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Utah State football report card: Poor showing against Wyoming leaves Aggies wanting

The Aggies played one of their worst games of the season against the rival Cowboys, in every phase, and now need help.

Wyoming running back Titus Swen (8) runs down the field for a touchdown in the second half of an NCAA college football game against Utah State, aturday, Nov. 20, 2021, in Logan, Utah.
Eli Lucero/Herald Journal via AP

Utah State did not play well Saturday night against Wyoming.

The Aggies were outclassed by the rival Cowboys, who ran over, around and through USU nearly from start to finish of the 44-17 Mountain Division contest (in case it isn’t clear, Wyoming won).

Afterward, Utah State head coach Blake Anderson didn’t shy away from any of it.

“I was worried all week about our ability to match up to their style of play and their size, and we did not,” Anderson said. “Really, not in any area. ... They played physical football and punched us in the mouth.”

Wyoming is not a bad team. At 6-5 overall, the Cowboys are now bowl eligible and have been competitive in every game this season.

They had been trending upward, too, and played arguably their best game of the year Saturday night in Logan.

“We saw what they were capable of doing with how they played a few teams down the stretch,” Anderson said. “and we saw their best game today I think, in most areas.”

For Utah State, though, which had its destiny in its hands — wins over Wyoming and then New Mexico this Friday would have given the Aggies the Mountain Division title and sent them to the Mountain West Conference championship game — the loss was a major disappointment.

The Aggies had been playing as well as any team in the MW — USU had a conference-best five game winning streak — but not so much anymore.

“We didn’t respond real well,” Anderson said. “We played hard, but we did not play well. The guys were excited and knew what was at stake, but we made way too many mistakes to stay in the game.”

Here’s how the Aggies graded out in their loss to the Cowboys.

Offense

For most of the season, Utah State’s offense has been able move the ball at will on opponents.

In wins — the Aggies do have eight of those — that movement has often led to points, whether they be touchdowns or at least field goals.

In losses to Boise State and BYU, the Aggies stalled too often offensively, and that happened against Wyoming.

Utah State had 361 yards of total offense — 181 yards passing and rushing — but only found the end zone twice, with both scores coming in the first quarter.

Of the Aggies’ 13 possessions, only three ended with points, but eight lasted longer than three plays.

Wyoming only forced the USU offense to go three-and-out three times (four times if you include a promising three-play drive that was cut short because of a fumble).

Penalties weren’t to blame (USU only had one penalty in the game). Instead, it was turnovers — Utah State had three total, two on offense — and simple mistakes, like miscommunication and poor pass blocking that rendered the Aggies’ offense ineffective.

“Turnovers on offense and missed opportunities,” Anderson said. “Didn’t think we helped ourselves at all with some big mistakes we hadn’t seen from our team the last few weeks.”

Quarterback Logan Bonner had his worst performance in weeks, completing only 19 of 40 pass attempts for 181 yards and two touchdowns, but he was sacked once and hurried five times.

Adding insult to injury, the Cowboys also recorded seven pass breakups, most of which came at the line of scrimmage.

Utah State’s rushing attack was good. Calvin Tyler Jr. ran for over 100 yards (109) and averaged 6.1 yards per carry.

Bonner scrambled well (six carries for 46 yards) and Elelyon Noa averaged 7.5 yards a carry, but Noa also fumbled, cutting a promising drive short.

Pitted against the Cowboys’ excellent pass defense — Wyoming has the best pass defense in the MW, giving up 164.3 yards per game and only 5.7 yards per completion — Utah State actually did OK, but as Anderson has been prone to say, yards gained (or given up) mean nothing if there aren’t points in the end.

And after scoring two touchdowns in the first quarter, Utah State only managed three more points and was shut out in the second half.

Grade: D+

Defense

The Aggies’ defense had played well in recent weeks. The defensive front had seemingly come together at the right time, and had been a nightmare for San Jose State, New Mexico State and Hawaii.

USU’s linebackers had been solid all year and the secondary, while not elite, had played better and proven adept at forcing turnovers.

All that disappeared Saturday, though, as the Aggies were dominated by the Cowboys.

Wyoming racked up 604 yards of total offense, rushing for 362 yards and passing for 242. UW quarterback Levi Williams was almost perfect, completing 12 of 15 passes for 242 yards and two touchdowns.

Cowboys running backs Titus Swen and Xazavian Valladay rushed for a combined 314 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 9.1 yards per carry.

Wide receiver Isaiah Neyor had six catches for 125 yards and a touchdown, while Joshua Cobbs added 76 yards and a score.

It was a nearly flawless offensive performance by Wyoming and a disaster for Utah State.

“Didn’t think we helped ourselves, “Anderson said. “The busted gaps and big explosive runs, we’ve been able to bottle up the run for weeks but not tonight.

“Honestly got shoved around, which is something we have been concerned about all year. We’ve been able to beat people with quickness and speed, and tonight we did not.”

Utah State played well early, limiting Wyoming to only 17 rushing yards in the first quarter, but the Cowboys’ adjustments and physicality quickly rendered that early success meaningless.

“They did a really good job sticking to the game plan,” Anderson said. “We didn’t tackle well, and as the game wore on their size and physical nature, how they run the ball, they just got harder and harder for us to defend.

“They did a good job to recognize where the weaknesses in our scheme were and got to plays that gave them advantages.”

Missed tackles became more and more egregious as the game progressed. The Aggies simply could not make plays, even when they were in the position to do so.

“We did have some missed tackles,” defensive end Nick Heninger said. “And let’s get real, momentum, as much as you love it and hate it, it is a powerful thing and they had the momentum and we weren’t able to take it back.”

The Aggies did force a turnover — a Shaq Bond interception — but ultimately allowed scores on seven of 11 meaningful Wyoming drives.

Grade: D-

Special Teams

For most of the year, Utah State’s special teams, at the very least, hadn’t hurt the team.

The Aggies generally are good in the third phase of the game, with kick return star Savon Scarver, kicker Connor Coles and punter Stephen Kotsanlee as the headliners.

That wasn’t the case against the Cowboys.

Utah State surrendered a 99-yard kick return for a touchdown and fumbled a snap on a field goal try (the Aggies recovered the fumble, but turned the ball over on downs and Wyoming scored a touchdown on the ensuing possession).

Those two plays rendered special teams a net negative for Utah State even though Coles made a 36-yard field goal and Scarver tallied 86 kick return yards.

“The kickoff return for a touchdown, that is something we have covered really well all year,” Anderson said. “One of those big mistakes we hadn’t seen from our team the last few weeks.”

That was the major theme from the loss to the Cowboys. Everything Utah State had managed to avoid during its five-game winning streak made a reappearance against Wyoming.

“Disappointed for the guys, not in them,” Anderson said. “They battled hard. It caught up to us tonight. We played bad.”

Grade: D-