The first and only bye week of the 2021 college football season for Utah State arguably couldn’t have come at a better time.
The Aggies just traversed through the formidable three-week gauntlet of Air Force, Boise State and BYU, and could use a much-needed break heading into the bulk of their Mountain West Conference season. The Aggies got off to a 3-0 start — their first since 1978 — but headed into their bye week with back-to-back loses at home to the Broncos and Cougars, who are ranked 10th in the latest AP Poll.
USU had a golden opportunity to upset BYU, which had to turn to its third-string quarterback the entire second half. The Cougars were nearly unstoppable offensively on their way to a 24-13 halftime lead, but struggled for a while once signal caller Baylor Romney was sidelined by a possible concussion.
Unfortunately for the Aggies, they were also stagnant offensively in a scoreless third quarter. USU did pare its deficit to 27-20 courtesy of a 28-yard touchdown strike from Logan Bonner to Deven Thompkins with 9:52 remaining in the fourth quarter, but BYU immediately bounced back.
Tyler Allgeier busted off a 68-yard run on the first play from scrimmage on the Cougars’ ensuing possession and powered his way into the end zone from 1 yard out two plays later as the visitors never looked back en route to a 34-20 win. The standout running back racked up a career-high 218 yards on 22 carries. No. 25 also had scoring runs of 22 and 59 yards in the contest.
With the exception of his two explosive carries, the Aggies actually did a respectable job of defending Allgeier, who gained 91 yards on his other 20 attempts. Nevertheless, the damage had already been inflicted by Allgeier and BYU’s imposing offensive line, coupled with some clutch blocks by the Cougars’ wide receivers.
The Cougars finished with 221 yards on the ground and averaged 6.1 yards per carry, even though the Aggies came through with a season-high 11 tackles for loss — 2.5 from defensive tackle Marcus Moore, and 2.0 apiece from defensive end Nick Heninger and linebacker Kevin Meitzenheimer.
“At times we used our quickness and speed to create some lost yards plays, but ultimately their ability to run the ball downhill and create the big plays that they did won the game for them,” USU head coach Blake Anderson said. “We knew that was a huge challenge. We felt like that was the strongest part of the team and it showed. That’s the part we have to recruit and develop.”
Conversely, USU’s offense was never able to get anything going via the run, which was very frustrating for a team that averaged 213.5 yards on the ground during its first four outings. The Cougars stymied the Aggies to a tune of 22 rushing yards on 35 attempts. Utah State’s longest run was a Houdini-like 10-yard scramble by Bonner in the fourth quarter.
Because they were unable to establish even a semblance of a rushing attack, the Aggies were constantly behind the chains the entire game. The encouraging thing is USU still managed to convert on 12 of 22 third downs, including 8 of 13 where it had to gain at least seven yards. USU’s average yardage to gain on third down during the game was an imposing 7.95 yards.
The Cougars certainly made the Aggies earn both of their touchdowns, inasmuch as both of those drives lasted 18 and 14 plays, respectively. On their 18-play, 75-yard march to paydirt, the Aggies converted on third-and-8 (defensive holding), third-and-9 (12-yard pass to Derek Wright), fourth-and-2 (2-yard run by Elelyon Noa), third-and-4 (5-yard run by Noa), third-and-12 (15-yard pass to Wright) and third-and-15 on the series. Bonner deftly escaped pressure and fired a 21-yard dart to Justin McGriff for a TD on the third-and-15 play.
Indeed, USU gamely battled the entire way against a BYU team that has yet to trail in its five games this season. However, the Aggies ultimately didn’t execute well enough on both sides of the ball. They, quite frankly, needed to be close to flawless to pull off the upset, and that wasn’t the case. USU also turned the ball over twice and didn’t have any takeaways on defense, and that also loomed large.
“I couldn’t be more proud of our guys to battle, we just have to be better,” Anderson said. “They were a little bit better and stronger than us, but that will not last. We’ll recruit our tail off, we’ll develop our tail off, and we will make this a battle every stinkin’ year. This is one we won’t forget.”
“We played all 60 minutes, we played the whole entire game,” said Thompkins, who caught a career-high nine passes for 125 yards. “Same thing we did against Boise. Every time we do get down, it sucks, but we still play hard the whole entire time.”
Bonner hyperextended his knee at the 8:35 mark of the fourth quarter and was replaced by Andrew Peasley. The Arkansas State transfer was just off the mark on a few potential explosive passes — a reoccurring theme this season — but showed a lot of grit and tenacity en route to throwing for 276 yards and a pair of TDs, vs. one interception, on 21 of 41 attempts.
When asked about Bonner’s knee, Anderson said the trainers “felt like structurally it felt OK.” Anderson went on to say “he did walk off the field on his own. He’s pretty sore, but he’s also pretty tough. I’d like to think that it’s something we can get him past and get him back for the rest of the (season).”
If the Aggies do need to turn to Peasley for their next game — at winless UNLV next Saturday — at least they will be plenty of time to develop a game plan that can better utilizes his strengths. Like USU, UNLV has its bye this week.
The Rebels have lost 11 straight games dating back to a thrilling 33-30 overtime triumph on the road against Nevada in their 2019 season finale. UNLV has lost to five teams with a combined record of 21-5 this fall, but was very competitive in its last two setbacks — both on the road to Fresno State (38-30) and undefeated UTSA (24-17). The Rebels held a 30-29 lead over the then-ranked Bulldogs midway through the fourth quarter, and likely would have defeated the Roadrunners had they not lost the turnover battle, 3-0.