No matter what happens in Air Force's final two regular-season games and the bowl game, the Falcons have made a significant accomplishment this season.
Air Force won the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy, given to the winner of the round robin between the three service academies, for the first time since 2002. Air Force beat Navy early in October and knocked off Army on Saturday.
That accomplishment is one of the measures of success for Air Force. Senior players said it was the highlight of their career, even better than winning a bowl game last year.
"It's good to come up here, and for our kids especially, to create a memory," coach Troy Calhoun said after Air Force claimed a 42-22 victory at Army. "That's what they did, through their work and through their dedication."
The victory at West Point took some of the sting away from a three-game losing streak that ended any chances Air Force had of winning the Mountain West title.
"Ecstatic," linebacker Jordan Waiwaiole said. "It's been too long since the trophy came back to us.
"The Commander-in-Chief's Trophy is huge for us, not to mention it helps steer us back on track to where we need to be after having a rough couple weeks."
Air Force should get to eight victories without much trouble. This week, the Falcons face New Mexico. Then they finish at UNLV. Those might be the two worst teams in the Mountain West.
While the Falcons had high hopes after a 5-1 start and a national ranking, eight victories with the chance to get another in a bowl game would be a fine season. Calhoun has taken the Falcons to bowl games in four consecutive seasons.
"It's way beyond my expectations when I hired Troy, I'll be honest," athletics director Hans Mueh said. "The first year, if he had gone 1-11, I still would have been sold on him.
"But he turned this program around immediately and has been very consistent in his approach to football games. We're in every game, basically. I'm very, very proud of what he's been able to do with these kids. They love him, he loves them, he loves the school. He's perfect for the institution."
--The Falcons are bowl-eligible, and the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La., seems like the most likely destination. "We would be honored and love to go to Shreveport," athletics director Hans Mueh said. "And they are ready to welcome us with open arms. But there's no such thing as a bad bowl game, so I don't really care. We'll see how that plays out."
--Sometimes, a little luck isn't a bad thing. Against Army, QB Tim Jefferson threw a deep post pass to Mikel Hunter. But the ball was underthrown and Jonathan Warzeka ran his route a little too deep, streaked in front of Hunter and caught the pass for 53-yard touchdown. "I'm not going to lie," Jefferson said. "There are some plays in college football that are great plays. There are some plays that are pure luck. That play was pure luck. I wasn't even throwing it to him."
--Air Force has gotten off to some poor starts this season, and fell behind, 6-0, to Army. But the Falcons held the Black Knights to field goals instead of touchdowns, then took over the game in the second quarter, scoring three touchdowns. "Once we got on all cylinders, we didn't look back," WR Jonathan Warzeka said.
GAME BALL GOES TO: WR Jonathan Warzeka -- The Falcons didn't bludgeon the Black Knights, even though they won by 20. Army had one more first down. The difference was two huge plays by Warzeka, a 53-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter and a 63-yarder in the third quarter. Those were Warzeka's only catches, and they turned the game in the Falcons' favor.
KEEP AN EYE ON: LB Brady Amack -- Amack had a very good game against Army, and seems to be benefiting from all the experience he has picked up this season. He was aggressive against the Black Knights' option attack. Air Force's linebackers haven't been aggressive enough at times this season. Amack, who suffered an ankle injury earlier this season, but didn't miss any games, and seems to be healthy again.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Hopefully what we've done is create something these guys can carry with them for quite some time." -- Coach Troy Calhoun, on winning the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: Air Force's defense looked much better, when it wasn't playing an elite opponent like TCU or Utah. There were some issues against Army's running game, but mostly Air Force did a solid job with its assignments and tackling. The Falcons also won the turnover battle 2-0, something that has been a staple for Air Force teams under Troy Calhoun, but had fallen off a bit this season.
STILL NEEDS WORK: QB Tim Jefferson and RB Asher Clark were a big part of the Falcons' offensive success early in the season, but each is in a little bit of a slump. Jefferson hit a few big plays in the passing game against Army, but his accuracy was off. Clark was on a 1,000-yard pace earlier this season, but struggled against some of the very good defenses the Falcons faced, and had mixed results against Army.
--Starting NG Ryan Gardner returned from a groin injury and went right into the starting lineup. He is a big part of Air Force's defense, especially against the run, and the Falcons showed some improvement against Army.
--Starting FB Nathan Walker used to spell Jared Tew, but with Tew out, Walker has rarely gotten a break. Walker has responded well, and had his first 100-yard game against Army.
--QB Tim Jefferson was hurt for a few moments against Army after taking a huge hit after releasing a pass. He was checked for a concussion, but those tests were clean and he returned after missing the rest of that series.
It looked more like the BYU of old, winning big and doing it with a balanced offensive attack.
The Cougars swarmed UNLV in the first quarter, and sent the Rebels to their eighth loss with a monster second quarter that showed some progress for a 4-5 team that has won three of its last four games.
BYU rolled up a season-high 516 yards in the 55-7 victory, while the defense didn't give up a score until 41 seconds remained at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
"This was the breakout game that we've been talking about all season that we needed to have happen," running back J.J. Di Luigi said. "The receiving game was awesome. The running game was solid, too.
"Over the last few weeks, we've been emphasizing efficiency and really catching the ball, focusing on our assignments and doing what we need to do on each play. It just came together today."
BYU was coming off a bye week, so coach Bronco Mendenhall expected some progress. But freshman quarterback Jake Heaps was very much improved with skill, timing and confidence, especially with his third-down accuracy.
Mendenhall noted leading up to the game that "nothing is coming easy" to the Cougars, and he expected another tight game.
But this one was 38-0 at halftime, and Heaps didn't have to play the fourth quarter. Kind of like the Cougars of old, really, with some starters ending their days early.
--BYU entered the game averaging about 16 points, one of the worst productions in the country. But BYU put up 24 points in the second quarter alone. Remember, before facing UNLV, the Cougars hadn't scored more than 25 points in a game this year. "I think that we're getting there," RB Bryan Kariya said of the offensive performance. "It was something we had been waiting for. We all knew it would happen, but it was just a matter of time, I guess."
--BYU passed for 300 yards and rushed for 216, striking the balance that the program is known for. "I think we played probably our most complete game today from an offensive perspective," coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "We had more balance than what we have had in terms of running the ball and throwing it. We caught the ball more cleanly in critical moments than we have before. Overall it was a solid team performance on both sides."
--Freshman QB Jake Heaps was pulled in the fourth quarter in favor of sophomore backup James Lark, who played for the first time at the college level. "It felt a little bit like high school," Heaps said of standing on the sidelines late in the game. He won three state titles in high school.
GAME BALL GOES TO: QB Jake Heaps put together his first really solid game at the college level. It's no easy thing to be the starting quarterback at BYU, a tradition that has been revered by Cougar fans for more than three decades. But the freshman has stayed strong and mature in spite of the growing pains. Much work remains, but this was really good progress, completing 19-of-31 passes for a career-high 294 yards.
KEEP AN EYE ON: BYU has won three of its last four games and is feeling confident going into what, mathematically, may be the season's biggest game. The Cougars (4-5) really need to win Saturday at Colorado State, then beat New Mexico at home the following Saturday, to assure bowl eligibility. The final game is at Utah over Thanksgiving weekend.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "When we have the combination of the two, the run and pass game, that's the BYU style. It feels great to finally get a little momentum and go in the right direction. We knew where we could be and the talent that we have. We've been saying we needed to pick it up. Today, we did." -- RB J.J. Di Luigi.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: Against UNLV, BYU converted 11 of 17 third-down attempts. That was a major sticking point over the bye week. Last season, the Cougars were No. 1 in the nation in that category and this year ranked among the worst. "Obviously, when you're able to convert first downs, it's huge," QB Jake Heaps said. "It's one of those things where it builds up an offense and it's demoralizing for a defense. That's something that this place has always been great at, third-down conversions. That's why we've always been a successful offense."
STILL NEEDS WORK: The big win over UNLV did come against a team that fell to 1-8. Any signs of hubris are clearly undeserved. BYU will have a chance to prove it can win away from Provo, which hasn't been fun this year with blowout losses at Florida State, Utah State, Air Force and TCU.
--QB Jake Heaps won his third game as a BYU starter, the most for any freshman signal caller in school history.
--RB Josh Quezada, another true freshman, scored his first three rushing touchdowns at the college level.
--BYU is in search of a season-opening game for the 2011 season. It was originally announced that BYU would open the 2011 season at Oregon State on Sept. 3. However, the Pac-12 schedule released last week has that meeting set for Oct. 15. BYU already has games at Texas on Sept. 10, and at home against still-rival Utah on Sept. 17. It could very well schedule an FCS team to begin the year.
Colorado State didn't beat San Diego State, but the game could still be a positive development for a young program.
The Rams wanted to get a win against one of the better teams in the Mountain West and win on the road, a couple of things that haven't happened very often the last couple years.
In a 24-19 loss to the Aztecs, Colorado State proved it is getting closer.
The Rams trailed, 7-6, at halftime, took a second-half lead, gained as many first downs as the Aztecs and were only out-gained, 323-297. In the big picture, Colorado State coach Steve Fairchild couldn't be displeased.
"I thought we gave ourselves a chance to win," Fairchild said. "San Diego State is a good team. I give them their credit."
There were a couple of reasons to be disappointed.
Freshman sensation Ronnie Hillman of San Diego State gained far too many yards, 151 on 31 carries. The Rams gave up five sacks and were not effective enough in the red zone, settling for three short field-goal attempts.
"Their defense is crazy in the first place," fullback Zac Pauga of Colorado State said. "Then it seemed like they knocked it up a notch when we got down into the red zone, and we just didn't match their intensity."
Colorado State had a 13-10 lead on an 88-yard fumble recovery for touchdown by Mychal Sisson, the kind of big play the Rams' defense hasn't made too often this season.
Even when the Aztecs took the lead back in the third quarter and built a double-digit lead in the fourth, the Rams showed resiliency, scoring late in the game and barely missing a two-point conversion that could have pulled them to within a field goal.
With so many underclassmen playing, those are things the Rams can build on as they finish up their season, although losing and officially being eliminated from bowl eligibility stung.
"I'm just disappointed and at a loss of words because this is a game that we had," quarterback Pete Thomas said. "We just didn't execute."
--Even though Colorado State freshman QB Pete Thomas was sacked five times by San Diego State, he took the blame. He had a solid game, completing 22 of 40 passes for 266 yards, but threw an interception and thought he could have played better. "The offensive line played good," Thomas said. "There were some open shots that I didn't hit and I obviously wish that I could have them back, but I can't. I take responsibility for that."
--Colorado State gave up a 26-yard touchdown run to RB Ronnie Hillman, which gave the Aztecs the lead for good. The Rams wanted to limit big plays but gave up too many. "We had a couple of coverage breakdowns and missed tackles, which is what they thrive on," LB Mychal Sisson said. "They thrive on the big plays, and we let them have too many of those."
--One of the most inconsistent areas for Colorado State this season has been its running game. There have been some very good games on the ground, but the Rams did very little at San Diego State, getting only 31 yards on 34 rushes. TB Leonard Mason had a particularly tough time, with 11 yards on 10 carries. "Their defense is obviously a pressure defense," Colorado State coach Steve Fairchild said. "I thought we'd run the ball a little bit better than we did."
GAME BALL GOES TO: QB Pete Thomas -- Playing in his hometown of San Diego, Thomas had a solid game and kept the Rams in the game. He completed 22-of-40 passes for 266 yards and a touchdown despite being sacked five times. He wasn't perfect, failing to make enough plays in the red zone and throwing an interception. But he was the main reason the Rams were in the game to the end.
KEEP AN EYE ON: RB Raymond Carter -- Carter is back from a knee injury. He was the starter to begin the season and was starting to play well when he got hurt. RB Leonard Mason took over the job when Carter was out, but Mason was shut down by the Aztecs. Carter wasn't great, but his 34 yards on 11 carries led the team. Carter should continue to have a big role in the offense going forward.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think we are improving as a football team. I thought we played well." -- Coach Steve Fairchild.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: The Rams haven't forced many turnovers this season, but got a lot of big plays against San Diego State. Dominique Vinson and Mychal Sisson each had interceptions, the first of their careers. The Rams also recovered three fumbles, including one returned by Sisson for an 88-yard touchdown against an Aztecs' offense that hadn't lost a fumble since the first quarter of the opener. The Rams aren't good enough to consistently win without winning the turnover margin, so this was a step in the right direction.
STILL NEEDS WORK: The Rams can't win without a balanced offense. On Saturday, they had the same problem that plagued them early in the season, when the passing game or running game would show up, but rarely did both play well in the same game. The Rams averaged less than a yard per rushing attempt against San Diego State, even though Colorado State kept trying to pound the ball and finished with 34 carries. When the Rams can't run the ball, that puts too much pressure on the passing game, and QB Pete Thomas was sacked five times.
--LB Alex Williams suffered a knee injury on San Diego State's first play from scrimmage and did not return to the game.
--LB Michael Kawulok played well when pressed into duty after LB Alex Williams' injury. Kawulok had 10 tackles and probably would be the starter if Williams misses more time.
--WR/RB Tony Drake lost his kickoff return job earlier this year when he missed a game for disciplinary reasons, but is back and sharing kickoff return duties with Derek Good. Against San Diego State, Drake averaged 32 yards per return.
First-year UNLV coach Bobby Hauck, concerned about his team's propensity for slow starts on the road this season, stressed the importance of getting off to a quick start at BYU.
Made sense. Both teams were averaging under 17 points per game and there were whispers in Provo that true freshman quarterback Jake Heaps might be a bust. Put the Cougars in an early hole and he could crumble.
So how did Hauck's Rebels respond? How about with arguably the school's worst performance in a decade.
With Heaps passing for 294 yards and two touchdowns, doubling his touchdown output of eight previous games, BYU (4-5, 3-2 Mountain West) rolled to a 38-0 halftime lead, led, 52-0, after three quarters and cruised to a 55-7 victory at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
Not bad for a Cougar team that hadn't scored more than 25 points in any previous game this season.
UNLV (1-8, 1-4) didn't even manage a first down until the 12:07 mark of the second quarter and had only 74 yards in total offense before a scoring drive in the final three minutes against the BYU backups.
The 48-point loss tied for the fourth worst in school history.
Afterward a frustrated Hauck openly questioned his team's toughness.
"I'm really disappointed with the way we played and, frankly, I don't think we have enough toughness on our football team," Hauck said. "That starts with the head football coach not being tough enough.
"I've got to improve enough myself. So we're going to spend the next 10 months developing toughness on our football team because when things go wrong, we have a tendency to snowball and that's not good."
--The 48-point loss at BYU tied for the fourth worst defeat in UNLV history.
--UNLV is 0-5 on the road this season, with an average loss of 34.2 points per game. The Rebels, who have dropped seven in a row on the road dating to an Oct. 24, 2009, victory at New Mexico, have road games remaining at San Diego State and Hawaii.
--The Rebels have only 130 first downs this season, an average of 14.4 per game.
GAME BALL GOES TO: RB Tim Cornett -- The true freshman from Houston continues to be one of the team's few offensive bright spots. He accounted for over half of UNLV's yards in total offense with 47 yards rushing on 13 carries and also had a team-high three receptions for 26 yards.
KEEP AN EYE ON: QB Caleb Herring -- With senior Omar Clayton (3-of-8, 13 yards, one interception) struggling, UNLV coach Bobby Hauck quickly inserted this talented redshirt freshman into the lineup at BYU. Herring responded by completing 8-of-21 passes for 109 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. Don't be surprised if Herring gets the bulk of the quarterback snaps the rest of the season as the Rebels look ahead to the 2011 season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I thought we had a great shot. I thought we were going to do really well today. Guess I was wrong." -- UNLV senior S Alex De Giacomo, following the Rebels' 55-7 loss at BYU.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: UNLV's freshman class, led by QB Caleb Herring and RB Tim Cornett, continues to pick up valuable playing time. The big question is, will that translate into more victories in 2011?
STILL NEEDS WORK: Quite simply there isn't an area on the team that couldn't use major improvement. The defense, which surrendered 55 points and 516 yards in total offense to BYU, which was averaging 16.0 points and 302.6 yards per game, continues to regress at an alarming rate.
--RB Deante' Purvis started the BYU game but left after one carry because of an undisclosed injury.
--WR Michael Johnson injured his left ankle early in the first quarter, but returned to catch two passes for 19 yards.
What started off as a possible going-away party for New Mexico coach Mike Locksley turned into a coming out party for quarterback Darian "Stump" Godfrey.
Godfrey, a true freshman making his first career start, had 280 yards of total offense and drove the Lobos 47 yards in the game's final 5:33 to set up James Aho's 38-yard field goal that lifted New Mexico to an improbable 34-31 victory over Wyoming on Saturday night at University Stadium.
The victory prevented the Lobos (1-8, 1-4 Mountain West Conference) from suffering their first winless season since 1987.
"Offensively, we saw the maturation of a freshman quarterback, who I can't say enough great things of how proud I am of Stump Godfrey, the way he came and performed and executed in a tough situation," Locksley said.
Godfrey completed 16-of-20 passes for 211 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 69 yards and a touchdown on a game-high 23 carries as the Lobos amassed 430 yards on offense.
Tight end Lucas Reed had seven receptions for 100 yards and two touchdowns, and running back Kasey Carrier had 97 rushing yards and a touchdown on 13 carries.
The Lobos' defense was shredded for the second consecutive week, giving up 536 yards to a Wyoming offense that came into the game ranked last among the 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in total offense with an average of 237.6 yards per game.
The Cowboys (2-8, 0-6) had three players rush for more than 100 yards, but what separated the game from the Lobos' 38-14 loss the previous week at Colorado State was the defense's ability to come up with the big play.
New Mexico forced three Wyoming turnovers in the red zone on three consecutive possessions in the second and third quarters. Then, defensive end Seth Johannemann forced a fumble on a sack of Cowboys quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels in the fourth quarter at the Wyoming 11.
That set up Godfrey's 5-yard touchdown run to give New Mexico a 31-24 lead midway through the fourth quarter. Though Wyoming responded with a 67-yard drive to tie the game, 31-31, the Lobos finally made plays offensively to get into field-goal range.
Aho, who hit a game-winning field with 12 seconds left to beat Colorado State last season for Locksley's only other win as New Mexico coach, tucked his 38-yarder barely inside the left upright to stun the Cowboys.
Locksley has a 2-19 record as Lobos coach, and the win, at least temporarily, quiets talk about his future with the program.
--With the starts of QB Stump Godfrey and WR Michael Scarlett, the Lobos have had 37 player start this season. Godfrey became the fourth starter at quarterback. He is the third true freshman to start this season, joining QB Tarean Austin and S Ravonne Carter.
--Ever since he hit the goal post three times in a 24-19 loss to Brigham Young last season, K James Aho has converted 10-of-11 field goal attempts, including two game-winners. He hit a 27-yarder to beat Colorado State last season and came back with a 38-yarder to defeat Wyoming on Saturday. Aho earlier connected on a 51-yard field goal, the longest of his career.
--Weird stat of the week: The Lobos' two victories in the Mike Locksley era have come against the defending New Mexico Bowl champions. Last season, New Mexico beat Colorado State, which defeated Fresno State in the 2008 New Mexico Bowl at University Stadium -- home of the Lobos. Saturday, New Mexico toppled Wyoming, which defeated Fresno State in last year's New Mexico Bowl.
GAME BALL GOES TO: It's hard to make QB Godfrey share the award in his hour of triumph, but his heroics would not have gone toward victory if not for the play of TE Lucas Reed. The sophomore had seven receptions for 100 yards and two touchdowns. Reed made a spectacular, one-handed catch over two defenders in the end zone right before halftime to help New Mexico close the deficit to 21-14. He also hauled in a 15-yard reception on third-and-2 at the New Mexico 45 on a pass that a Wyoming defender tipped. Godfrey was 16-for-20 passing for 211 yards and two touchdowns. He kept his poise in the face of Wyoming pressure and beat two Cowboy defenders to the end zone for a the go-ahead touchdown at 31-24 in the fourth quarter. Godfrey finished with 69 yards rushing.
KEEP AN EYE ON: A bit of reality might set in as the Lobos watch the game video. They allowed Wyoming, a team that was averaging 77.4 rushing yards per game, to run for 392 yards. Now, the Lobos travel to Air Force, the No. 3 rushing offense in the country at 309.9 yards per game. You could see New Mexico's confidence mushroom in the second half against Wyoming, and that could be key when the Lobos go on the road to Colorado Springs. New Mexico will need another inspired performance to contend with the Falcons. How the Lobos respond when adversity hits, now that they've tasted success, will determine how competitive they will be in their last three games of the season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It feels great. The environment in the locker room afterward ... we had the same situation as we did last year (in the win over Colorado State). ... It's great to rush on the field with our fans. You can't ask for anything better than that." -- New Mexico MLB Carmen Messina, who had a game-high 12 tackles and forced a fumble vs. Wyoming, to the Albuquerque Journal.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: The Lobos had a season-high 219 rushing yards against Wyoming. Diminutive RB Kasey Carrier found daylight in gaining 97 yards on 13 carries. The much-maligned offensive line created holes, and New Mexico might have found a good combination in Carrier's elusiveness, QB Stump Godfrey's speed and RB James Wright's power. Godfrey's inexperience contributed to his five sacks, but he finished with 69 rushing yards on 23 carries. Wright had 65 yards on 19 carries and helped keep the Lobos in manageable second- and third-down situations.
STILL NEEDS WORK: New Mexico was awful in defending the run against the Cowboys, who entered the game as the fifth-worst rushing offense in the FBS at 77.4 yards per game. Alvester Alexander's 94-yard touchdown run in the first half was the longest run against the Lobos in team history. The Cowboys rushed 45 times for 392 yards, an average of 8.7 yards per carry, and Alexander had three touchdowns. New Mexico will not win the rest of the season against Air Force, Brigham Young and TCU playing similar defense. The problem is that the supposed weakness of the defense is the secondary. New Mexico's linebacker came up with some huge plays in the red zone against Wyoming, Carmen Messina and Joe Stoner each making strips that resulted in turnovers, but they have to do a better job of fighting off blockers close to the line of scrimmage.
--QB B.R. Holbrook missed his fifth game this season, this time because of a bruised triceps muscle he suffered the previous week against Colorado State. True freshman Stump Godfrey started in his place, becoming the fourth quarterback to start for the Lobos this season.
--S A.J. Butler missed his fourth game of the season. After missing three games because of a thumb injury, he missed Saturday's game because of a shoulder stinger he suffered against Colorado State.
--WR Bryant Williams was in street clothes Saturday and the reason he did not play was not immediately known. Senior Michael Scarlett started in his place.
--K Garrett Hentrup suffered an apparent leg injury, forcing walk-on Justus Adams to handle four kickoffs. Adams averaged 66 yards and had one touchback.
--WR Myles Daughtry quit the program earlier in the week.
SAN DIEGO STATE
Someone should tell the Aztecs they can stop proving how good they are by overcoming mistakes and still winning games.
San Diego State made a third consecutive game more difficult than it had to be, but still came away with a 24-19 victory over Colorado State at Qualcomm Stadium on Saturday night.
The Aztecs turned the ball over five times, but survived thanks to Ronnie Hillman's 151 rushing yards and a defense that came up big, other than a fourth-quarter touchdown drive by the Rams that cut San Diego State's lead to the final margin.
San Diego State (7-2, 4-1 Mountain West Conference) clinched a postseason berth by eliminating the Rams (3-7, 2-4) from postseason consideration.
That left the conference with five remaining bowl-eligible teams and five bowl slots to fill.
The Aztecs held Colorado State to 31 yards rushing and prevented the Rams from converting any of their three fourth-down attempts.
"Our defense stepped up a ton, especially in the first half," coach Brady Hoke said. "Offensively, we moved the ball a little better in the third quarter.
"It's a good win; it's a conference win and those are always important. It's a win that we obviously needed to get as a football team, but if you play that way, 90 percent of the time you aren't going to win."
Behind hobbled quarterback Ryan Lindley, the Aztecs struggled mightily in the first half. In the game's first 25 minutes, they ran 10 plays for 33 yards and turned the ball over on Lindley's interception and on Walter Kazee's fumble.
The defense yielded only six points to that point, and the offense finally put together a 60-yard drive, culminating in Brandon Sullivan's 1-yard run with 34 seconds left in the half to give the Aztecs a 7-6 lead.
"I missed a lot of throws, and that's on me," said Lindley, who was nursing a sprained ankle that he sustained the week before against Wyoming. "I told the guys at halftime that I was killing us, and that I needed to get it together, and I did.
"You never want to turn the ball over five times, but we got the 'W' and that's all that counts."
To do that, San Diego State had to overcome more adversity in the second half.
The Aztecs were poised to go ahead, 17-6, late in the third quarter, but Lindley was stripped of the ball near the Rams goal line, and linebacker Mychal Sisson scooped up the ball and returned it 88 yards for a touchdown to give Colorado State a 13-10 lead.
Unlike ghosts of San Diego State past, this team responded with back-to-back touchdown drives to take control of the game.
--The Aztecs have won four consecutive games for the first time since the 1998 season, the last time they went to a bowl game as a member of the Western Athletic Conference. San Diego State's 7-2 start is its best since 1995 and matches the school's best start in the last 33 years.
--San Diego State has defeated Air Force, Colorado State, New Mexico and Wyoming in the same season for the first time in school history. The Aztecs have played those four schools in the same season 29 times.
--Coach Brady Hoke has an 11-10 career record at San Diego State in under two seasons. The Aztecs needed 39 games before Hoke's arrival to win 11 games. The 11 victory are the most in a two-year span since the program won 12 games from 1998-99.
GAME BALL GOES TO: The San Diego State defense was on the field for 21 minutes, 53 seconds of the first half against Colorado State. The Rams ran an extraordinary 47 plays in the first half, but accumulated only 142 yards. The Aztecs had 10 tackles for losses and four sacks in giving up six points in the first half. DL Jerome Long aided that effort by blocking a 33-yard field goal attempt. Except for a 68-yard touchdown drive late in the game, the defense kept the Rams out of the end zone and from gaining any momentum from a turnover-plagued Aztecs offense.
KEEP AN EYE ON: The Aztecs will find out where they are when they travel to national-championship contender TCU this week -- or will they. If TCU records a blowout victory, is that an indictment against San Diego State? The Horned Frogs are coming off a 47-7 victory over previously unbeaten and nationally ranked Utah. But the Aztecs are not playing their best football right now. They've started slowly in each of their last three games and allowed lesser opponents to stay in the game. San Diego State has committed 10 turnovers, had a punt blocked and surrendered an onside kick during that span. The Aztecs' mantra has been to win a conference championship, and they're still in position to do that if they can somehow knock off the Horned Frogs. They're about to discover how close -- or how far away -- they are from realizing their goal.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I wouldn't say anything to them. They don't know. They don't know what these kids do and what they have been through. They are not at practice every day, they are not out there and they aren't out in the weight room. What they say doesn't bother me." -- San Diego State coach Brady Hoke, on what he would say to critics suggesting that the Aztecs play down to the level of their competition.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: Welcome back, Ronnie Hillman. The freshman workhorse had 31 carries for 151 yards and a touchdown against Colorado State, after being limited to 105 yards on 34 carries in his previous two weeks combined after he suffered a hip-pointer against New Mexico on Oct. 23. Hillman did fumble in the fourth quarter, but his ability to run the ball helped settle the Aztecs offense in the second half, allowing QB Ryan Lindley to guide the Aztecs to 17 points. San Diego State is a different team when it can run the ball and needs Hillman's productivity down the stretch to put the finishing touches on an impressive season.
STILL NEEDS WORK: The Aztecs have to figure out alternatives to move the ball if Hillman is struggling. What's amazing about this team is that for years before the arrival of offensive coordinator Al Borges, San Diego State never had a running game but could to move the ball through the air. It has two of the best wide receivers in the Mountain West Conference, Vincent Brown and DeMarco Sampson, and should have enough weapons in the passing game to keep the offense going while the running game gets untracked.
--QB Ryan Lindley played against Colorado State despite being seen in a protective boot as late as Thursday because of a sprained ankle. He started 1-of-6 for 11 yards in the first 25 minutes before finishing 14-of-23 for 171 yards.
--FB Brandon Sullivan had only three yards rushing on two carries, with Ronnie Hillman's return to the role as featured back. Sullivan, however, scored on a 1-yard run and all four of his touchdowns have come in the last two weeks.
--OLB Miles Burris had a career-best 10 tackles Saturday, including two sacks and four tackles for losses.
The team that can't seem to get any respect because of the conference it plays in might have finally broken down the door of the BCS championship game with a dominating victory over a fellow Mountain West Conference team.
Yes, Auburn and Oregon still are sitting ahead of TCU in both major polls and the BCS rankings, but Saturday's 47-7 victory over a Utah team that was ranked No. 5 in the BCS rankings appears to have pushed TCU into the driver's seat of the non-automatic qualifier discussion. The Horned Frogs passed Boise State in the AP and USA Today polls.
The significance of the victory was even far too much for coach Gary Patterson to ignore.
"On a big scale, it's like I told them in (the locker room), they've put themselves on a different plateau," Patterson said. "The bottom line is they've put themselves on a different plateau, but they have to finish the season.
"We can only control what we can control, but I thought they made a statement today."
It was a victory that likely will propel TCU (10-0, 6-0 MWC) to a second consecutive MWC title, and it sent Utah packing to the Pac-12 next season with a loss, demoralizing the Utes in Salt Lake City.
"They smoked us," Utah defensive end Christian Cox said. "It's disheartening. We got killed."
Quarterback Andy Dalton and, as usual, the national-leading TCU defense did the damage.
Dalton completed 21 of 26 passes for a career-best 355 yards and three touchdown passes as the Utes stacked the box and dared him to throw. TCU held the Utes off the scoreboard until the Frogs had a 40-0 lead.
Simply put, TCU made it clear it is deserving of being in not only the BCS conversation, but in the national championship discussion.
--How good was TCU senior QB Andy Dalton in the team's 47-7 victory over Utah? Dalton was selected Walter Camp Football Foundation National Offensive Player of the Week after completing 21 of 26 passes for 355 yards and three touchdowns, earning his 39th win to extend his national-leading total among active quarterbacks.
--Through 10 games, TCU is allowing only 215.5 total yards of offense per game and only 8.5 points per game. Both numbers easily lead the nation.
--While Boise State still has more first place votes in the AP and USA Today polls, TCU leapfrogged the Broncos in overall points in each and is No. 3 in both. In the AP poll, TCU (two first place votes to Boise State's seven) has 1,391 points, 25 ahead of Boise State's 1,366. TCU's AP total is five points behind No. 2 Auburn's 1,396. In the USA Today coaches poll, TCU (two first place votes to Boise State's three) has 1,340 points, 10 ahead of Boise State's 1,330. TCU's USA Today total is 49 points behind No. 2 Auburn's 1,389.
GAME BALL GOES TO: QB Andy Dalton -- The senior's career-best 355 yards on 21-of-26 passing and three touchdowns flew in the face of the conventional wisdom that TCU's weakness is its passing game. While Utah tried to make TCU one-dimensional by stopping the run, Dalton responded with arguably the best game of his career, especially considering what was at stake.
KEEP AN EYE ON: LB Tanner Brock -- The sophomore is playing as well as he has at any point of his young college career. Brock had a career-high 12 tackles vs. Utah, and his 57-yard interception return was the first of his career. With his team-high 77 tackles, Brock has developed into the best player on the nation's best defense.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We'll see if we can win the next two weeks, and then we'll have a conversation." -- TCU coach Gary Patterson, when asked if his team deserves to play in the national championship game.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: TCU's defense is simply on another level, especially when compared to its Mountain West Conference peers. In six league games, TCU has outscored opponents 236-23, allowing only three touchdowns, the most recent against Utah came after the Frogs were ahead 40-0 in the fourth quarter. The Frogs held the Utes to 199 total yards (148 passing, 51 rushing). QB Andy Dalton had one of the best games of his college career. TCU has risen to No. 8 in the nation in total offense at 492.9 yards per game.
STILL NEEDS WORK: Despite what QB Andy Dalton did to Utah on Saturday, it's clear opposing teams will continue taking their chances with the passing game rather than allowing TCU's run game to beat them. With that in mind, it was disheartening for TCU fans Saturday to see sophomore RB Ed Wesley get shut down. With TCU's offensive line and Wesley's ability, TCU liked to think it didn't matter if team's stacked the box, but Wesley gained only 50 yards on 12 carries. That might not matter, but it's about the only thing opposing teams have to build a game plan around.
--CB Greg McCoy sustained a leg injury the previous week against UNLV, but he returned Saturday at Utah and had an interceptions to go with two tackles.
--LG Kyle Dooley played Saturday at Utah after missing the previous two games because of a sprained knee, but he did not start.
--RT Zach Roth (shoulder) played Saturday at Utah for the first time in three weeks.
The Utes aren't moving to the Pac-12 until next season, but that didn't prevent the TCU from showing Utah that it is in a completely different league.
The Mountain West Conference's biggest game ever turned into just another lopsided -- albeit shocking -- TCU victory. The Horned Frogs (10-0, 6-0 Mountain West Conference) thumped the Utes (8-1, 5-1) on Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium, 47-7.
"TCU thoroughly outplayed us today, and it was not even close," coach Kyle Whittingham said. "The score was not indicative of how lopsided the game was. They were better at every phase of the game, and credit goes to their team."
The game was Utah's annual blackout game, with the team wearing black uniforms and encouraging the crowd to dress in black for the occasion. The Utes blacked out against a relentless TCU defense, and the crowd ended up appropriately dressed for the occasion, mourning a humiliating loss.
TCU had a 558-199 edge in total yards and held the Utes to 51 rushing yards. Utah didn't move the ball across midfield until the fourth quarter.
"We thought our best chance to win today was ball-control and the short passing game because no one has had much success running the ball against them this year," Whittingham said.
The Utes had the ball for 20 minutes, 54 seconds and ran a total of 52 plays to TCU's 72. Utah also committed four turnovers, which kept punter Sean Sellwood from going into double digits on attempts. He punted eight times.
The Horned Frogs had eight plays that went for more than 20 yards, kept the Utes away from quarterback Andy Dalton and exploited an unusually suspect Utah secondary.
"They smoked us in every phase of the game," Utah defensive end Christian Cox said. "It is disheartening and frustrating. The game turns quickly when we make turnovers and give up big plays, and that happened today."
Even Utah's only moment of momentum turned into a disaster.
The Utes were trailing 23-0 at halftime before getting a 45-yard kickoff return from Shaky Smithson to start the second half. After two incomplete passes, Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn threw an interception.
TCU's Tanner Brock returned the ball 57 yards to the Utah 4-yard-line, leading to Ed Wesley's touchdown run and a 30-0 lead.
--The loss snapped Utah's 21-game home winning streak that was third in the nation behind Oklahoma and Boise State. The streak, the second longest in school history, started with a 44-6 victory over 11th-ranked UCLA in 2007.
--The 47-7 loss was Utah's largest margin of defeat since a 51-10 loss to Rice in 1996 and ranked as the fourth-worst loss in school history. The Utes also gave up their most points at home since a 47-35 loss to New Mexico in 2003.
--Shaky Smithson, who was limited to one punt return for 10 yards, still managed to set a Mountain West record for punt return yards in a season with 570. He broke the record last season by TCU's Jeremy Kerley.
GAME BALL GOES TO: Shaky Smithson had 158 all-purpose yards for the Utes, thanks largely to the six kickoff returns he had after TCU scores. Smithson provided the Utes with one glimmer of hope with his 45-yard kickoff return to start the second half, as Utah still harbored hopes of rallying from a 23-0 halftime deficit. Smithson's 10-yard punt return to set the MWC record for punt return yards in a season will be a source of pride at some point, but it has to be disappointing for Smithson to break the record in such a disheartening loss.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Suddenly, the Utes face an ominous finish to the season. They travel to Notre Dame next week and face San Diego State (7-2) before playing arch-rival Brigham Young. Any sudden loss in confidence could push Utah's once-promising season into an ordinary one. Expect coach Kyle Whittingham to have his players angry and ready for redemption, but the emotional effects of a 40-point loss are not easy to shake. Utah allowed 558 yards, the first time a Utes opponent went over 500 since TCU last year in a 55-28 victory.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "TCU whipped us in third-down conversions, and we had four turnovers against a great team. That is a recipe for disaster, and a lot of credit for that is simply that we played the Horned Frogs. We now have three games left, and we will find out what this team is made of as we continue to move forward." -- Utah coach Kyle Whittingham.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: LB Chaz Walker and S Brian Blechen had productive games. Walker, who was ninth in the Mountain West Conference in tackles with 7.6 per game, had a career-high 18 against TCU. His career best was 16 this season against UNLV. Blechen had nine tackles, including one for a loss, and forced a fumble to account for the Horned Frogs' only turnover.
STILL NEEDS WORK: The defensive line did not get a lot of pressure on QB Andy Dalton, but the way the Horned Frogs exposed the Utah secondary was startling. WR Josh Boyce had a 93-yard touchdown reception on which he beat DB Brandon Burton. Burton had a chance to tackle him about halfway but was too high, allowing Boyce to escape and take off for the end zone. TCU receivers were running free downfield for much of the game, even before the line had much of a chance to apply pressure.
--DE Junior Tui'one did not play against TCU because of a calf injury. DE Tevita Finau started in place of Tui'one, finishing with one tackle.
--LB Chad Manis missed the TCU game because of an ankle injury.
--LB J.J. Williams, who has been sidelined all season because of a foot injury, made his first appearance.
Call it the low point of Wyoming's season. Despite season highs of 392 rushing yards and 536 yards of total offense, the Cowboys committed four turnovers that killed them in a 34-31 loss at New Mexico.
Wyoming (2-8, 0-6 Mountain West Conference) had two fumbles and an interception in the red zone.
Running back Robert Herron, who had a career-high 122 yards on nine carries, fumbled at the New Mexico goal line and again at the New Mexico 10 in the third quarter, preventing the Cowboys from building upon a 21-14 halftime lead.
That lead should have been bigger, but a miscommunication between quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels and wide receiver Chris McNeil led to an interception at the 2-yard-line right before halftime.
Wyoming had moved the ball to the Lobo 16, looking to add to its lead.
The Lobos erased a 24-17 Wyoming lead with back-to-back touchdowns to start the fourth quarter.
Defensive end Seth Johannemann hit Carta-Samuels, forcing a fumble at the Wyoming 11 with 9:39 left in the game that helped New Mexico (1-8, 1-4) take the led.
New Mexico, which came into the game getting outscored by an average of 28.8 points per game, marched 47 yards in the final 5:33 of the game to set up James Aho's 38-yard field goal as time expired.
"If you're turning the ball over four times inside the 10-yard line, you're probably not going to win very many football games," Wyoming coach Dave Christensen told the Casper Star-Tribune.
"If we don't get that figured out, we're not going to win another game this year."
Herron was one of three Cowboys to go over the 100-yard rushing mark in the game. Alvester Alexander had a career-high 151 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 19 carries. He had a 94-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, the second-longest run in school history.
Carta-Samuels added 119 yards on 17 carries, despite two sacks, as Wyoming averaged 8.7 yards per carry.
"We felt we could run the ball," Christensen told the Star-Tribune. "We had a pretty good feel coming into the game that we could rush the ball. I thought we moved the ball fine."
The Cowboys simply could not hold onto the ball. And when they kept giving the Lobos the momentum, the defense no longer could stop New Mexico. The Lobos' 17 fourth-quarter points were more than the 16 they scored in the fourth quarters of their previous eight games.
--Despite entering the game on a four-game losing streak, Wyoming had a plus-6 turnover ratio in that span. The Cowboys had a minus-four turnover ratio against the Lobos, giving up the football on an interception at the UNM 2-yard-line and on fumbles at the Lobo goal line, the Lobo 10 and the Wyoming 11.
--The Cowboys had three players run for more than 100 yards for the first time since 1995, when Lew Sexton, Jermaine McDowell and Marques Brigham did it in a victory over San Diego State.
--One of the Cowboys' problems on defense this season is their third-down defense. New Mexico, which was converting 29.8 percent of its third-down chances, was 12-of-19 against Wyoming, including eight of its last 11. The Cowboys rank 113th nationally in third-down conversions on defense, yielding a first down 47.1 percent of the time (65-for-138).
GAME BALL GOES TO: RB Alvester Alexander could not have done much more than he did against the Lobos on Saturday. The sophomore rushed for 151 yards and three touchdowns on 19 carries and gave the Cowboys some breathing room in the first half with a 94-yard touchdown run --the longest New Mexico has allowed in its history. He had nearly double the 77.4 yards the Cowboys averaged in their first nine games. Wyoming might want to consider giving him more opportunities in the red zone if backup Robert Herron can't hold onto the ball. Alexander needs 88 yards to surpass his 2009 output of 640.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Coach Dave Christensen made a big deal of Wyoming starting over after game six, calling the second half of 2010 a separate season. The Cowboys are 0-4 in the so-called "separate season." They were supposed to start picking up some victories because the competition was a lot weaker down the stretch than what they faced in the first half of the season. But if the Cowboys can't win games after running for 392 yards and amassing 536 yards of total offense against previously winless New Mexico, they have a very real chance of being losing to UNLV and Colorado State. The Rebels beat the Lobos, 45-10 and Colorado State beat New Mexico, 38-14.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm kind of at a loss for words right now. We work so hard and worked in the offseason so hard, to have this happen is really disappointing and frustrating. ... We just want to get a win." -- Wyoming FS Chris Prosinski.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: The maligned Wyoming offensive line helped the Cowboys move the ball on the ground for 392 yards. Wyoming had 192 yards on 17 carries in the third quarter, yet came away with zero points. If there is a silver lining from a five-game losing streak that includes a loss to previously winless New Mexico, it's that the offensive line finally is starting to help move the ball. Wyoming is averaging 437 yards per game and 272 rushing yards per game. That has raised the Cowboys' rushing average from 68.1 yards to 108.9 yards per game.
STILL NEEDS WORK: Wyoming has a potential big-play running back, Robert Herron, but he cost the Cowboys the game with two fumbles in the red zone. He fumbled at the goal line, and New Mexico responded with a field goal at the other end. That turned what would've been a 28-14 Wyoming lead into a 21-17 game. Herron fumbled on Wyoming's next possession to give the Lobos new life.
Wyoming's third-down defense must improve for the Cowboys to have a chance to win either of its last two games. The Lobos rushed for a season-high 219 yards, which helped give them more manageable third-down situations.
--LB Ghaali Muhammad, who missed the previous week's game because of an undisclosed injury, didn't start but returned against New Mexico.
--FS Chris Prosinski had a team-high 11 tackles, moving into fourth place on the Wyoming all-time list with 357.
--DE Gabe Knapton had 10 tackles and three sacks against the Lobos.
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