"We got ahead of them enough to be able to dictate what we wanted to do and play the game we wanted to," coach Matt Wells said. "For that, I'm happy."
Quarterback David Fales struggled against Utah State's defense and without two of his top receivers. The senior threw a pair of picks, the Aggies' first interceptions of the year, and Utah State ended up with four turnovers while giving away none.
The Aggies pounced on all their opportunities including a third-quarter fumble at the goal line that shifted the momentum out of the half and locked the Spartans out of touchdowns on their first three trips to the red zone. By the time San Jose State was able to lift the haze from its offense and get a touchdown in the third quarter, Utah State had a three-score lead.
"I feel like we did our job," corner Nevin Lawson said. "Entering this week, as a secondary I feel like we've been getting better with our communication. I feel like tonight, we showed that with our performance."
The passing matchup had been hyped before the game, but Chuckie Keeton was the one who shined on ESPN Friday night primetime. The junior had 312 yards of total offense with four touchdowns. His passing touchdown to Brandon Swindall and an option scoring run to the end zone virtually silenced any Spartan threat.
Utah State's greatest edge was the ground game, where it held a 253-101 advantage. Senior back Joey DeMartino had a career-high 120 yards, taking over as the primary back as Joe Hill pulled up short with an injury in the second half. The fourth quarter was unsuspenseful, as Utah State went on a clock-chewing, 17-play, 88-yard drive and tacked on a field goal as added insurance.
"We wanted to come in and establish the run," Wells said. "I'm proud of [DeMartino] and his effort and the O-line. That drive there at the end just sealed it for us."
Utah State rang up points early in the first quarter, notching a pair of touchdown drives. The Aggies relied heavily on the run to move down the field, but Keeton wrapped up a pair of scoring drives with touchdown passes to his tight ends: one to D.J. Tialavea to start the game, and another to Keegan Andersen to take a two-score lead.
The Aggies couldn't punch it in again in the first half, settling for a trio of field goals by Nick Diaz to take a 23-6 lead. Wells called a pair of timeouts before San Jose State kicker Austin Lopez could try a 43-yard attempt at the end of the half, and he ended up missing right the first miss of his career.
Diaz was 4 for 4 on his field goal attempts, the first Aggie to kick as many field goals since 1999. Utah State scored on all seven trips to the red zone, but had hoped for a few more touchdowns.
"Any time we're in the red zone, we don't want to settle for anything less than a touchdown," Keeton said. "Personally, I like seeing [Diaz] kick extra points instead of field goals."
Utah State ended seeing a lot of yellow nine penalties for 95 yards but still not as much as the Spartans. The home team racked up 11 flags for 108 yards in the game.
Utah State suffered a costly blow to the offensive line in the game, as senior guard Kyle Whimpey went down in the second quarter with an apparent leg injury and had to be helped off the field.
"Whenever he went down, it was like a fallen comrade," Keeton said. "Personally, I thought about him every play."
It was not the only injury on Friday night. Star Spartan safety Bene Benwikere appeared to lose consciousness in a hit with Tialavea midway through the third quarter. Spartan Stadium was breathless for 10 minutes as paramedics worked on him and eventually carted him off the field. San Jose State also lost receiver Jabari Carr mid-game to a shoulder injury.
O Chuckie Keeton has 4 total TDs, 312 yards of offense.
• USU intercepts David Fales twice, finishes with three picks.
• Six Aggies have multiple receptions in the win.