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3 takeaways from Utah State’s season-opening victory over Washington State

Thanks to a late game surge from quarterback Logan Bonner and the Utah State offense, the Aggies secured a 26-23 comeback victory over the Cougars to secure their first win over a Power Five opponent in 10 years.

Utah State players sing the school’s song while celebrating with fans after winning 26-23 against Washington State.
Utah State players sing the school’s song while celebrating with fans after winning 26-23 against Washington State in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021, in Pullman, Wash.
Young Kwak, Associated Press

The Blake Anderson era in the Utah State football program kicked off late Saturday night in Pullman, Wash. with a test from a Pac-12 conference opponent, Washington State.

Safe to say Anderson and company passed that test with flying colors.

Thanks to a late game surge from quarterback Logan Bonner and the Utah State offense, the Aggies secured a 26-23 comeback victory over the Cougars to secure their first win over a Power Five opponent in 10 years. Bonner — who rotated with fellow quarterback Andrew Peasley throughout the game — led the offense on two straight scoring drives in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter to score 15 unanswered points and erase what was a 12-point lead for Washington State.

Running back Calvin Tyler Jr. scored the first touchdown with a 2-yard run with just over 5 minutes remaining and Bonner hit Deven Thompkins for the game-winning touchdown from seven yards out with just 11 seconds left on the game clock.

The consecutive touchdowns in the fourth quarter were the first touchdowns of the night for the Aggies, who had kicked three field goals and even notched a safety before finding the end zone.

Trailing by just one point after what was a defensive first half of play for both teams, hope of securing the victory began to fade for Utah State as Washington State appeared to take control of the game in the third quarter with two consecutive touchdown drives of their own. Anderson said after the game that Utah State’s conditioning and determination kicked in late, helping the team not only stay in the game, but secure the victory as well.

Here are three takeaways from opening game victory for the Aggies:

Bonner comes up big

After saying all throughout fall camp that he didn’t know who the starter would be, Anderson proved it by alternating Bonner and Peasley every other offensive series.

Performance-wise, both signal callers were neck-and-neck through the first three quarters of the game. Peasley found more success on the ground, but Bonner looked more stable through the air. Each player committed a turnover in the first half, Peasley with a fumble and Bonner with an interception.

But it was Bonner who was on the field for both of the Aggies’ only touchdown-scoring drives late in the game, finishing the contest with 10 consecutive completions including the game-winning strike to Thompkins.

Bonner finished the game 17 for 24 for 143 yards and a touchdown, while Peasley finished 6 for 12 for 76 yards with four carries for 43 yards.

Anderson said after the game that he saw both good and bad out of the quarterbacks and was reluctant to make a statement about the starting quarterback going forward.

“They both did really good things and they both did some dumb things to be honest with you,” Anderson said. “Bonner’s experience showed up tonight... but we’ll evaluate the tape when the emotions (of the game) are out of it and we’ll make an analytical decision and see if we’re ready to make an absolute decision or not. I would not have played them both tonight if I didn’t think we could win that way.”

Defense comes up big despite the naysayers

Despite being talked down for quite some time, the defense for the Aggies showed up to play Saturday night despite being put in some tough situations.

Following the turnovers in the first half by Bonner and Peasely, the unit found themselves facing poor field position, but they managed to force two Washington State field goals rather than conceding touchdowns.

The defense also picked up the safety in the second quarter when University of Miami transfer Patrick Joyner Jr. sacked Washington State’s Jarrett Guarantano in the end zone (Gurarantano would injure himself on the play and not return), while also limiting the Cougars to 3 for 11 on third down conversions.

Anderson said after the game that he felt the defense proved a lot of people wrong in the season-opening win.

“Considering what everybody has said about our defense leading up to this, how they finished a year ago and even what the people here in Pullman were saying about them all week leading up to the game, they couldn’t have played any better,” Anderson said. “To be able to force field goals after the turnovers and be able to force that three-and-out late in the game that got us the ball back (for the final possession), it’s hard to expect them to have played any better than they did.”

Anderson’s first game is historic

With the win in his first game at the helm, Anderson became the first Utah State head football coach to win their debut game in 48 years. The win also saw the Aggies shake off the struggles they have had against Power Five foes in recent years.

Though Anderson said after the game that his team played a very imperfect game of football, the start to the season couldn’t be better for a football program that looked to be gasping for air at times last year.

Anderson seemed unfazed by the significance of the win following the conclusion of the game, saying that he expected to leave Washington with a win.

“The kids deserve the credit, I just get to go along for the ride, but I couldn’t be more proud (of them),” Anderson said. “I told them I expected (the win). It’s not that I’m not excited —maybe it doesn’t show — but I really felt like this was something we could do. To me it’s just step one and I’m going to enjoy it, but I didn’t play. I get the credit for the win, but (the players) did all the hard work.”