I couldn’t help but think David Woodward would have made that play on a handful of occasions during Utah State’s frustrating 42-14 loss to BYU last Saturday at Maverik Stadium.
Indeed, not having the services of their All-American linebacker was a massive blow for the Aggies, who were already reeling after giving up 448 yards rushing against Air Force the week before. Without Woodward in the lineup, USU stumbled defensively against BYU, which racked up most of its season-best 639 yards of total offense in the first three quarters.
Unfortunately for the Aggies, they will have to figure out a way to adjust to life without Woodward on the field the rest of the 2019 campaign, and maybe even ever. The junior has already suffered a few concussions during his collegiate career, and that’s very alarming.
I truly hope Woodward is able to play football again, but multiple concussions is something that absolutely cannot be trifled with. Any semi-serious football fan has heard stories of former professional players who have suffered through some extremely serious emotional and physical problems due to head injuries. Additionally, watching the movie “Concussion” left an indelible impression on me and I’m sure countless others.
If Woodward’s career is over — and I’m not suggesting it is, inasmuch as I don’t have any inside information to insinuate that’s indeed the case — that’s a crying shame. In my nearly five seasons covering USU’s football team for The Herald Journal, I believe Woodward has been the Aggies’ best and most consistent performer. Trying to replace No. 9’s productivity, even by committee, will be a monumental task for USU for the rest of this season and perhaps beyond.
“Not having David is a huge blow for every Aggie, at every level,” USU head coach Gary Andersen said during Monday’s press conference. “... He’ll go through it, but it’s a devastating blow for a young man to be in that spot. As a player, I had two half-seasons taken away from me, and it’s tough.”
Even though he’s competed in one fewer game than most players and two fewer than several, Woodward is still tied for fifth place nationally in total tackles with 93. Prior to the BYU game, the native of Olympia, Washington, ranked second among all FBS players in tackles per game with 13.3. Among all the athletes currently ranked in the top 50 in tackles this season, only Woodward and Fresno State’s Justin Rice have forced four fumbles.
Woodward would have been credited with five forced fumbles this fall if his jaw-dropping strip-sack for a touchdown against Wake Forest star quarterback Jamie Newman wasn’t called back due to a penalty that, unfortunately, had absolutely no bearing on the play.
Those are the kind of plays Aggie fans have become accustomed to seeing from their standout linebacker. Woodward burst onto the scene a year ago as he led the Mountain West with 134 tackles, and also contributed with 12.5 tackles for loss, 5.0 sacks, two forced fumbles and a pair of interceptions.
However, we all got a glimpse of Woodward’s potential during his only time in the starting lineup during the 2017 campaign. The former high school safety racked up 13 tackles during USU’s regular season finale against Air Force. In USU’s bowl game that season, Woodward picked off a New Mexico State pass deep in the red zone, setting the stage for a memorable sophomore year.
Woodward’s consistency is what has stood out to me the most over the past two-plus seasons. In his 20 games as a starter, Woodward recorded 10 or more tackles on 15 occasions and 15 or more tackles five times.
Despite missing a good chunk of this past fall camp while recovering from a concussion, Woodward was more than ready to go for USU’s season opener. I’m still blown away No. 9 managed to terrorize Wake Forest to the tune of 24 tackles, including 3.5 loss a loss, and two forced fumbles given his limited amount of preparation time.
That performance alone qualifies Woodward for Aggie legend status in my book. Here are a few more of my favorite Woodward memories since he arrived in Logan: His 70-yard fumble return for a touchdown that essentially iced a road win over New Mexico in 2017; his three-sack effort against UNLV on Merlin Olsen Field a year ago; his unbelievable INT against North Texas in the New Mexico Bowl last season, a play in which he lit up the North Texas tight end and showcased an incredible amount of concentration in locating the ball; when he ripped the ball away from Colorado State running back Marvin Kinsey Jr. and returned it to the house during a torrential rainstorm at Maverik Stadium earlier this season.
That’s just a sampling of some of the spectacular moments Woodward has carved out during his time as an Aggie. However, it’s the fundamental plays and attributes that have made the speedy linebacker such a great Aggie. Not only does Woodward rarely — if ever, and I mean ever — miss a tackle, he is super smart with his pursuit angles, has a nose for the football and is gap and assignment sound.
Those are qualities USU sorely lacked in its humbling loses to Air Force and BYU. In order for the Aggies to salvage this season and secure bowl eligibility for the eighth time in a nine-year stretch, they must get back on track defensively, and that will be a formidable task without their leader.