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Utah State football report card: Aggies’ issues in red zone, special teams costly in loss to Boise State

Boise State defensive tackle Scott Matlock (99) blocks the field goal attempt of Utah State place kicker Connor Coles (59).
Boise State defensive tackle Scott Matlock (99) blocks the field goal attempt of Utah State place kicker Connor Coles (59) during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021, in Logan, Utah.
Eli Lucero/The Herald Journal via AP

Utah State couldn’t manufacture another fourth-quarter comeback against Boise State on Saturday.

Instead, mistakes in all three aspects of the game contributed to a 27-3 loss at Maverik Stadium that halted the early-season momentum the Aggies had built.

Here’s how Utah State graded in its first loss of the year.

Offense

The Aggies put up plenty of yards against Boise State — Utah State outgained the Broncos 443 to 435 in total yards — but that didn’t translate into points outside of a Connor Coles 20-yard field goal in the first minute of the fourth quarter.

Utah State instead suffered from costly turnovers, penalty issues, red zone woes and uneven quarterback play in the loss.

The Aggies, who committed 13 penalties for 85 yards, only scored three points on four red-zone appearances. On the three scoreless trips to the red zone, Coles had a 41-yard field goal attempt blocked (after a delay of game penalty moved the attempt back 5 yards), Logan Bonner threw a second-quarter interception on an ill-advised third-down pass and Coles was wide left on a 36-yard field goal attempt just before halftime when the game was still 10-0.

Utah State also had a turnover on downs in Boise State territory in the first half.

That led to the Aggies staying close through a good portion of the game, but Utah State couldn’t find ways to capitalize.

Bonner had his worst game as an Aggie, completing 11 of 25 passes for 173 yards and two interceptions, including one on Utah State’s first drive of the game that bounced off his receiver’s hands. His second-quarter interception, though, was especially costly, when he scrambled and threw up a pass to the goal line that was picked off by the Broncos’ Tyric LeBeauf just moments after Boise State went up 10-0.

Andrew Peasley came in to relieve Bonner twice and was the quarterback the Aggies turned to at the end. He led the team’s lone scoring drive, but Peasley was just 2 of 6 passing for 35 yards and rushed for 9 yards on five carries. His fourth-quarter fumble on a sack sealed the win for Boise State, as the Broncos drove 15 yards after the turnover and scored a touchdown that put them up 24.

Grade: D-

Defense

Through almost two and a half quarters, the Utah State defense did enough to keep the Aggies in the game. As the contest wore on, though, Boise State found ways to wear down the USU defense. Case in point: the Broncos were 2 of 7 on third downs in the first half, but they improved that to 4 of 8 in the second half.

One of the bright spots for the Aggies’ defense was Nick Heninger, who had five tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and two pass breakups, including a third-down tipped pass in the first half. He added a sack in Utah State territory during the fourth quarter.

Ajani Carter also had the unit’s lone turnover, picking off Hank Bachmeier at the Utah State 12 late in the third quarter, a key stop that led to Utah State’s lone score and briefly held up the hope that the Aggies could rally.

Too often, though, Utah State gave up big plays — like a 69-yard pass that set up the Broncos’ first touchdown — and allowed Boise State to go on a 60-yard drive that ended with three points after the Aggies had cut the Broncos’ lead to 17-3 with 14:04 to play.

Bachmeier also had a good, if unspectacular, day leading the Boise State offense, completing 22 of 39 passes for 287 yards, two touchdowns and an interception with 44 rushing yards.

Penalties also hurt Utah State on this side of the ball, including a pair of defensive pass interferences on Cam Lampkin that helped lead to Boise State touchdowns.

Grade: C

Special teams

It’s rare when a personnel group gets a failing grade, but that was justifiable for Utah State’s special teams against Boise State.

The most glaring mistake of the day was a head-scratching play minutes into the third quarter. Utah State forced Boise State to punt on the first possession of the second half, only for the Aggies to fail to move the ball much on their ensuing series. With USU facing a fourth-and-10 at its own 26 in a 10-0 game, punter Stephen Kotsanlee appeared to fake the punt, tucking the ball and running. Boise State was ready for it, though, and dropped Kotsanlee for an 8-yard loss, a costly miscue as the Broncos quickly scored a touchdown to make it a 17-0 game.

That was one of many failures for the USU special teams. Coles’ two first-half field-goal attempts were costly, as was returner Jordan Nathan fielding a punt at the Aggies’ 1-yard line during the second quarter. Nathan was nearly dropped for a safety on the play, and it forced the Aggies to dig out of a big hole to start the drive.

Nathan later added a 28-yard punt return in the third quarter and Kotsanlee averaged 47.6 yards on five punts, but the special teams’ biggest errors came at critical junctures in the loss to Boise State.

Grade: F