CARSON, Calif. (ABC4 Sports) – The Utah State football team is the king of the Mountain West. From 1-5 a year ago, to Mountain West Conference Champions, the Aggies capped an incredible turnaround season with a resounding victory in the conference title game.
Brandon Bowling caught two touchdown passes from Logan Bonner during the decisive third quarter, and Utah State won its first Mountain West Conference title with a 46-13 rout of No. 19 San Diego State on Saturday.
“We felt all week that the only people that really, truly believed we could do this were the guys in the room,” head coach Blake Anderson said. “Across the country, all the conversation, all the chatter was really about San Diego State. I think we used that to fuel our week. … I felt very confident, and we played our best ball when we had to have it.”
Bonner passed for 318 yards and four TDs, while fellow Arkansas State transfer Bowling had eight catches for a career-high 154 yards. The Aggies (10-3) punctuated their inspiring turnaround under first-year coach Blake Anderson by blowing out the short-handed Aztecs (11-2) for their first win over an AP Top 25 opponent since 2015, when they beat #21 Boise State, 52-26.
Utah State earned a berth in the inaugural LA Bowl on Dec. 18 at SoFi Stadium, the Los Angeles Rams’ multibillion-dollar arena located about 12 miles northwest of the site of this victory at San Diego State’s temporary home. The Aggies are likely to face Oregon State.
“We’re unbelievably proud of this man and what he’s gone through,” said Bonner, who was named the game’s Most Valuable Player. “Me and Brandon have known him longer than most guys. He’s been through a lot in his life, and we were there for that. We followed him here because we believed in him, and we’re so proud of him.”
The Aggies improved to 10-3 on the season, including 7-0 on the road, becoming just the fourth team in school history to record a 10-win season.
This is Utah State’s 13th conference title overall and first since winning the Western Athletic Conference championship in 2012.
Jordon Brookshire passed for 117 yards before getting replaced by Jalen Mayden for San Diego State, which had its four-game winning streak snapped in the school’s most lopsided loss since a 35-point defeat at Ohio State in September 2013.
Utah State’s 46 points were the most allowed in Aztecs coach Brady Hoke’s two stints and four seasons at SDSU. San Diego State hadn’t given up more than 33 points all year, and that was in a triple-overtime win over Utah.
The Aztecs played without starting tight end Daniel Bellinger, two additional tight ends, receiver Tyrell Shavers and at roughly a dozen other backups due to what the school termed “a medical concern.” San Diego State has declined to explicitly confirm any COVID-19 issues this season, but the current problems prevented the Aztecs from holding a full practice all week.
“We handled it, I thought, very well,” Aztecs head coach Brady Hoke said. “Practice was a little different. We didn’t have the bodies there, and that’s what sets you back as much as anything. There’s no excuses.”
Bonner and Bowling followed Anderson from Arkansas State to Utah State, which hadn’t won a league title since its final year in the WAC in 2012. This surprisingly one-sided victory is the latest remarkable feat the Aggies’ first season under a coach who moved across the country a year ago still mourning the death of his wife, Wendy, from breast cancer in 2019.
After a scoreless first quarter, Bonner threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Derek Wright, and Calvin Tyler Jr. scored on a 1-yard touchdown run to give the Aggies a 14-0 lead.
Bowling put the Aggies up 21-3 less than two minutes after halftime when the Aztecs’ defense lost track of him running alone down the middle of their secondary. San Diego State’s Jordan Byrd muffed a punt later in the third quarter, and Bowling made his second TD grab shortly afterward.
Bowling caught a 58-yard TD pass moments after halftime, and he added a toe-tapping 18-yard TD grab late in the period that essentially finished the mistake-prone Aztecs, whose sturdy defense faltered on the brink of their first conference title since 2016.
Derek Wright and Justin McGriff also caught TD passes from Bonner, who went 29 for 42. Utah State’s high-powered offense decisively won its matchup with San Diego State’s elite defense, which had allowed a conference-low 17.3 points per game this season before getting shredded by the Aggies.
The Utah State defense sacked Brookshire five times, 1.5 each by Byron Vaughns and Marcus Moore. Justin Rice and Hunter Reynolds both had 10 tackles to lead a suffocating defensive effort.
The LA Bowl will take place at 5:30 p.m. December 18th on ABC4.