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Analysis: Utah State’s bowl matchup will give Aggies the spotlight they deserve

A masterful effort in the Mountain West Conference championship earned Utah State a postseason game against the Pac-12’s Oregon State

Utah State head coach Blake Anderson is doused while celebrating a victory over San Diego State.
Utah State head coach Blake Anderson is doused while celebrating a victory over San Diego State in an NCAA college football game for the Mountain West Conference Championship, Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021, in Carson, Calif.
John McCoy, Associated Press

Still riding high from its Mountain West Conference championship victory, Utah State has learned where and who it will play during this year’s bowling season.

Coming off a 2020 season where they finished 1-5, the Aggies (10-3, 6-2 in the Mountain West) will cap off their miraculous program turnaround with a bout against Oregon State (7-5, 5-4 in the Pac-12) in the inaugural Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California, on Dec. 18 at 5:30 p.m. MST.

Representing the conference they were just crowned champions of, first-year head coach Blake Anderson and the Aggies are excited for what the bowl has in store for them.

“We are beyond excited for this team to get the opportunity to play one more game,” Anderson said.

“I am so proud of what our players and staff have accomplished, and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate this unbelievable season than by representing the Mountain West as its conference champion in the Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl.”

The game will be Utah State’s ninth bowl game in 11 years and its first since 2019. The Aggies are 5-9 all-time in bowl games.

Oregon State will be the second Pac-12 team the Aggies have faced this season, with the first meeting coming against Washington State in the team’s first game of the year, which Utah State won 26-23.

Anderson said his players are excited to play against another Pac-12 opponent.

“The challenge that it’ll be to play Oregon State, I mean our guys are getting geeked up,” Anderson said. “You’re playing great football teams in that league, we’ve already seen Washington State up close and were fortunate to win that one. We know what kind of challenge it will be.”

Led by the conference’s leading rusher in BJ Baylor (1,259 yards and 13 touchdowns), the Beavers boast the Pac-12’s best rushing offense, averaging 217.4 yards on the ground.

After struggling to stop opposing rushing attacks at times this season, the Aggies showed major improvement in that category in their championship-clinching game against San Diego State when they held the Aztecs to just 3.8 yards a carry.

The run defense will once again be a key factor that will determine whether or not Utah State will find success.

It will be an interesting matchup for Utah State’s leading rusher, Calvin Tyler Jr., who will be facing the team he transferred from back in January.

“This will obviously be a strange matchup for him having transferred from Oregon State,” Anderson said. “I know he appreciated his time there and it’ll be fun for him to get a chance to see a lot of guys he cares a lot about.”

With just 13 days separating the bowl announcement and the game itself, the turnaround will be a quick one for Anderson, who said that he expects the next couple weeks to be extremely busy for his staff and his team.

“We’ll be on the road for the next four days trying to finish up recruiting,” Anderson said during a virtual press conference on Sunday.

“Our guys really have not had any break at all, we have finals coming up as well. … (The quick turnaround) may be a good thing. With all the distractions and energy rolling into the game, it may be the best thing for us because there’s not a lot of time to think about anything else.”

Though the day leading up to it may be stressful for Anderson and crew, the bright lights of SoFi Stadium — which houses both the Los Angeles Chargers and the L.A. Rams and will be the venue of Super Bowl 56 this February — will be a fitting end to a season that deserves the spotlight.

“On behalf of Utah State University, we are thrilled to represent the Mountain West as conference champions against an outstanding opponent in the 2021 Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl,” USU Vice President and Director of Athletics John Hartwell said in a press release.

“I’m excited for our student-athletes to experience another bowl game and we look forward to the hospitality of Southern California.”