The Utah State Aggies football team is one game away from being bowl eligible.
For the second week in a row the Aggies set the tone early and never looked back behind the surprising guidance of freshman quarterback Darell Garretson.
Hawaii's team didn't get into their hotel room in Logan until early Saturday morning due to being delayed for more than eight hours at LAX airport after the shooting tragedy there killed one and injured scores.
Though that unfortunate event in Los Angeles may have played a part in how the Warriors played on Saturday the Aggies were definitely responsible in sending Hawaii to its eighth straight loss.
Garretson, the youngster from Chandler, Ariz. took over for ineffective backup Craig Harrison a few weeks ago after starter Chuckie Keeton was lost for the season with a knee injury against BYU.
All Garretson did on Saturday was set a freshman school record throwing for 370 yards and three touchdowns on 28-for-41 pass attempts.
Garretson struggled mightily against BSU a few weeks ago in a critical Mountain Division showdown but he showed no signs of rust Saturday at Merlin Olsen Field, leading the Aggies confidently into battle for the second straight week.
The defense also did its part, allowing Hawaii (0-6, 0-8) just a shade over 300 yards in total offense, and three turnovers including a pick six that linebacker Kyler Fackrell returned from the shadow of his own end zone for a 99 yard score.
"I think that was check mate. That changed the momentum. Anytime you can score a defensive touchdown, that's huge. I'm happy for Kyler," said USU head coach Matt Wells.
At 4-1 in conference play, and 5-4 overall Utah State is still in the thick of the conference title race -- yet it needs to win out and have Boise State lose once in Mountain Division play to earn the right to play in the Mountain West Conference championship game against the West Division winner (likely Fresno State).
Here's how the Aggies got within one game of another bowl invite...
After struggling against BYU and Boise State, both games played in the friendly confines of Utah State's home, the Aggies are finally back to playing good defense.
For the second week in a row USU held its opponent to a manageable amount of yardage and forced enough turnovers to spell the difference in the game for winless Hawaii.
The Warriors threw three interceptions -- including one that was returned 99 yards for an Aggie touchdown by linebacker Kyler Fackrell.
Utah State allowed just 59 yards rushing. The number you really want to look at here, however, is the measly 2.4 yards Hawaii got per carry -- and that was on 25 rushing attempts by the Warriors.
The Aggies also did well against the pass, allowing just 260 yards -- though Hawaii did everything in its power to get the passing game going on 44 pass attempts. The problem? The Aggies did a great job reading Hawaii's high powered attack -- and exploiting it.
Utah State was supposed to have a ball-hawking, physical secondary that matched -- or surpassed -- last year's total. The cornucopia of recruits that former head coach Gray Andersen brought in from the state of Florida was now supposed to reap a feast.
The only problem? The Aggies defensive backs and safeties have been underwhelming all year.
Nevin Lawson was supposed to have a big season -- and he has really been the only one who has come through like many believed.
Lawson had two picks against both San Jose and Boise -- but the Aggies haven't been as consistent in this area as they would like.
That all changed Saturday against Hawaii, as the Aggies had three interceptions total -- and Lawson had another pick to add to his season and team-leading total of three.
The issue, unfortunately, is that Utah State has only had four games this year in which its secondary has even had an interception. So it has been a problem for the Aggies to create turnovers from this position all year long.
Utah State fans obviously hope that like the secondary, their team's fortunes in the linebacking corps will also continue to flourish for the final three games of the season.
The Aggie wide receiving corps was as solid yesterday as ever. Seven receivers made catches -- but what was big for Utah State was the day Travis Reynolds had.
Reynolds hauled in a team-high eight passes for 152 yards and one touchdown. Bruce Natson had seven catches for 34 yards -- but he was very helpful to young Darell Garretson out of the zone-read offense that the Aggies utilize.
"They make plays all the time, especially Travis Reynolds. He had a great three or four catches today, and Ronald Butler made some really good catches today as well. And like I said, going back to the line, the line did a great job to give me the time I needed to do that so, kudos to them," said Garretson.
Travis Van Leeuwen and Ronald Butler also had five catches apiece -- and seldom-used tight end Wyatt Houston had a 44-yard touchdown reception.
When you combine that with a good but not great running game yesterday from running back Joey DeMartino -- who had 104 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries -- it was a great day for the Aggie offense.
Particularly so for the young Utah State quarterback.
Freshman Darell Garretson will likely take one year off in 2014 but for right now he's the Aggies signal caller.
Garretson may have started out less than stellar but his play of late has been not only solid but worthy of some praise.
"Well, it wasn't my record that he broke, I can tell you that. That's what we want out of him. We want him to play a little bit better each and every week. I thought he was very efficient, except for the pick which was all technique. I thought he played really well. He played within the system, he knew when he was in the redzone. I'm happy with his maturity and his progress over three weeks. He's got to keep getting a little better for us down the stretch," said Wells.
Garretson came into the season as the third-string quarterback but after a knee injury to Chuckie Keeton and poor play from backup Craig Harrison he found himself as the starter.
Garretson's youth showed in the loss to Boise State -- but he's been a winner since, engineering two straight wins over New Mexico and now Hawaii.
Against the Lobos he was good but at home but against Hawaii he played his best game yet, throwing for 370 yards -- a Utah State freshman record -- and three touchdowns.
But what was just as important as the numbers was his passing completion percentage. He connected on 28 passes in 42 attempts, showing doubters that he can make all the throws. He only threw one interception in the game.
Nick Diaz may have been the most hated person in Logan a few weeks ago after having horrible performances against USC -- which cost Utah State a chance to tie the game -- and similar nightmares against BYU and Boise State, in which he missed at least one field goal try.
But against Hawaii, Diaz had his best outing since he went 4-for-4 at San Jose State earlier this season.
In fact, Diaz nearly matched his stellar San Jose output on Saturday, going 3-for-3 on field goal tries against the Warriors.
He hit two 32-yarders and a 40-yarder. Freshman Jake Thompson, brother of Josh (pictured), a junior who famously missed -- or infamously missed -- a field goal try to upset Wisconsin last year, also hit on a 52-yarder to cap a big day for Aggie kickers and for Utah State in general.