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3 takeaways from Utah State’s season-altering loss to Wyoming

The Aggies’ were handled by the rival Cowboys, and now all hope of a division title and a berth in the Mountain West Conference championship is out of their hands

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Wyoming wide receiver Joshua Cobbs catches a pass as Utah State cornerback Cam Lampkin defends.

Wyoming wide receiver Joshua Cobbs (18) catches a pass as Utah State cornerback Cam Lampkin (6) defends during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, in Logan, Utah.

Eli Lucero, The Herald Journal via AP

Utah State was in an enviable position.

The Aggies had their destiny in their hands, with a Mountain Division title and a berth in the Mountain West Conference championship game in sight.

All they needed to do was win out — beat rival Wyoming and MW-worst New Mexico — and they would be competing for the conference title.

The Cowboys had other plans.

Fighting for bowl eligibility, Wyoming (6-5) handled Utah State 44-17 Saturday night in Logan.

The loss snapped USU’s (8-3) conference-best five-game winning streak and the Aggies’ hopes for a division and conference title now rest on the shoulders of others.

“Obviously disappointed,” Utah State head coach Blake Anderson said. “I think that game went exactly how they (Wyoming) would have drawn it up. They basically made every play they needed to and deserved to win.

“We played hard, but we did not play well. The guys knew what was at stake, but we made too many mistakes to stay in the game.”

Here are three takeaways from Utah State’s season-altering loss:

Decided in the trenches

Utah State’s loss to Wyoming was about as convincing as they come — particularly from the second quarter on — and a significant reason for that was what happened in the trenches.

The Cowboys dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, simply overpowering the Aggies.

That wasn’t the case all game. USU was competitive in the first quarter — Wyoming only rushed for 17 yards in the frame — but from the start of the second quarter to the final whistle, Utah State could not handle Wyoming up front.

“We were worried all week about if we could match up with their size, and we did not,” Anderson said. “We completely respected what we had seen on film and knew what they were capable of doing and we saw their best game today.

“We got got shoved around on the offense line and defensive line tonight. That is something we’ve been concerned with all year. We’ve beaten people with quickness and speed, but that did not show up on the field.”

The Cowboys’ dominance (and the Aggies’ struggles) was illustrated clearly in the run game. Wyoming rushed for 362 yards and had two running backs — Titus Swen and Xazavian Valladay — rush for over 100 yards each.

Defensively, USU managed just four tackles for loss and didn’t sack Wyoming quarterback Levi Williams once.

“Wyoming is a good running team. That is their bread and butter,” Utah State defensive end Nick Heninger said. “They had momentum and we weren’t able to take it back. They capitalized on it.”

Shades of Boise State and BYU

In Utah State’s two losses prior to Saturday night, the Aggies were done in by a lack of execution on offense, specifically when they were in position to score.

That weakness reared its head again against the Cowboys.

Utah State only went 3-and-out on three drives, but the Aggies fumbled once and turned the ball over on downs four times, to say nothing of turnovers — two fumbles and an interception.

Utah State had five drives go 20 or more yards, and four of those lasted at least seven plays but all led to nothing.

The Aggies moved the ball just fine, at least before the game got away from them, and finished with 362 yards of offense.

It was mistakes in key situations, whether that be a sack at an inopportune time — Wyoming sacked USU quarterback Logan Bonner just once, but had five quarterback hurries — turnovers, or missed communication that did USU in.

“We didn’t help ourselves at all with some big mistakes that we haven’t seen out of our team the last few weeks,” Anderson said. “Just turnovers and too many missed opportunities.”

In recent weeks, USU had been able to overcome most of those issues with strong second halves, rallying for wins time and again.

That didn’t happen Saturday.

“What we’ve typically done in the third quarter, we just couldn’t get momentum going our way,” Anderson said.

Or as Heninger put it: “The team that usually wins is the team that makes the least amount of mistakes, and tonight that was the Cowboys. They were able to capitalize on that.”

How to win the Mountain Division

At 8-3 overall, 5-2 in conference play, the Aggies are not out of the division or conference race just yet. Their hopes just lie with the San Diego State Aztecs.

Per the Mountain West Conference a three-time tie works as follows:

In the event of a percentage tie for a divisional championship between three or more teams, the following comparison procedure shall be used until one or more teams gain an advantage:

a) Winning percentage in games played among the tied teams, including forfeits.

b) Winning percentage in games played against division opponents, including forfeits.

c) Winning percentage against the next highest‐placed team in the division (based upon the team’s record in all games played in the Conference, including forfeits), proceeding through the division. (When comparing tied teams against positions lower in the standings that are also tied, those lower‐tied positions shall be considered a single position for the purposes of comparison.)

d) Winning percentage against common Conference opponents, including forfeits.

e) Highest CFP ranking (or the composite of selected computer rankings if neither team is ranked in the CFP rankings)following the final week of Conference regular‐season games

In simpler terms, with Air Force, Boise State and Utah State all standing at 5-2 in conference (Boise State beat Utah State, Utah State beat Air Force and Air Force beat Boise State), division record would eliminate the Aggies.

USU has lost to two Mountain Division teams, while both Air Force and Boise State have one division loss each. Thus, the Aggies hopes lies with San Diego State.

If the Aztecs defeat the Broncos Friday morning, Utah State will play for a conference championship, courtesy of head to head with Air Force (as long as USU beats New Mexico).

If the Broncos win, though, USU will watch the MW title game from home.

“We’ve got to regroup and find a way to go out and win No. 9,” Anderson said. “And we will all become big San Diego State fans.”