CARSON, Calif. (AP) — 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Bellinger was the Aztecs’ second-leading receiver this season with a modest 29 catches in an offense that didn’t produce a 400-yard receiver. The backup absences also could have affected the Aztecs’ special teams mistakes, which included a punt that went off the back of Matt Araiza’s blockers and through the end zone for a safety in the third quarter.
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.
Utah State: What a finish for the Aggies, who sprinted past the frontrunners at the tape to win it all. Anderson took over a team that went 1-5 amid a tumultuous coaching change last season, but his group already exceeded all expectations by making the Aggies’ first conference title game since their inaugural year in the Mountain West in 2013.
San Diego State: The Aztecs had a massive letdown after a resilient season under Hoke, who produced the first 11-win season in the school’s 99 years of football competition. The COVID problems mostly didn’t affect their starters, which means no asterisk should be attached to this dispiriting loss.
Utah State: The first Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl on Dec. 18, likely against Oregon State.
San Diego State: Most likely the Arizona Bowl or the Frisco Bowl.