Through the first seven games of this season, linebacker MJ Tafisi had been a stalwart defender for the Utah State football team.
His 66 tackles led all Aggie defenders and he was only getting better, game-by-game.
In wins over Air Force and Colorado State, Tafisi recorded 13 and 12 tackles, respectively — his best outings of the season — and between him and AJ Vongphachanh, Utah State was set at linebacker.
That all changed against Wyoming.
Tafisi was knocked out of the game early in Utah State’s 28-14 loss to the Cowboys, suffering a “neck and arm injury,” according to head coach Blake Anderson, the latest in a string of injuries to key Aggies.
Utah State entered the game against its division rivals without three quarterbacks — Logan Bonner, Cooper Legas and Levi Williams — as well as starting defensive end Byron Vaughns, plus multiple other starters and rotation players who had suffered season-ending injuries earlier this year.
Starting cornerback Ajani Carter was also out against Wyoming, with what Anderson described as a potentially season ending injury.
All of it left Utah State undermanned and reeling Saturday night, before and after the loss to the Cowboys.
“We’ve got to heal up,” Anderson said, “and find a way to put as many guys on the field as we can moving forward... Hopefully we get some guys back and look a little more like ourselves.”
Tafisi’s injury forced Utah State to play freshmen linebackers Sione Moa and Max Alford, while Carter’s absence led Xavion Steele to start on the outside, to say nothing of quarterback Bishop Davenport getting his first career start.
The collective inexperience showed, despite no lack of effort.
“Some really good play, some freshman play,” Anderson said. “We got out-of-gapped, struggled with motions and didn’t get lined up correctly, which you’d expect, but at times played really, really well.”
Tafisi should be back. The Washington transfer wanted to return to the game Saturday, but that just wasn’t a viable option.
“MJ wanted to go back in, but we just couldn’t get strength in that arm,” Anderson said. “It was a neck and arm injury, a nerve issue, and you just don’t play with that.
“As much as he wanted to play, he is going to have to show consistent strength without any issue before we can throw him back out there. That is the nature of playing defense, stingers and all the things that come with it. He was a big loss.”
Carter, on the other hand, may miss the rest of the season, and if that happens he would join Bonner, wide receiver Kyle Van Leeuwen and defensive tackles Phillip Paea and Seni Tuiaki on an ever growing list.
“AJ Carter has a foot injury that is potentially going to cost him some time,” Anderson said. “Not sure how much, whether two or three weeks or potentially the season depending on how he responds to treatment.
“We are going to be as aggressive with it as we can.”
Williams suited up Saturday night, leading to speculation that he might play, but he was only available as an absolute emergency option at quarterback.
“He got rolled up pretty good last week,” Anderson said. “He exceeded all of our expectations this week being available in an emergency situation but it would have been careless to put him out there. He is moving with a limp, no strength or power to really protect himself.”
With a bye week ahead, Utah State has time to recover a little before season-defining games against New Mexico, Hawaii, San Jose State and Boise State, but injuries have plagued the Aggies this year, and things didn’t get any better against Wyoming.
“We’ve got to get healthy,” Anderson said. “Healing up and continuing the process is all we can do.”