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3 takeaways from Utah State’s home-opening victory over North Dakota

Utah State wide receiver Deven Thompkins runs down the field for a 75-yard touchdown.
Utah State wide receiver Deven Thompkins (13) runs down the field for a 75-yard touchdown as North Dakota defensive back C.J. Siegel, left, and defensive back Hayden Galvin (17) defend during the second half of an NCAA college football game Friday, Sept. 10, 2021, in Logan, Utah.
Eli Lucero/The Herald Journal via AP

Hoping to continue to ride the momentum from its historic Week 1 victory over Washington State, Utah State took the field for a Friday night matchup at home in Maverik Stadium with FCS opponent North Dakota Fighting Hawks.

After falling behind 21-7 in the first quarter with all 21 North Dakota points coming on its first three drives, it appeared that momentum from last week wouldn’t be carrying the Aggies to victory. After some urgency seemingly kicked in, Utah State closed out the remainder of the game by outscoring North Dakota 41-3 over the final three quarters to seal the win in the home-opening contest 48-24.

Offensive connoisseurs who watched the game likely came away more than satisfied, as both teams combined for more than 1,000 yards of total offense.

The 2-0 start is the first for the program since 2012, with new head coach Blake Anderson becoming just the fourth coach in program history to start his tenure with two victories.

The Aggies will now turn their attention to its first conference opponent, Air Force, on Sept. 18.

Here are three takeaways from the Friday night victory for the Aggies:

Bonner gets starting nod, has career outing

Last week’s matchup against Washington State saw the highly discussed fall camp quarterback battle continue into the game, as Logan Bonner and Andrew Peasley rotated in for each other every other series. Bonner, however, took the reins for the final two drives and led the offense to two touchdowns and the eventual victory.

Bonner’s performance late in the game against Washington State was enough for him to officially be named the starting signal-caller for the Aggies in their second game, and, after his performance Friday night, it appears the decision was the correct one.

Bonner finished the game with a career-high 390 yards passing with four touchdowns (tied for a career-high). Three of his four touchdowns were from 40 or more yards out.

“He did what he was supposed to do,” Anderson said of Bonner. “He got the ball to the right guys and made the defense make some decisions.”

Multiple receivers have career nights as well

A big reason for Bonner’s big statistical outing is the performance he received from his pass catchers, who made big plays throughout the night.

Deven Thompkins followed up his game-winning touchdown scoring performance against Washington State with a career-high 172 yards receiving Friday night (on eight catches). Thompkins took a short pass from Bonner and zoomed up the sideline untouched — thanks to outstanding blocking from fellow wideout Justin McGriff — to singlehandedly cap off what ended up being a one-play, 75-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter, which gave Utah State its first lead of the game.

The rest of the receiving corps complemented Thompkins’ performance with big performances of their own. Seniors Brandon Bowling (career-high 118 yards receiving on six catches with a touchdown) and Derek Wright (four catches for 73 yards and a career-high two touchdowns) each had one of their best performances in Aggie blue and white.

Wright said after the game that the performance showed how electric the receiver room can be, while also adding that they need to work on dropped balls.

“Collectively that whole group is just building more and more confidence,” Anderson said of his receivers. “The good thing about it is that it isn’t just one particular guy, clearly Deven has got some juice and if you give him room in space you saw what he can do today, but it’s not a one-man show by any means.”

After lackluster start, defense gets stronger as the game goes on

Simply put, North Dakota came out of the gates and punched the Utah State defense right in the mouth with its offensive attack. With just over a minute remaining in the first quarter, the Fighting Hawks had already amassed nearly 150 passing yards and three touchdowns through the air, led by sophomore quarterback Tommy Schuster.

Much like its opening game, the defensive unit appeared to get stronger as the game wore on. North Dakota only managed to score only three more points over the final three quarters of play, with most drives ending in a punt formation.

Senior linebacker Justin Rice was the standout player on defense for the Aggies, recording nine tackles (one for loss) while also setting a career-high with two interceptions.

Anderson said that defensive leadership from players like Rice — who’s a fifth-year college football player — helped his team turn things around after a rough first 15 minutes.

“As a senior I’ve seen a lot of ball and I kind of had to talk to everybody and calm them down,” Rice said. “It was just the first quarter, we still had three more quarters to play and as long as we played our brand of defense, we were going to be alright.”