Tuesday , March 18, 2014 - 3:46 PM
LOGAN — With a mighty blowout of New Mexico State, Utah State became bowl-eligible faster than any Aggie football team in the modern era. They might even receive some votes to be nationally ranked this weekend.
That doesn’t mean they received the amount of support in Logan close to what they experienced earlier in the season.
With an announced attendance of 17,001, at least some 8,500 seats were left empty for the Aggies’ historic 41-7 victory, complete with offensive fireworks and newfound special teams success.
More than 24,000 fans packed Romney Stadium three weeks ago against UNLV for a “White Out” victory. Three weeks before that, tickets sold out for the USU’s milestone win over Utah.
Even the season-opener against a non-Football Bowl Subdivision team in Southern Utah garnered a higher attendance (17,009).
“I guess we need to change deer hunting season,” coach Gary Andersen said. “It is what it is. Life is life. People have things they want to do — a lot of priorities to do. I know because I receive a lot of emails for it.
“We appreciate them whether or not they are (at games), that’s as much. We love our fans and I am sure they’ll be at the next big ones.”
Andersen did acknowledge that the student section — half-full at most — may have been so vacant because of fall break, where classes were out Friday.
Two of USU’s final four contests are in Logan — Nov. 3 against Texas State (3-3, 1-0 WAC) and the regular season finale Nov. 24 against Idaho (1-6, 0-2 heading into a Saturday night game at Louisiana Tech).
Quarterback Chuckie Keeton and running back Kerwynn Williams once again proved the volatility of their one-two punch as the Aggies’ victory made their seniors the program’s third-winningest class in history, Andersen said. The 19-year-old Keeton went 16-of-26 for 257 yards and two touchdowns. His three-quarter dominance extended to the ground, where he rushed seven times for 96 yards and a score, including a 76-yard sprint in the third quarter.
Williams received 13 carries for 83 yards and a touchdown, with a 76-yard score of his own. It started with a dump pass from Keeton on the first offensive play of the game. It brought a surefire roar from the crowd — especially the student section, which Williams also gave a break.
“I knew there would be less fans here,” Williams said. “I understand. It’s just like if we have a bye week. If someone has a chance to see family, so we expected that some want to be home.
“It was great to see as many as we did, because in the past it hasn’t been like that. They’re definitely a big thing for what we’re doing here.”
That program-rising endeavor has been somewhat slowed by squandered big wins at Wisconsin and BYU, both of which involved missed game-winning or game-tying fourth-quarter field goals, respectively, by junior kicker Josh Thompson.
That issue may have been resolved Saturday due to the efforts of Nick Diaz. The redshirt sophomore, USU’s kickoff specialist in 2010 before redshirting last season, made 53- and 48-yard field goals in the third and fourth quarters. The former was the eighth-longest in USU history and the furthest since Chris Ulinski’s 56-yard success in 2008. A 44-yard attempt was blocked, but it came with 4:17 remaining in the fourth quarter.
“I’m happy with Nick Diaz,” said Andersen, who confirmed that Diaz would remain the starter going into next week’s contest at Texas-San Antonio (5-2, 1-1) at the Alamodome. “It was great to see what he can do.”
His crowd-pleasing display came only after not just Williams’ run, but also a 49-yard bomb on the next drive from Keeton to Chuck Jacobs (4 catches, 94 yards), who had his first breakout game since USU’s shocking comeback Nov. 4 at Hawaii.
Then came Keeton’s highlighting score 23 seconds into the second stanza before Williams scored again 39 seconds before halftime by doing what he usually does best: bouncing to the outside after getting jammed up the middle.
The special teams also found redemption. Kyler Fackrell blocked a 42-yard Tyler Stampler field goal attempt. After Keeton made his run seconds later, New Mexico State threatened to hack into USU’s comfortable 21-point lead. But cornerback Wil Davis registered his first career interception in the end zone, taking it back 35 yards.
NMSU finally joined the scoreboard with a six-yard Andrew Manley touchdown pass to Austin Franklin with 8:07 in the third quarter. The two had connected on a wowing 29-yard rainbow the previous play.
Manley went 19-of-37 for 177 yards and one touchdown, but the costly interception. Franklin entered the contest with 42 receptions for 742 yards and seven scores, and lived up to his numbers Saturday with eight catches for 84 yards.
USU gained 516 total yards to NMSU’s 321, but Andersen remarked that neither he nor the defense, playing in front of Seattle Seahawks draft pick and 2012 USU graduate Bobby Wagner, was satisfied with their own performance.
But that critique can wait at least a few hours.
“Right now we’re the third-best team that’s ever been here,” Andersen said. “We need to celebrate that. We don’t do that always in this sport.”
Utah State 41,
New Mexico State 7
At Romney Stadium
New Mexico St. 0 0 7 0 — 7
Utah St. 14 14 10 3 — 41
Utah State—K.Williams 76 pass from Keeton (Diaz kick), 14:38.
Utah State—Jacobs 49 pass from Keeton (Diaz kick), 6:26.
Utah State—Keeton 76 run (Diaz kick), 14:37.
Utah State—K.Williams 3 run (Diaz kick), :39.
Utah State—Diaz 53 field goal, 10:48.
New Mexico State—Franklin 6 pass from Manley (M.Johnson kick), 8:15.
Utah State—Keeton 9 run (Diaz kick), 1:01.
Utah State—Diaz 48 field goal, 12:13.
New Mexico St. Utah State
First downs 21 20
Rushes-yards 34-132 36-256
Passing 189 260
Comp-Att-Int 20-38-1 17-27-0
Return Yards 0 83
Punts-Avg. 6-44.0 3-36.0
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 1-0
Penalties-Yards 1-15 8-76
Time of Possession 33:42 26:18
Rushing—New Mexico St., Morrison 19-96, Colwell 5-31, Franklin 3-16, Manley 7-(minus 11). Utah St., K.Williams 13-82, Keeton 7-81, Lee 5-46, Glover-Wright 5-39, Hill 4-17, Team 1-(minus 1), Harrison 1-(minus 8).
Passing—New Mexico St., Manley 19-37-1-177, Colwell 1-1-0-12. Utah St., Keeton 16-26-0-257, Harrison 1-1-0-3.
Receiving—New Mexico St., Franklin 8-84, Morrison 4-28, Walls 3-37, Bateman 3-21, Matthews 1-12, J.Brown 1-7. Utah St., Jacobs 4-94, Bartlett 4-18, K.Williams 3-94, Reynolds 2-25, Webb 2-25, Van Leeuwen 1-3, Austin 1-1.
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