frustrating style of offense where they kind of pick you to death ... but very proud of the way the guys responded.”
The 7-2 start for Utah State is the third-best start over the last 43 years, trailing only the 2012 and 2018 squads, which both finished 11-2.
Here are three takeaways from the (Utah State) Aggies’ victory:
A second-half team
If Anderson has proven anything in his first season at the helm, it’s that he knows how to get a team to turn things around at halftime.
For the seventh time in nine games, Utah State found itself trailing at the halftime break. After Saturday’s win, the Aggies are now 5-2 in those games.
After the first two quarters, New Mexico State had 18 first downs and 237 total yards compared to just eight first downs and 123 total yards from Utah State, but Anderson’s squad turned things around very quickly.
By the time Utah State wrapped up its first two offensive drives of the second half, those numbers went up to 15 in the first down category and 269 in the total yards category.
But what was the craziest stat that illustrates the quick turnaround for Utah State? In the opening 10 minutes of the third quarter, the Aggies had three touchdowns compared to minus-7 yards for New Mexico State.
“We just settled in and played the ball we should’ve been playing from the very first quarter,” Anderson said of the second half. “Nobody was playing good ball in the first half, nobody. But we did respond. ... The entire team came out in the third quarter and put the thing away.”
Deven Thompkins is really good at football
How good of a football player do you have to be to put up 215 yards receiving and not really surprise anyone by doing so?
The outing from Thompkins gave him the ninth-most yards receiving yards in a single game in Utah State history. It was the fifth-straight 100-yard plus receiving game and the seventh of the season for the senior wide receiver.
He now has 1,314 yards on the season and 2,129 for his career, good for 10th-most in school history.
Thompkins had been flirting with a 200-yard game many times this season and was happy to finally reach the milestone, but he said he isn’t satisfied yet.
“I’m at a loss for words,” Thompkins said of the career performance. “It’s something I’ve just been wanting, you know? I’ve been getting close every single week. One hundred-yard games, 177-yard games is cool and all, but I’ve just been waiting for this 200-yard game.
“In a way it’s a relief, but it makes me even more hungry. Being tied for ninth (most yards in a single game) in school history is cool, but I really want to be No. 1 in school history, so that’s what I’m after now.”
Pass rush clicks again
Utah State only had nine sacks through its first seven games, but the pass rush of defensive coordinator Ephraim Banda’s group seems to have turned a corner lately.
The Aggies followed up a five-sack performance last week against Hawaii with a season-high seven-sack outing Saturday afternoon. Six different Utah State players got into the New Mexico State backfield to record a tally in the sack column.
The defense’s ability to get to New Mexico State quarterback Jonah Johnson played a huge role in Utah State’s second-half shutout of the Aggies.
“We had to have it,” Anderson said of the pass rush. “Early (New Mexico State) did a really good job of protecting and that’s how they moved the ball, but we dialed up the intensity, and little by little, we started to fatigue them and played much, much better down the stretch.”