I would be lying if I said I was confident Utah State’s football team was going to bounce back from back-to-back bad performances against Air Force and BYU.
That’s probably the worst I’ve seen the Aggies play in consecutive weeks since I started reporting on them on a regular basis prior to the 2015 campaign. Quite frankly, the Aggies didn’t look like they belonged on the same field as the Falcons, and I don’t think they played with enough heart against the Cougars. BYU clearly looked like the more hungry team, and USU should have been plenty motivated after what transpired in The Centennial State the previous week.
I know Aggie players and coaches took some flak from several fans, and some of it was probably warranted. That being said, those same players and coaches deserve a lot of credit for the resiliency and tenacity that was showcased last weekend in Fresno, California.
A lot of teams would have continued on a late season tailspin after getting outscored by a combined margin on 73-21 in back-to-back weeks, but USU did not. Road wins in the same year against San Diego State and Fresno State is something every Aggie fan should be proud of.
“As bad as it got, our goals are still out in front of us,” USU defensive end Jacoby Wildman said during Monday’s press conference. “As bad as it looked at times, we’ve won the games that we need to and put ourselves in position to have everything that we want. We’ve just got to keep pushing through. It’s a rough time of year for some players, but this team is handling it very well. We’re banding together, and it’s going to be a great week of practice for us. We’re going to get to it.”
Wildman made a huge play late in the fourth quarter that allowed the Aggie offense to get the ball back and embark on its game-winning drive. I’ve always been impressed by the work ethic and character displayed by Wildman, which was evident when he was a standout wrestler and football player for Logan High. Wildman is the kind of student-athlete and person every team needs to be successful, and it was nice to see have that kind of moment last weekend.
Speaking of which, it was very fitting to see Dominik Eberle provide the heroics against Fresno State. Here’s a young man who, like Wildman, has done an outstanding job of representing the Aggies on and off the field.
In a season abounding with some uneven performances, Eberle has been rock solid week in and week out. In fact, the best kicker in USU history has been performing at a high level for the past three seasons.
Eberle, who matched the Mountain West record with his 57th career field goal, received some good news Monday.
“A little over 2 years ago I was a Walk-On working 20+ hours a week in order to be able to pay rent,” Eberle posted on Twitter. “Today I’ve just received an invite to the Shrine Bowl. Beyond thankful for this opportunity.”
Good things happen to good people who work extremely hard to perfect their craft, and Eberle received his well-deserved moment in the sun last weekend.
Not only should Aggie fans be thrilled for Eberle, they should be very encouraged by how well their skill position players performed against the Bulldogs. USU quarterback Jordan Love was phenomenal in that game and his supporting cast certainly helped him look like a legitimate NFL prospect.
Wide receiver Siaosi Mariner continues to make contested catches and exhibit stellar footwork when he has a limited amount of field to work with. The Aggies were extremely fortunate to convince Mariner and fellow University of Utah graduate transfer Caleb Repp to spend their final season of eligibility in Cache Valley. Mariner is one of the premier wideouts in the Mountain West, and Repp is arguably the best pass-catching tight end in the conference.
Slot receiver Jordan Nathan has been fabulous the past two games, and his 36-yard reception sandwiched between a pair of FSU defensive backs is probably the best catch by an Aggie this season. USU offensive coordinator Mike Sanford is finding a way to get speedy slot target Deven Thompkins more involved in the offense, and that’s going to continue to pay dividends.
Jaylen Warren made a very nice 26-yard reception on a wheel route, which is a play I hope the Aggies will use more going forward. Warren and fellow tailback Gerold Bright ran and competed very hard against the Bulldogs, and the offensive line bounced back in a big way after getting roughed up a bit by BYU.
I think the Aggies pieced together their best offensive performance of the season against the Bulldogs. Sure, they gained more yards against Wake Forest, but didn’t turn the ball over against an opportunistic FSU defense that racked up 18 takeaways in its first eight games.
It was the shot of momentum USU’s offense desperately needed heading into this weekend’s crucial showdown on Merlin Olsen Field against Wyoming’s blue collar defense. The Cowboys always play extremely tough and are very disciplined on defense. The Cowboys hit a home run when they hired Craig Bohl as their head coach.
How the Aggies fare this weekend will be instrumental in determining how good of a season this will be. However, I do believe they will be motivated and hungry to keep the “Bridger’s Battle” rifle in Logan.
I wasn’t so sure about the resolve of this team a week ago, but I don’t question it now.