Moving the ball down the field was not an issue for Utah State's football team in its Mountain West home opener against Boise State --- at least in the opening half.
Unfortunately for the Aggies, their gaudy offensive statistics were negated by their inability to finish off drives. USU racked up 317 yards of total offense in the first half, but failed to score any points.
Meanwhile, Boise State did just enough offensively to pull ahead in the first quarter and put together a strong defensive performance in the second half, mixed in with enough offensive production. The end result was a 27-3 Bronco victory in front of an announced crowd of 23,715 on Saturday at Maverik Stadium.
"Obviously disappointed in the way we played," USU head coach Blake Anderson said. "I thought the energy level was really good, but the execution was poor, maybe offensively as bad as we've executed since the beginning of the season. We had yards, but couldn't finish in the red zone. ... We just couldn't maintain a rhythm when we did get any kind of rhythm at all.
"I've got to be proud of the defense and how they just kept hanging in there and kept us in there, gave us a chance way longer than we probably deserved today with just how poorly we executed."
Simply put, it was a frustrating performance by a rejuvenated USU team that won its first three games for the first time in 43 years. Not only did the Aggies fail to capitalize time after time offensively, especially in the opening half, they turned the ball over three times, had an atrocious fake punt and committed 13 penalties for 86 yards.
USU's failure to capitalize offensively ultimately cancelled out a solid effort defensively. The Aggies only allowed the Broncos to march all the way down the field on a few occasions, finished with nine tackles for loss and stopped the visitors on 9 of 15 third-down plays.
Unlike most recent matchups against the Broncos, the Aggies were not physically dominated. Boise State just didn't make nearly as many mistakes as USU. Case in point: The Broncos won the turnover battled 3-1 and were only whistled for five penalties.
Even though the matchups were more even across the board, the end result was still very familiar. BSU has now won 18 of its last 19 games against USU.
"I never felt like our guys were intimidated, I never felt like our guys gave up," Anderson said. "We just did not play good ball and against a good team, it's a lopsided win (for them)."
It was also a bad day for the Aggies on special teams. USU was unable to convert on a pair of field goal attempts and the failed fake punt loomed large early in the third quarter. Aggie punter Stephen Kotsanlee --- who otherwise had a good game --- was taken down for an 8-yard loss on the fake, giving the Broncos the ball at the Aggie 18-yard line.
Boise State capitalized four plays later on a 3-yard scoring pass from Hank Bachmeier to star receiver Khalil Shakir, giving the visitors a 17-0 lead with 9:32 remaining in the third quarter. A two-possession deficit seemed like it was still within the realm of possibly for the Aggies in this game, but not a three-possession hole.
"The fake punt is my fault," Anderson said. "... Based off of the way they were lining down on us, strategically if we block it correctly and execute it well, it's got a reasonable chance of success. We didn't. We just didn't execute it well. It's still a risk. I know that going in, but at that point in the game where we're at and how we're playing, and just how much everything was a struggle, (we were) trying to create a spark."
The Aggies finally dented the scoreboard early in the fourth quarter on a 32-yard field goal by Connor Coles, which pared their deficit to 17-3. Nevertheless, it was still a disheartening end to a eight-play, 85-yard drive, and it typified how things went the entire game offensively for the hosts.
For starters, Utah State marched inside Boise State territory on its first four possessions of the contest, plus advanced the pigskin inside the red zone late in the second quarter. Two of USU's promising drives were terminated by interceptions --- the first by Tyreque Jones on a Logan Bonner pass that deflected off the hands of a wide open Justin McGriff, and the second by Tyric LeBeauf. Bonner threw the ball up for grabs on the pick by LeBeauf at the BSU 1-yard line.
Two other Aggie first-half marches ended in unsuccessful field goal attempts. A 41-yarder by Coles was blocked by Scott Mattlock, and Coles pushed a 36-yarder wide left with 15 seconds remaining in the second quarter. The second missed field goal was a momentum killer as the Aggies had managed to march 81 yards from their own 1-yard line to give themselves a chance to make it a one-possession game.
Another USU series came to a halt in BSU territory on a failed fourth-down pass. Indeed, it was a first half filled with missed opportunities for the hosts.
Meanwhile, the Broncos scored all 10 of their first-half points in the opening quarter. The visitors capitalized on its first INT with a 28-yard field goal by Jonah Dalmas. Dalmas missed a 50-yard FG wide right in the second quarter.
Boise State's lone touchdown of the first half was set up by a lovely 69-yard pass from Bachmeier to Shakir. The Broncos found paydirt three snaps later on a 2-yard run by Andrew Van Buren, who bounced off a couple would-be tacklers on the play.
That Van Buren run with 56 remaining in the first quarter gave the Broncos a 10-point advantage and they led by double-digits the rest of the way. USU was still technically within striking distance of BSU early in the fourth quarter, but the Broncos scored 10 unanswered points to slam the door.
Dalmas capped off an eight-play, 60-yard drive with a 32-yard field goal, and the final exclamation point was provided with 5:09 remaining in the contest on a 3-yard trick play pass from Bachmeier to Matlock, who is a starting defensive tackle. That touchdown was set up by USU's third turnover of the contest, an Andrew Peasley fumble that was recovered by the Broncos at the Aggie 15-yard line.
The Broncos only had to advance the pigskin 18 and 15 yards, respectively, on both of their touchdowns after halftime. USU actually finished with more total yards than the BSU, 443-435, but the Broncos held the Aggies to 126 yards during the final 30 minutes of action.
It was a rough day for both Aggie quarterbacks as they threw for 208 yards and a pair of INTs on 13 of 31 passing. Bonner went 11 of 25 for 173 yards and the two aforementioned picks, while Peasley went 2 for 6 for 35 yards.
Bonner started the game and played the majority of the first half, while Peasley took the lion's share of the snaps after halftime. Bonner was shaken up during last week's thrilling 49-45 road victory over Air Force after taking a vicious late hit to the lower back.
"He wasn't 100 percent, but he was close, close enough to play," Anderson said of Bonner. "That wasn't the issue today."
It was another strong performance by Aggie running back Calvin Tyler Jr., who racked up 126 yards on the ground and averaged 6.3 yards per attempt. The Oregon State transfer is averaging 103.5 yards rushing an outing.
“I’m gaining a lot of confidence," Tyler Jr. said. "This is the most football I’ve played in the last three years, so it feels good to be back out there. Regardless, I can’t take all the credit. That’s the guys on the O-Line, the guys blocking."
Brandon Bowling and Deven Thompkins teamed up for 122 yards on eight receptions for the Aggies, who were balanced once again as they rushed for 235 yards and passed for 208.
Aggie defensive Nick Heninger made several big plays for the hosts as he contributed with five tackles, including 2.5 for a loss, 1.0 sack, two passes battled away and a QB hurry. Linebackers Justin Rice and AJ Vongphachanh teamed up for 19 tackles, including 2.5 TFLs.
It was a very encouraging performance by USU's front seven on defense, particularly after the Aggies allowed the Falcons to rush for a whopping 437 yards a week ago. Boise State averaged 3.5 yards on 42 carries for a total of 148 yards on the ground.
“Stopping the run was a huge emphasis, especially after our game against Air Force," Vongphachanh said. "So in practice we really emphasized that throughout the whole practice. But at the end of the day there’s a lot of good things but still we need to get better on defense and just help out the overall team.”
Standout safety JL Skinner accumulated 13 tackles for the Broncos. He has been BSU's leading tackler in all four games this season.
Captaining the Aggies for their Mountain West home opener were ight tackle Jacob South, Thompkins, Kotsanlee, striker Cash Gilliam and cornerback Michael Anyanwu.
* USU's string of 11 consecutive wins in the month of September came to an end.
* BSU has now prevailed in 22 straight conference openers and has dispatched of 20 straight opponents from the Mountain West's Mountain Division.
* The Broncos now lead the all-time series with the Aggies, 21-5.