2018 New Mexico Bowl Preview: North Texas vs Utah State

Ladies and Gentlemen of the green, we have a bowl game to think about.

The New Mexico Bowl pits our North Texas Mean Green against the Aggies of Utah State. Some of you older alumni remember when this was a conference opponent.

The skinny is this: This team is good and it is ranked in the coaches poll (23rd). They have been really good under departed coach Matt Wells and this is reflected in their steller win-loss record and their nice S&P+ ranking (21st). They are a good team.

Game

Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 15 at 1pm Central
Where: Dreamstyle Stadium (Albuquerque, N.M.)
TV: ESPN

UTAH State Schedule

  • L @ Michigan State 31-38
  • W New Mexico State 60-13
  • W Tennesse Tech 73-12
  • W Air Force 42-32
  • W @ BYU 45-20
  • W UNLV 59-20
  • W @ Wyoming 24-16
  • W New Mexico 61-19
  • W @ Hawaii 56-17
  • W San Jose St 62-24
  • W @ Colorado St 29-24
  • L @ Boise st 24-33

What stands out from above? They played a relatively easy schedule with five teams ranked in the S&P+ 100 level. The mid-tier teams like BYU, Wyoming, Boise, and Michigan St gave them a bit more trouble. Against Boise St to end the year, the defense was roasted. Even against Colorado St, the offense struggled. It was not a romp through the league like Boise States of old, but a nice season from Utah St.

For comparison’s sake, North Texas is ranked 31st in S&P+, just above Michigan State’s final ranking (35) and just under Boise State’s (29). S&P+ has this game close but gives Utah State a win by 2.7 points and a probability of 56%. ESPN is a little more certain, thinking the Aggies win with a probability of 78%. Vegas calls North Texas 11-point dogs.

The offense is explosive, with both aspects of the offense doing damage. QB Jordan Love is a 6’4″ 225 lbs sophomore who threw for 3208 yards and 28 TDs against only 5 picks so far at a 65% clip. Those are good QB numbers even for this modern age.

The run game is led by Darwin Thompson, a 5’8″ JR who racked up 951 yards on 7.2 yards per tote and 14 scores. His teammate Gerold Bright is 5’9″ 195, a JR and totalled 785 on 6.3 yard per tote and 8 scores. Two guys with the same build rushing for big yards. That is what you need to know.

Out wide, Ron’QUavion Tarver is 6’3″ 215, a senior who grabbed 62 balls on 89 targets for 676 yards and 7 scores. Jalen Greene a 6’2″ 205 lbs senior grabbed 38 on 60 targets for 538 and five scores.

There are a lot of upper-classmen on the offensive side of the ball and that means they know what they are doing, how to execute it, and have experience doing so.

Defensively, Utah State lines up in a base 3-4 but it is your typical multiple spread-stopping defense. The OLB Jontrell Rocquemore is 6’1″ 210 lbs, and can run. They call him a linebacker but he is a safety in size. He’s a senior nd has 8.5 tackles for loss, three interceptions and a forced fumble on the year. Tipa Galeai, the 6’5″ 230 lb rush OLB — he’s basically in the JACK role in North Texas terminology — has 8.5 sacks on the season. He also has two interceptions lest you think he can’t drop in coverage occasionally.

Utah State likes to throw the ball, and they do it well. They are successful at it. They also move the ball quickly — they are 17th in adjusted pace. The linebackers and DBs get into the backfield and get tackles for loss.

North Texas Schedule

  • W SMU 46-23
  • W Incarnate Word 58-16
  • W @ Arkansas 44-17
  • W @ Liberty 47-7
  • L Louisiana Tech 27-29
  • W @ UTEP 27-24
  • W Southern Miss 30-7
  • L @ UAB 21-29
  • W Rice 41-17
  • L @ ODU 31-34
  • W FAU 41-38
  • W @ UTSA 24-21

North Texas played four teams in the 100 level of S&P+ (Liberty, UTEP, Rice, and UTSA) and won them all but not nearly as convincingly as Utah State did. The three losses came to the 95th, 53rd, and 99th ranked teams in S&P+. This Aggie team will be the best team faced by North Texas by far.

This NT team is obviously led by Mason Fine and his offense. Fine has 3734 yards passing, 27 TDs against 5 INTs on 64.6% throwing. DeAndre Torrey has emerged as the number one back midway through the season and has scored an incredible 14 scores in that time — on the ground. He has two more receiving. Torrey is at 942 yards on 5.9 per tote.

Rico Bussey, Jr. is the leading pass-catcher at 68 grabs on 107 targets and 1017 receiving for 12 scores. Jalen Guyton is second with 50 catches on 89 targets, 702 yards and 5 scores.

Defensively, EJ EJiya is leading the team with 23 tackles for loss including 9 sacks. EJ plays ILB, so this is telling on how much NT blitzes with him.

Putting It All Together

It is really difficult to determine how good these teams are. Both played in leagues where the competition was below-par nationally, and both struggled with some good teams when they faced them. Utah State has the higher profile right now and the higher ranking. Both had their coaches become targets in the latest coaching carousel, but only Utah State lost theirs.

The location makes this more of a home game for Utah State than for North Texas. The Aggies have already travelled to ABQ this year, and everything will be a little familiar, while the furthest west NT has gone was to El Paso, where they struggled.

The question here will be the same one we have asked all season: Can North Texas’s offense be consistent enough to get the big points we know are there? That means, can they convert those troublesome 3rd and medium and 3rd and shorts?

Defensively, both squads are aggressive. NT has been burned of late, with teams targeting Tyreke Davis in the slot. Will the staff turnover mean less prep for that kind of thing? That is to say, will North Texas get a little luck in that department? The most explosive and talented offense NT has faced scored 38 – FAU in November. The defense managed to get some takeaways and generate some negative plays.

Utah State has a good QB that will not make freshman mistakes in this one, and that might be a challenge. NT’s defense has usually played up — and down — to the competition and this is the senior-laden defense’s final go-’round. I imagine they will be up for it.

Prediction Time

On the podcast I was feeling generous and think North Texas wins in a shoot out. The league opponents all know NT well, and that contributed to some of the slower finishes.

North Texas Wins 41 – 40