LOGAN – Utah State punched its ticket to bowling season last week, but are on to its next challenge of beating Boise State. The Aggies have struggled when playing Boise State in Boise for essentially all of program history. Utah State is 2-11 all-time when facing the Broncos in Idaho, the last win coming in 1996, the first season Boise State became an FBS program.
Overall, the Aggies are 5-21 against the Broncos including six straight losses and 18 losses in the last 19 meetings. USU’s lone win of the previous 19 games was a 52-26 win over the 21st-ranked Broncos on Merlin Olsen Field in 2015. Last year the Aggies lost at home 27-3 to Boise State despite out-gaining their opponents on offense 443-439.
Here are the things to know about the final game of the regular season for Utah State:
- Kickoff: 10 a.m. MT
- Location: Albertsons Stadium | Boise, Idaho
- TV Broadcast: CBS
- Aggie GameDay Coverage on KVNU (102.1 FM/610 AM & KVNU mobile app) & simulcast on 106.9 The FAN (106.9 FM / 1390 AM & 106.9 The FAN mobile app): 8:30 a.m. MT
- KVNU Aggie Call (102.1 FM/610 AM, KVNU mobile app + 106.9 FM / 1390 AM The FAN, 106.9 The FAN mobile app): Immediately after game ends
One goal down, a new one established
Blake Anderson’s opening statements in just about every press conference he’s had the last few weeks have included the goal of becoming bowl eligible. That goal was achieved last week with a win over San Jose State. Now there’s a new goal: finish with a winning record.
“We’ve secured a bowl bid but we haven’t secured a winning season yet” Anderson noted. “And we need another win to do that.”
The Aggies need just one win to accomplish this new goal, either this week or in a future bowl outing. But just about the same could be said of USU’s goal to be bowl elibigle a week ago. The team needed one win in two tries. Might as well get ahead of schedule. Only this will be a far tougher matchup than a home contest against San Jose State.
Cooper Legas getting better as a quarterback
The Aggies haven’t been a prolific passing team with Cooper Legas behind center, often just good enough. Though over the last two weeks, Legas has set back-to-back new career-highs in passing yards. Against Hawaii he threw for 238 yards and a career-best three touchdown passes. Then he topped the yardage from that game with 244 against San Jose State. Legas did throw two interceptions but bounced back.
“One of the things about him that makes him very, very good to work with is he doesn’t panic,” Anderson said. “He calms down, he goes back out, gets right back at it. Willing to make the tough throw when he had to late. And that’s a guy that’s not afraid of the moment. Learned from the mistakes earlier, came back, made plays. Thought it did a great job moving the chains with his feet.”
Legas had two huge completions in the game-winning drive by Utah State. He completed a 16-yard pass to Terrell Vaughn and a 31-yard pass to Brian Cobbs.
Aggie run defense vs Bronco rush offense (and vice-versa)
There’s a bit of a matchup problem with Utah State’s rushing defense and Boise State’s rushing offense. The Aggies rank 118th in stopping the run while the Broncos rank 39th in rushing yards per game. Regardless of how USU ranks, this was always going to be a tough matchup as Anderson explained.
“They’re built for it,” Anderson said. “They’ve got big running backs. they’re built great up front. With the athletic quarterback and what Dirk Koetter has done with the offense. He has organized it in a way that everything flows off of each other with a quarterback that can just absolutely break you back with his legs.”
Boise State has a three-headed dragon in the run game. George Holani leads the team with 977 yards, which ranks fourth in the Mountain West. Holani also has 13 total touchdowns (10 rushing, three receiving). Backup running back Ashton Jeanty has 576 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns. Quarterback Taylen Green has 346 rushing yards, including two 100-yard rushing games, with seven TDs on the ground. Between those three, the Broncos average 5.5 yards per run.
On the flip side, Utah State will have a tough challenge ahead of it in terms of running the ball themselves. Boise State ranks even better in rush defense (29th) than rushing offense.
“These guys do not give up long yards, big run plays. They make it really difficult to run the ball in the end zone when you get down there,” Anderson said. “We’re going to have to earn every yard you get. that was something we were able to do Saturday night. We did play more physical up front than San Jose. But the challenge just gets that much more difficult.”
The Aggies do rank a solid 59th in rushing offense, led by running back Calvin Tyler Jr. who has 978 rushing yards this season, third-most in the Mountain West.
Utah State has a handful of notable injuries, more so on the defensive side of the ball. Linebacker MJ Tafisi is still out with a shoulder/neck issue. His recovery has taken several weeks to this point and remains day-to-day. Ike Larsen left the game against San Jose State with a knee injury. Anderson said the freshman safety is day-to-day but noted that “he is moving around okay” on that injured knee.
Anderson was also asked about quarterback Levi Williams’ status. If healthy he’d be the primary backup to Legas. However, Anderson said “not sure (Williams) will be” ready for the game, noting that the injury Williams suffered against Colorado State has had complications and extended the time the sophomore quarterback has had to sit.
Utah State’s won five of last six games
The Aggies began the year 1-4, one of the worst starts in the last 10 years; but unlike some of the other years where USU started off poorly, this year the team flipped the season around. Utah State has won five of its last six games and in the one game it lost the team was down to a fourth-string true freshman at quarterback. Anderson said the culture he develops within his teams helped facilitate the turnaround and also explained how it can take a while to get things going with the type of roster he has.
“It’s not always easy early in the year when you bring in a transfer roster, when you add that many new bodies,” Anderson said. “Sometimes early in the year you haven’t quite got all the moving parts in the direction yet. We figured out what that was, we obviously had some adjustments due to injury as well. And the kids just continued to believe and trust the process.”
Regardless of the result Friday and maybe even in the bowl game, this year will be remembered for its remarkable turnaround.