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Aggies can’t make big plays at Ariz. St.

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Arizona State defensive end Nick Johnson, left, tries to get to Utah State quarterback Travis Cox in the first quarter Saturday.

Arizona State defensive end Nick Johnson, left, tries to get to Utah State quarterback Travis Cox in the first quarter Saturday.

Roy Dabner, Associated Press

TEMPE — Opportunity knocked a half dozen times in the first half of Utah State's 26-16 loss to No. 16 Arizona State Saturday, but each time the Aggies failed to answer.

The Sun Devils (2-0) fumbled three times in the first half, and unlike UNLV, which scored 20 points off turnovers in an 18-point upset win over No. 15 Wisconsin earlier in the day, the Aggies couldn't put together a scoring drive off Devil miscues.

For the second week in a row, the defense played respectably, while the offense struggles.

Utah State had just 25 yards in 19 offensive plays. Quarterback Travis Cox was sacked twice in the first quarter and stopped for a six-yard loss on a rushing attempt.

Granted, the Aggies didn't start with favorable field position as three of the four post-turnover drives started in their own territory. One possession ended in a turnover, and the others ended with Ben Chaet punts. Chaet punted five times in the half. He punted a total of nine times in the game.

In four of its nine possessions in the first half, the Aggies ran just three plays before punting.

Instead of making the big plays, like Utah State coach Mick Dennehy said would be imperative, the Aggies did just the opposite in allowing big plays.

The last time the two teams met, in 2000, the Sun Devils had five touchdown passes over 35 yards and a 48-yard interception return for a touchdown.

Three plays into the game it looked like a rerun of the previous double-digit loss.

Walter hit Skyler Fulton with an 44-yard scoring strike — the longest play from scrimmage the Aggies have given up all year. One play earlier the two connected on a 20-yard play to set up the Sun Devils' first score. Later the Sun Devils would add an interception return for a touchdown. They also had a punt return for a touchdown called back because of an illegal block penalty.

Utah State did score a first-half touchdown, but it came after Arizona State's second touchdown — a one-yard run by Randy Hill.

Chris Cooley capped a 10-play 58-yard drive with a six-yard touchdown run to trim the lead to 13-7.

The Aggie defense came up big on two straight possessions. On one, the Aggies forced a Sun Devil fumble and it rolled out of the end zone for a touchback. After the Aggies forced a Sun Devil punt, the offense let down as ASU's Riccardo Stewart intercepted a Cox pass and returned in 18 yards for a touchdown.

Utah State (0-3) ran 45 offensive plays in the first half for just 89 yards, while Arizona State amassed 259 yards (190 passing). Fulton surpassed his career-high of 121 receiving yards with 128 in the first half alone.

Despite the offensive woes the Aggies were still in the contest, trailing 19-7 at the half.

The defense avoided another offensive disaster early in the second half. Cox was intercepted by Brett Hudson and returned it to the USU 7, but the Aggies held Loren Wade on a fourth-and-goal on the 1.

The Aggies drove from the ASU 1-yard line to the ASU 21, only to settle for a 36-yard field goal by Chaet.

Again, the Aggie offense pinned the defense deep when Cox was picked off for the third time in the game, putting the Sun Devils on USU 32, but Terrance Washington intercepted a Walter pass .

Utah State finally answered with a touchdown in the fourth quarter when Cox hit David Fiefia with an 11-yard touchdown pass with just over nine minutes left in the game to pull the Aggies to within 10. The two-point PAT attempt failed. Freshman Tony Pennyman hauled in a 21-yard sideline-stepping catch one play before the touchdown. The touchdown cut the score to 26-16, making it a two-score game for the Utah State.

The Aggies pulled within the Arizona State 21 but surrendered a sack (one of seven) and was whistled for a false start to push them out of field-goal range.

The Sun Devils chewed up nearly four minutes on their final drive, but they didn't score any points. The lengthy drive didn't give the Aggies much time to mount a comeback. The Aggies did score a touchdown with 31 seconds left but it was called back due to a holding penalty. It was one of 12 whistled against the Aggies.

Cox completed 26 of 53 passes for 308 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions. Fiefia rushed 20 times for 77 yards.

Walter finished 20 of 37 for 277 yards and two scores. Fulton hauled in eight catches for 172 yards.

ASU had 438 yards total offense, while Utah State finished with 373 yards.

E-MAIL: jhinton@desnews.com