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Utah State football report card: Aggies get uneven grades despite win over Air Force

Utah State running back Calvin Tyler Jr. leaves Air Force’s Ethan Erickson and Tre Bugg III behind on the winning touchdown during the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game
Utah State running back Calvin Tyler Jr. leaves Air Force’s Ethan Erickson and Tre Bugg III behind on the winning touchdown during the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, at Air Force Academy, Colo. (Jerilee Bennett/The Gazette via AP)
Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette via AP

It would almost certainly be a delight to Utah State head football coach Blake Anderson if people started referring to his squad as a fourth quarter team, but the Aggies probably deserve that recognition on an official basis now after they used a strong final frame once again to get a win Saturday, this time beating Air Force on the road.

Here’s how the Aggies graded in improving to 3-0 on the season:

Offense

For as great a performance as Utah State ended up having on that side of the ball Saturday, it didn’t start off all that wonderfully, as the Aggies scored just seven points in the first quarter and then only six in the second.

But, as Utah State has been prone to do in the early going of the season, it exploded in the second half, scoring 36 points. Three touchdowns came in a third quarter that was a blast if you like offense, and two more came in the fourth.

Save for a 61-yard game winning touchdown scamper by Calvin Tyler Jr., the run game wasn’t all that great, but the passing game was outstanding, even as the Aggies had to use both Logan Bonner and Andrew Peasley at quarterback.

Bonner finished 21 of 34 for 253 yards with two touchdowns and an interception before he left the game for good with an injury. Peasley went 10 of 15 for 195 yards with three touchdowns in the second half and led Utah State out of an 11-point deficit in the process. Deven Thompkins and Brandon Bowling combined for 324 receiving yards and a couple touchdowns.

All in all, a great performance from the offense to carry the Aggies to the win when they struggled in the other phases of the game.

Grade: A-

Defense

Anderson had expressed worry early in the week about how his team would defend Air Force’s option attack, and truth be told, the Aggies did not do it very well for most of the night.

Most notably, the Falcons broke a bunch of huge plays (three went for at least 50 yards), and they had far more success passing the ball than they should have had business having.

In all, Utah State surrendered 619 total yards (it got 628), an amount that took a great offensive performance to overcome.

But when it came down to it, the Aggies made defensive plays when they had to. After giving up 38 points through the first three quarters, Utah State surrendered just seven in the fourth. Air Force had punted zero times in the first 45 minutes but did twice in the final 15.

The biggest play, however, came with 2:30 to go when linebacker Justin Rice forced Falcons quarterback Haaziq Daniels to fumble, and the Aggies came away with it and sealed the deal from there.

Rice finished with 14 tackles (two for loss), an interception early and the forced fumble.

Not a very good outing for the defense in total, but it stepped up when it had to.

Grade: C-

Special teams

Once again, a unit that was more bad than even indifferent, let alone good.

The trouble started early when Utah State tried an onside kick and failed after cutting its deficit to 10-7. Later in that quarter after the Aggies scored their second touchdown, Connor Coles had his extra point try blocked.

In the fourth quarter, Utah State trailed by four when it got Air Force to punt for the first time all night. It appeared it would have gone into the end zone for a touchback, but Jordan Nathan fair caught it at the 6-yard line and the Aggies went three and out. A trickier decision for Nathan, but he ultimately ended up not making a great one.

Beside the miscues, Utah State didn’t really do anything impactful in any portion of special teams.

Grade: D+