It’s been fourteen long years since the Utah State Aggies faced the North Texas Mean Green on the gridiron. The teams of 2018 are a far cry from those of 2004 (for a history of the series, go here), so we checked in with Utah State writer Alex Eiden of Mountain West Connection for some insight.
UDD: What was the biggest surprise from the Aggies this season? Was it a play? Player? Game result, or something else?
Alex Eiden, Mountain West Connection: The cumulative success the Aggies found this season is what I’d say is the biggest surprise. Most, if not all, pre-season predictions had Utah State as the fourth or fifth best team in the Mountain West. Somewhere between five and eight wins. I joined [Mountain West Connection] too late to make any full-season predictions, but still I wasn’t someone who saw a ten win season coming out of this team.
UDD: With Matt Wells taking the Texas Tech gig, what (if any) differences should we expect to see in the bowl game? Or to put it another way, biggest differences between the Wells era, and the first Gary Andersen era?
AE: I think the biggest loss in the Wells departure is offensive coordinator David Yost. He was the maestro behind the lightning-fast offense the Aggies utilized all season to put insane amounts of points on the board. Wells’ presence will be missed, but the reason USU won was because of the offense. Without Yost, I’m not confident this offense looks the same.
UDD: What did you know about North Texas before the bowl meeting was announced? Did you catch any games and, if not, what teams from Conference USA were you able to check out this season? How do you think they match up with Mountain West competition?
AE: I knew that:
1. Seth Littrell is a quality up-and-coming coach who has taken UNT to great heights in his tenure in Denton. I’m really happy to see UNT doing well after they were basement-dwellers for so long. It’s good to see he hasn’t gotten poached away to a [Power Five] job yet.
2. Mason Fine is one hell of a quarterback. The dude throws rockets and has some great stats on the year. Keeping turnovers down is so important and he’s only thrown five INTs all year, so he’s smart with where he puts the ball.
The Mountain West and C-USA match up really well. I’d absolutely love to see a UAB vs Fresno/Boise/Utah State game. I think the MWC having three ten-win teams compared to the C-USA’s none gives it a bit of an advantage, but that’s not to say the C-USA couldn’t win some matchups between the conferences.
UDD: North Texas quarterback Mason Fine has dominated the C-USA-related headlines with his huge passing numbers. What player (or players) have been the biggest standouts for the Aggies this season? Which players are the most underrated?
AE: It’s got to be Utah State QB Jordan Love. Just like Fine, he’s thrown for insane numbers (3208 yards, 28 TDs, 8 INTS) and has been the heart of the high octane offense. As far as underrated players go, it has to be the Aggies offensive line. Just like every other offensive line in the country, they never truly get the appreciation they deserve. Love was able to put up big numbers because he wasn’t being sacked very often. Senior C Quin Ficklin needs a shout out for being the emotional leader of the team and one of the nation’s best centers.
UDD: We recently ran a piece on the history of USU/UNT, and how they shared two conferences over the last 20 years or so. How would you feel about making this a regular meet-up?
AE: I’d love to see this matchup continue on into the future. Utah State’s got in-state rivals Utah and BYU, but I wouldn’t say they’ve got any true out-of-state rival. It’d be fun to watch these two rising G5 programs battle it out every year.
UDD: If Utah State wins, what went right? And of course, alternatively, if North Texas wins, what went wrong for the Aggies?
AE: If they win, that means the offense didn’t miss a beat with the loss of Yost and Wells. They continued their quick, no huddle operation. It means either RB Darwin Thompson or RB Gerold Bright had a good day on the ground. Having good balance on the offensive gameplan is the biggest key to victory for the Aggies. It also means the USU defense kept Mason Fine in check, keeping the pressure on him and maybe even getting a pick or two.
If they lose, it’s probably because either the passing or running game got shut down and the Aggies had together one dimensional. That’s how Boise beat them, it’s how Colorado State and Wyoming almost did too. I’d imagine the defense would also never really get into the backfield, and kept giving up chunk play after chunk play. The UNT offense is no joke, and if the Aggies defense doesn’t take it seriously, it will be sorry.
Utah State and North Texas play Saturday, 12/15 at 2 p.m. EST, 1 p.m. CST in the New Mexico Bowl in Albuquerue, New Mexico.