<strong>LOGAN—</strong> Utah State fans and players are still reveling in last Friday’s 27-20 overtime victory over the University of Utah – and for good reason. It was the Aggies first victory over the Utes since 1997. Most impressive, however, was not the victory itself, but how it was attained.
Utah had some struggles and the Aggies had some breaks go their way – Tyler Bennett’s final punt for example – but USU had plenty of problems of its own. The Aggies did not play their best football – far from it – but managed to find a way to pull out the victory. That is something that USU in the past, including last year’s team, has had trouble doing.
“I thought that they hung in there and they just kept on fighting and kept on battling,” USU head coach Gary Andersen said of his team following the game. “I don’t think we caved in on the fronts on offense or defense as the game went on, which was great to see.”
Let’s take a look at all the things the Aggies struggled with or did wrong against the Utes.
First off, for the second straight game, USU lost the turnover battle. The Aggies put the ball on the turf an astounding five times – losing two – while the Utes only had one turnover. Also for the second straight game, the Aggies had double-digit penalties for triple-digit yards.
Penalties and turnovers – those are the types of mistakes that have killed the Aggies in the past. Certainly if they continue to persist as problems, they will bite the Aggies in the future, but talent and depth at USU is finally getting to the point where the Aggies can beat a tough opponent with an imperfect game.
“Last year, we didn’t finish in the fourth quarter and stuff like that,” senior receiver Matt Austin said. “I know a lot of people in the stands were probably hanging their heads a little bit. I like how we proved everybody wrong.”
Third down conversions were also something that the Aggies struggled with against the Utes. USU was a dismal 2-of-13 (15 percent) against Utah, and struggled to cross midfield while putting up zero points during the second and third quarters of the game. The kicking game was another area where the Aggies continued to struggle. True freshman kicker Brock Warren missed a 45-yard field goal near the end of the first half and also missed an extra point. Just one of those four points would have rendered overtime unnecessary.
Knowing Utah State’s track record, how many people would have picked the Aggies to defeat the Utes knowing that USU would commit two turnovers, 12 penalties for 102 yards, only score two offensive touchdowns, and only convert 2-of-13 third down attempts?
The season is still very young, and the Aggies will encounter plenty of adversity as they play their first road game this weekend against a very angry Wisconsin team. However, this is not the same Aggie team of old. This is a young, hungry, and talented USU team. They expect to win.
“Knowing that we beat BYU back then (2010) and knowing that we beat Utah now, it can’t really be a surprise to us anymore. We know we have a good team, but we know we have to play to that caliber that we are,” USU sophomore QB Chuckie Keeton said after Friday’s win. “This was just a stepping stone.”