With San Jose State clinching its first-ever berth in the Mountain West Conference Championship Game and Coastal Carolina fending off a pesky Troy team in a thriller, Week 15 was filled with great performances from the Group of Five conferences. With COVID-19 forcing the cancellation of at least 10 games so far, Week 15 marked one of the last opportunities to see some Group of Five teams play this season. Here are five small-school players whose huge performances flew under the radar in the last week of the regular season for college football:
Austin Aune, QB, North Texas
Stats vs. UTEP: 16/29 C/ATT, 302 YDS, 10.4 YPA, 5 TDS, 5 CAR, 22 YDS, 1 TD, 67.9 QBR
North Texas has had a very rocky 2020 campaign, but the Mean Green were able to finish off their season on a good note with a thrilling 45-43 victory over the Miners of UTEP. This gave the Mean Green their fourth win of the season, and it had everything to do with the play of QB Austin Aune. The 6-2, 216-pound sophomore lit up the Miners to the tune of 302 yards in the air and 5 touchdowns on 16-for-29 passing along with 22 yards on the ground and another score. UTEP had no answer for Aune, as he connected with his receivers early and often, particularly senior wideout Jaelon Darden, and he picked apart any coverage the Miners threw at him. Aune had touchdown passes of 46, 75, 32, 2 and 50 yards. It has been a tumultuous year for Aune, as he has been involved in a constant QB battle in the 2020 campaign, but Aune came out on top in this one with this fantastic performance. Aune and North Texas look to continue this strong outing in the Myrtle Beach Bowl against Appalachian State on December 21.
Cade Hall, DL, San Jose State
Stats vs. Nevada: 5 TOTAL TACKLES, 2 SOLO, 2.5 SACKS, 2.5 TFLS
San Jose State has had its best start to a season ever with a 6-0 start. This included a 30-20 comeback victory over Nevada in Week 15 in which the Spartans scored 23 unanswered points after trailing 20-7 at halftime. Even though San Jose State’s offense has gotten the bulk of the attention, the defense played tremendously in the second half against Nevada in order to give the offense opportunities to put points on the board. One of the players who was key in making this comeback possible was 6-2, 260-pound defensive lineman Cade Hall. The junior from Morgan Hill, Calif., was electric getting after Nevada QB Carson Strong as he was able to compile 2.5 sacks. Furthermore, Hall was a constant presence in the backfield as he also had 2.5 tackles for loss. Hall played a big role on San Jose State’s second forced fumble of the game, stuffing the hole and allowing his linebackers to step up and make a play. This fumblesealed the victory for the Spartans. Hall and company will have another chance to prove themselves in the Spartans’ first ever MWC Championship game.
Justin Hall, WR, Ball State
Stats vs. Western Michigan: 10 REC, 175 YDS, 17.5 YPC, 2 TDS, LONG OF 55 YDS
If you have not seen the ending to the Week 15 matchup between the Ball State Cardinals and the Western Michigan Broncos, then you missed out on the craziest ending to a game since Cal-Stanford in 1982, when the band marched onto the field too early. To make a long story short, Western Michigan’s crazy touchdown was overturned due to an illegal forward pass, and Ball State was victorious by a score of 30-27. Despite the insane ending, there were still many performances that made this game one of the best in 2020—none were bigger than 5-9, 186-pound wideout Justin Hall. The senior receiver torched Western Michigan’s secondary for 175 yards and 2 touchdowns on 10 receptions including a 55-yard touchdown that proved to be the equalizer for Ball State before it took the lead for good. This 55-yard touchdown grab for Hall came as a result of incredible vision and speed as he was able to find a small sliver of space on a screen pass to burst past all of WMU’s defensive backs to paydirt. Hall’s other touchdown was a 32-yard catch that helped Ball State keep pace with the Broncos. With Ball State going to the MAC Championship Game, it will be crucial for Hall to build on this great performance.
Bobby Cole, RB, New Mexico
Stats vs. Fresno State: 18 CAR, 138 YDS, 7.7 YPC, 3 TDS, LONG OF 35 YDS
New Mexico was able to salvage its tough season with a 49-39 victory over the Bulldogs of Fresno State. The Lobos were on a mission to expose Fresno State in the run game, and they succeeded — totaling 299 yards on the ground compared to only 196 yards through the air. And 138 of New Mexico’s rushing yards came from running back Bobby Cole. The 5-9, 211-pound junior back was able to gash Fresno State for 7.7 yards per carry in addition to three touchdowns on the ground. Cole’s ability to gain big chunks of yards was a huge reason for New Mexico to control the time of possession against a high-flying Fresno State team. UNM’s offensive line did a tremendous job of opening holes for Cole and the other running backs to go through, and Cole was able to speed past the front seven of the Bulldogs on numerous occasions. This burst was a huge issue for Fresno State as it allowed UNM to stay on the field while also taking pressure off its fifth-string QB to get the job done. New Mexico may not be playing in a bowl game this season, but it’ll be interesting to see if the Lobos can continue this momentum into next season.
Carlton Martial, LB, Troy
Stats vs. Coastal Carolina: 21 TOTAL TACKLES, 6 SOLO, 1 SACK, 2.5 TFLS, 1 INT
Coming off a huge win against BYU, it was realistic to think that this Week 15 matchup could have been a “trap game” for Coastal Carolina against a persistent Troy team. Certainly, Coastal Carolina got all it could bargain for as Troy took this team down to the wire to almost pull off the upset. Ultimately, the Troy Trojans were unable to prevail as Coastal won 42-38 on a touchdown with 45 seconds left. Troy’s defense did a tremendous job of making just enough plays to give its offense a chance to score, and this defensive effort was led by linebacker Carlton Martial. The 5-9, 216-pound junior was flying all over the field as he came up with 21 total tackles, a sack, and 2.5 tackles for loss. In fact, Martial was great in pass coverage as well, coming up with Troy’s lone forced turnover of the game. This interception gave Troy the ball back with 2:32 to go in the fourth quarter and set up Troy’s go-ahead score. Coastal Carlina was able to pull out a win, but Martial’s efforts made it much harder than expected.
Sources: ESPN, YouTube, North Texas Daily