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Dr. Saturday

Mid-Major Monday: Utah State has a finishing problem

Graham Watson
Dr. Saturday

Weekly notes from the undercard.

It was like déjà vu all over again - again - for Utah State Friday night after losing in the final 11 seconds to BYU on a tipped ball that found the waiting arms of Marcus Mathews in the end zone to give the Cougars a 27-24 win.

It was the third time in as many losses that Utah State had given up a lead in the final minute, on the heels of late fourth quarter failures against Auburn and Colorado State. Subsequently, a team that could be 4-0 is 1-3 and looking for answers on how to finish a game.

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"We couldn't stop them when we needed to," Utah State coach Gary Andersen said after the game. "It's not one phase, not one group. We just couldn't execute when we had to have it at the end. This is as hard of a stretch as I have ever been through."

Now every Saturday is becoming a mind game, especially for a team that hasn't had a winning season since 1996 and hasn't played in a bowl since 1997. If there's one thing the Aggies can hang their hat on, it's that they're finally good enough to be in these games until the very end instead of getting blown out. Utah State ranks fifth in the nation in rushing offense, 23rd nationally in total offense and 24th in scoring offense. It's total defense ranks 29th in the country.

It might have a chance to get back in the win column this week against a Wyoming team that, while 3-1, has beaten just one quality opponent.

THE CRIB SHEET. Elsewhere in mid-majordom…

On the other sideline, BYU has a quarterback controversy after Riley Nelson led the Cougars back from a 24-13 fourth-quarter deficit with two touchdown passes, including the game-winning score. Nelson replaced starter Jake Heaps with about 5 minutes remaining in the third quarter and became an instant catalyst for the offense. But coach Bronco Mendenhall isn't ready to declare Nelson the new starter and wants to see how practice goes before making a decision.

"How best we'll use our quarterbacks will remain to be seen," Mendenhall said during his weekly press conference. "I probably won't announce a starting quarterback, at least publicly, until maybe Thursday."{YSP:MORE}

Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said he didn't initially see the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that ultimately led to his team's 35-34 loss to Air Force, but he sure had a lot to say about calling that penalty in that particular situation.

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"There's a lot of stuff when you have rivalry games and you say 'Hey, guys, go chill out' because there's stuff going on," coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "But to make that call then is a huge, huge penalty. It just changes the whole complexion of the deal. I hope those guys can sleep well tonight."

San Jose State defeated Colorado State Saturday, 38-31, for its second consecutive win. The Spartans hadn't won back-to-back games — or any game away from Spartan Stadium — since 2008.

RUSH THE FIELD: Wins worthy of a bleacher-clearing celebration...

Middle Tennessee earned its first win of the season after quarterback Logan Kilgore found Anthony Amos for a 33-yard touchdown strike with 11 seconds remaining for a 38-31 win over Memphis.

After that loss, Memphis might be on its way to another one-win season. The Tigers still have chances against fellow Conference USA bottom dwellers Tulane and UAB, but the odds aren't in their favor.

GAME OF THE WEEK: SMU 40, TCU 33 (Overtime).
SMU hasn't enjoyed many wins over TCU — just one since 1998 — so a hearty congratulations to June Jones and his Mustangs for earning only the second win over a ranked opponent since the program was hit with the NCAA death penalty in the mid-1980s. And it almost didn't happen.

SMU actually gave up a 16-point lead in the fourth quarter as TCU quarterback Casey Pachall threw three fourth-quarter touchdowns. The win earned SMU some love in the "other receiving votes" category in the AP poll and make the Mustangs the favorite to win Conference USA West for the second consecutive season.

YOUTUBE DEDICATION OF THE WEEK:
This week's musical tribute goes out to Utah State, which, as referenced above, has lost three games this season in the final minutes of games. Don Henley wants you to know, "In a New York minute, everything can change."

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Alex Carder, Western Michigan.
Carder has been flirting with player of the week status the past few weeks after stellar games against Central Michigan and Illinois, but his 429-yard, five-touchdown performance in the Broncos' 38-31 win over Connecticut was undeniable. Carter completed 72.5 percent of his passes, including the game-winning score with 2:03 remaining.

Honorable mention: BYU quarterback Riley Nelson came off the bench to lead the Cougars to a come-from-behind win with two fourth-quarter touchdown passes. … Air Force linebacker Brady Amack had 23 tackles in the Falcons' win over Navy. … New Mexico State quarterback Matt Christian threw for 296 yards with four touchdowns and another 101 yards rushing in the Aggies' 42-28 win over hapless New Mexico .… And Fresno State receiver Jalen Saunders had 127 receiving yards against Ole Miss, his third consecutive 100-yard game.

WHAT THE…

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Bad officiating was rampant in non-AQ games this week, but nowhere was it worse than in Hawaii's 44-26 win over Louisiana Tech in Ruston, La. Among other mishaps, the game featured a 22-minute delay to determine whether Hawaii had been given five downs (somewhere Missouri fans are groaning) and the Warriors somehow received the opening kickoff in both halves (wait, what?). The best part? WAC commissioner Karl Benson was on hand to see all of it. However, the league office has yet to issue a statement.

A SOMEWHAT ARBITRARY MID-MAJOR TOP 10
1. Boise State (4-0). Quarterback Kellen Moore had a rough afternoon against Nevada, but Broncos had little trouble staying undefeated.
2. Houston (5-0). The Cougars are the only other undefeated non-AQ team, but things will get interesting this weekend against another C-USA outfit that can't stop throwing (mostly because it can't stop anybody else), East Carolina.
3. SMU (4-1). Big win against TCU this weekend gives the Mustangs new life in the poll.
4. Southern Miss (4-1). After an ugly, turnover-filled loss to Marshall, the Golden Eagles are quietly reestablishing themselves as a contender in the C-USA East.
5. Louisiana-Lafayette (4-1). The Ragin' Cajuns would be ranked higher if they were in a better conference, but they're still one of the nation's best non-AQ teams.
6. Air Force (3-1). The win over Navy might be just what the Falcons need to make them a legitimate Mountain West contender.
7. Navy (2-2). Tough loss to Air Force Saturday, and it doesn't get any easier this week against Southern Miss.
8. San Diego State (3-1). The Aztecs had the benefit of not playing last weekend and a lot of other teams slipping.
9. Bowling Green (3-2). The Falcons had a rough afternoon at West Virginia and should have another stiff test against Western Michigan.
10. Western Michigan (3-2). The Broncos had a big win over Connecticut this weekend thanks to an offense that rivals any in the country right now.
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Honorable Mention: Colorado State (3-2), Temple (3-2), Ohio (4-1), Hawaii (3-2), BYU (3-2).

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Graham Watson is on Facebook and Twitter: Follow her @Yahoo_Graham.

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