Watching the resiliency of the Utah State football team over the past two games has been quite impressive.
I legitimately thought the Aggies were going to continue their downward spiral after they were blown out in back-to-back weeks by Air Force and BYU. Simply put, these players and coaches deserve a massive amount of credit for not giving upon the season and finding a way to overcome some adversity.
That being said, grit and resolve isn’t going to be enough for the Aggies if they plan on extending their winning streak to three games. Finding a way to beat Boise State is a different animal, and that’s the challenge USU faces this Saturday night at Maverik Stadium.
The Aggies will need to put together their most complete performance of the 2019 campaign to knock off the No. 20 Broncos and stay alive in a very compelling and competitive race for the Mountain West’s Mountain Division title. Call me crazy, but I think USU, notwithstanding its shortcomings and injuries, is capable of doing exactly that.
Here are a few reasons Aggie fans should be encouraged:
1. USU has seemingly figured out how to adjust without All-American linebacker David Woodward, who is out with a season-ending injury. The Aggies looked discombobulated defensively against BYU, the first game Woodward missed, and were still trying to find the right combination at linebacker against Fresno State.
However, the Aggies appeared to figure things out against Wyoming as Kevin Meitzenheimer and Eric Munoz were phenomenal. Freshman linebackers Elijah Shelton and AJ Vongphachanh were banged up against the Bulldogs and did not play last weekend, but there is a decent chance they will be ready for the Broncos. USU is going to need that depth at linebacker against BSU.
2. USU’s offensive line bounced back from its shaky outing against BYU, and was solid against FSU and Wyoming. The Aggies have amassed 705 yards passing the past two weeks, and they only allowed two sacks against a Wyoming defense that leads the Mountain West in that category with 30.
Boise State ranks second in the league with 29 sacks, but 12.5 on them have come from the MW’s best defender in junior Curtis Weaver. Weaver was injured in BSU’s beatdown of New Mexico last weekend, and likely won’t be 100 percent this weekend. That bodes well for the Aggies.
3. USU’s defensive line is coming off probably its best performance of the season, and Tipa Galeai wreaked havoc as a pass rusher. The Aggies have five seniors in the defensive trenches and that experience could be a difference maker against a talented, but suspect BSU defensive line. The Broncos have conceded 23 sacks this year, plus quarterbacks Hank Bachmeier and Chase Cord have each absorbed several other hits.
USU’s defensive line should be extra motivated after giving up 200 rushing yards and a trio of touchdowns to BSU standout tailback Alexander Mattison a year ago. Fortunately for the Aggies, they don’t have to worry about the current Minnesota Viking this season.
4. USU’s defense has been a lot more opportunistic as of late. The Aggies came up with four takeaways against a Wyoming team that only turned the ball over five times in its first nine games.
The Aggies rank 19th nationally in forced turnovers this season with 19, and are first in the Mountain West and 11th among all FBS teams in fumble recoveries with 10.
The Broncos always seem to have one game each season in which they commit a handful of turnovers. Will that happen Saturday? Probably not, but USU’s defense is capable of forcing some crucial mistakes.
5. The Aggies finally get to host the Broncos in a late November showdown with Mountain Division title implications. Since joining the Mountain West, USU has squared off against BSU twice for the right to advance to the conference’s championship game. Both of those games were contested at Albertsons Stadium and, well, the Broncos rarely lose on the blue turf.
Meanwhile, USU has won eight straight MW games at Maverik Stadium. The Aggies will be honoring 15 seniors Saturday night, and eight of them were true freshman the last time their team defeated Boise State. Aaron Dalton was the only Aggie who actually played in that game.
I can tell you this much: This USU senior class is extremely hungry to take down Boise State in a meaningful game.
“My true freshman year when I redshirted, we beat them here, which was a great experience,” USU standout kicker Dominik Eberle said. “I want to repeat that again with all the seniors that came in for that experience. Just in general, every one of my teammates, it’s a huge game. Our focus is solely on them and this week of practice is going to determine so much more about how the game is going to go than when the game actually happens. I feel like the preparation to it will be the most important.”
6. USU is battle-tested this season and has finally figured how to emerge victorious in hard-fought, grind-it-out type of affairs. The Aggies are 4-1 this season in games that were still in doubt in the fourth quarter.
The bottom line is this is USU’s best chance to earn a rare victory over Boise State since 2015. Nevertheless, even if the Aggies play well on both sides of the ball — it’s pretty much a given they will be rock solid on special teams — they must perform better in the red zone if they plan on pulling off the upset.
USU has only found paydirt on a measly 12 of 36 trips inside the opposition’s 20-yard line this year. The Aggies rank 124th out of 130 FBS squads in red zone offense this season. USU needs to make significant strides in that category this weekend.
Additionally, Utah State’s red zone defense must be better. Opponents have scored TDs on 30 of 41 forays inside the Aggie 20-yard line in ’19. Turning the tide against the Broncos will be a formidable challenge as BSU has converted on its last 16 possessions inside the red zone, with 12 of them resulting in touchdowns.
Will this trend continue Saturday night? We will find out soon enough.