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Utah State report card: Aggies show their big-play capability in victory over North Dakota

Utah State had four touchdowns of 40-plus yards and benefitted from a pair of big interceptions

Utah State wide receiver Deven Thompkins is tackled by North Dakota defensive back Evan Holm.
Utah State wide receiver Deven Thompkins (13) is tackled by North Dakota defensive back Evan Holm (6) during the first half of an NCAA college football game Friday, Sept. 10, 2021, in Logan, Utah.
Eli Lucero/The Herald Journal via AP

Big plays carried Utah State to a 48-24 victory over North Dakota on Friday night, a game that saw the Aggies overcome an early 14-point deficit then run away with a convincing win after a 21-point fourth quarter.

Here’s how the Aggies graded in improving to 2-0 on the season:

Offense

Utah State showed off its explosiveness offensively — particularly in the pass game — against North Dakota. Four of the Aggies’ scoring plays covered 40 yards or more, including touchdown catches by Brandon Bowling (54 yards), Deven Thompkins (75) and Derek Wright (41), to go with a 59-yard touchdown run late from quarterback Andrew Peasley.

That led to some big statistical nights for several different Aggies. Logan Bonner completed 21 of 33 passes for 390 yards and four touchdowns (tying a career high) with one interception. Thompkins (eight catches for 172 yards), Bowling (six catches for 118 yards) and Wright (four catches for 73 yards) all set career-highs in receiving yards. Wright also had two touchdowns, his first career multi-TD game.

Running back Calvin Tyler Jr. had a solid night as well, finishing with a career-high-tying 14 carries for 72 yards. His 2-yard touchdown run on fourth down just minutes into the fourth quarter gave the Aggies a 10-point lead.

Utah State did leave some points out on the field, though, having to rely on two short second-quarter field goals. The Aggies also were stopped inside the North Dakota 5 late in the third quarter when Utah State had a chance to make it a two-score game.

Overall, though, the Utah State offense took advantage of its opportunities to get plenty of skill players involved.

Grade: A-

Defense

Through one quarter, the Aggies defense resembled nothing like what Utah State saw the week before when it knocked off the Pac-12’s Washington State on the road. North Dakota turned its first three possessions into three touchdowns, and Fighting Hawks quarterback Tommy Schuster was picking apart the Aggie defense as USU trailed 21-7 after the first quarter.

Things changed drastically over the final three quarters, as Utah State only allowed North Dakota three points the rest of the way, and those points came after an Aggie turnover in their own territory. Utah State forced six punts and stopped two North Dakota drives with interceptions over the the final three quarters, and the Aggies gave up only 234 yards in quarters two through four after the Fighting Hawks had 205 in the first quarter alone.

Linebacker Justin Rice was again a big reason for the Aggies’ defensive resurgence. The grad transfer tied for the team lead with nine tackles, added a tackle for loss and had a career-high two interceptions. The first interception stopped a promising North Dakota drive near midfield just before halftime, and the second one — deep inside USU territory — set up the Aggies’ final touchdown.

It wasn’t always pretty, especially early, but the Aggie defense showed the ability to make big plays as well.

Grade: B

Special teams

The Aggies’ special team group had a solid day, never giving up anything big while delivering when needed.

Connor Coles had another solid kicking night for the Aggies. His two second-quarter field goals — from 26 and 37 yards — helped Utah State cut into an early 21-7 deficit, and he’s now a perfect 5-for-5 on field goals this year. He also stayed perfect on extra points and accounted for a career-best 12 points in the game.

Stephen Kotsanlee averaged 40.7 yards on three punts, two of which were downed inside the 20 and included a 52-yarder that helped flip the field.

Jordan Nathan also had a 19-yard punt return in the third quarter that set Utah State up with solid field position near midfield.

Grade: B+