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Low points in Colorado State win provide a glimpse into the Utah State Aggies’ championship potential

The Aggies pulled out the win over the Rams, despite playing their worst overall game this season

Utah State running back Gerold Bright (1) carries the ball as Colorado State defensive end Emmanuel Jones (33) defends during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019, in Logan, Utah.
Eli Lucero, The Herald Journal via AP

LOGAN — The Utah State Aggies were not at their best Saturday night in the 34-24 victory over Colorado State.

Not by a long shot.

It can be argued that the Aggies’ showing against the Rams was the worst game played by Utah State since 2017, a season in which they lost games by scores of 59-10, 46-10 and 41-14.

Four turnovers — two fumbles and two interceptions — and a blocked punt will do that to you.

“You win a football game with five turnovers, you are fortunate to win,” Utah State head coach Gary Andersen said. “You probably win that game 7% to 10% of the time, maybe less.”

The miscues were not limited to just turnovers either.

There were blown defensive coverages, like what occurred on a 65-yard game-changing reception by Colorado State wide receiver Nate Craig-Myers.

There were mis-run routes, which played a part in what was a pedestrian performance by quarterback Jordan Love.

The Aggies’ high-flying offensive attack on the whole struggled, and finished with only 444 yards of total offense, 240 on the ground and 204 through the air.

Those numbers were a far cry from the usual, especially for a unit that entered the game ranked sixth in the country in total offense, with an average of 562.7 yards per game.

“The offense didn’t play great. We kind of took a step back,” senior running back Gerold Bright said. “A lot of turnovers, execution in the run game was decent, but we can do a lot better. We need to catch balls more. We have a lot to work on.”

And yet, through all of Saturday’s muck and overall struggles, the Aggies came out looking like a legitimate Mountain West Conference championship contender.

The reason? Despite the many mistakes made in the weather-marred game, they found a way to win.

“They fought and they battled,” said Andersen. “It was not perfect by any means and there is a lot to work on, but they found a way to keep fighting, keep battling. It was great to see the resilience of the football team.”

No single player embodied that fighting spirit more than Bright.

The native of Pensacola, Florida, carried the ball a career high 36 times for 179 yards, also a career high.

It was an outing that only inspired confidence, particularly given the unknown status of Jaylen Warren, who left the game early with an undisclosed injury.

“We had to run the ball, and it was good to see us run the ball effectively to grind down the clock, take some time off it,” Andersen said. “You have to be able to run the ball effectively late in games. It is something you have to do if you want to play in this league and play in meaningful games in November. After Jaylen was out, it was the G. Bright show. He has trained for it and he wanted that moment. When we needed him the most he came through and that is pretty special.”

Bright wasn’t alone though, as Andersen praised the Utah State offensive line for its strong play.

“They gave us the opportunity,” he said.

Tight end Caleb Repp and wide receiver Deven Thompkins also came through with timely touchdowns, and Repp finished the game as the team’s leading receiver (three catches for 60 yards and a score).

Even Love found a way to make a mark.

He carried the ball 11 times for 44 yards, good for an average of four yards per touch.

“Jordan Love is a great player and has done many, many great things here,” Andersen said.

So too has kicker Dominik Eberle, and like Bright he had a special night.

Eberle was 2 for 2 on field goal attempts and hit a particularly vital 48-yarder late in the third quarter.

“The long field goal was huge,” said Andersen. “Right on the cusp of where he is comfortable, on a nice day with no wind, and that wasn’t a nice day with no wind.”

No where did the Aggies look more championship ready, however, then on defense.

While they weren’t perfect on that side of the ball, as the game progressed, the defense grew more and more stout.

Where at one point the Aggies were minus-4 in turnover margin, by the end they were only minus-1.

“I thought the defense continually got put in poor spots tonight, but they found a way to keep fighting, keep battling, even scored some points themselves,” Andersen said.

Linebacker David Woodward was the standout, with a game-high 14 tackles, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery that he took back for a touchdown.

“He is a playmaker,” said Andersen. “He is always around the ball and does so many things that you can’t teach or coach. Those are his instincts. That is what great football players have. That is what David is.”

He wasn’t alone, though, as the defensive line continued its strong play, after a slow start to the year.

“Our D-line did a great job tonight,” Woodward said.

That included strong outings by defensive ends Tipa Galeai and Justus Te’i, who combined for 13 tackles, a tackle for loss and a fumble recovery.

The secondary struggled early, but as the game progressed played better and better, thanks to safety Troy Lefeged Jr., and cornerbacks DJ Williams and Cam Haney.

“We got better as the game went on,” said Woodward. “We made plays when we needed to and as the game progressed we got better as a defense.”

While the Aggies ultimately were fortunate to walk away with the win, they proved with back-to-back conference victories, and more importantly their ability to overcome mistakes, that this isn’t an ordinary Utah State team.

“When adversity comes we accept it as a team and fight through it,” said Woodward. “We needed to make a couple plays to win the game and we did.”