Utah State played its best game of the season, it just wasn’t enough against No. 19 BYU
The Aggies played a nearly flawless first half before ultimately losing the game in the second half
The end result was not what Utah State wanted.
Not even close.
The Aggies lost to the No. 19-ranked BYU Cougars 38-26 Thursday night in Provo in the final game — for now — in a nearly century-long rivalry.
It wasn’t an uncompetitive game by any means.
Utah State was arguably the better team for half of it, and if things had broken right, the Aggies could have pulled off the upset.
Utah State and BYU were neck-and-neck in terms of total yardage (396 for the Cougars compared to 394 for the Aggies), and the Aggies were more successful on third down (5 of 15) and in the red zone (USU scored on 4 of 5 red zone trips) than they’d been all season long.
USU’s defense proved stout most of the game, too, especially against the run, and the Aggies were in the Cougars’ backfield again and again.
Defensive end Byron Vaughns was particularly disruptive, less than a week after missing the UNLV game with a high ankle sprain.
The upset was there for the taking for much of the night, which only made the loss sting all the more.
“I wish we could play them again right now,” Utah State quarterback Cooper Legas said.
Now at 1-4, Utah State hasn’t had anywhere close to the type of season it had hoped for, but the loss to the Cougars wasn’t the nail in the coffin it could’ve been.
At least that is not how the Aggies perceived it. They seemed encouraged and energized after the game, result notwithstanding.
In fact, the first words uttered by Utah State coach Blake Anderson were optimistic. Hopeful even.
“That was the best we’ve played all year,” Anderson said. “The encouraging part is guys aren’t giving up on the process and we are getting better.”
After so many struggles through the first four games of the year, the Aggies are finally getting better in a perceivable way.
“We played as good as we possibly could in the first half,” Anderson said. “Clearly the game started to get away from us in the third quarter. (BYU’s) offense got going and started taking over the game. The kids never quit, though, and we played our best game of the season at the right time.
“We gave ourselves a chance to be competitive.”
Making it all the more impressive, Utah State did so without record-breaking quarterback Logan Bonner, whom Anderson confirmed is out for the remainder of the season with a broken foot.
The injury occurred late in the loss to UNLV, and Bonner actually finished the game with the injury.
Utah State elected to keep the development quiet, though Legas knew that he would be the starter against BYU the moment the injury took place.
“They were trying to keep in low that I was going to be the guy, but I knew right away when Logan broke his foot,” Legas said. “Me and Logan are really close so I knew before anyone else. I prepared all week.”
As Bonner’s replacement, Legas, who is from Orem near BYU’s campus, played nearly as well as could’ve been asked, aside from a lost fumble in the first quarter and a few errant pass attempts he admittedly wanted back.
Legas finished the game completing 19 of 31 passes for 188 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions, and also rushed for 54 yards and a score.
“I thought Coop did a great job,” Anderson said. “He prepared all week in exactly the way you’d ask him to. He has been ready for this opportunity and he did enough things to help us win the game. We just had breakdowns in other areas that didn’t give us a chance.
“(Legas) was poised, and that is who he is. That is why he came into the bowl game (last season) and did how he did. He has waited for his opportunity and did a phenomenal job. I’m sure there are a couple of plays he’d like to have back, but he gave us a chance to win. He is going to continue to get better every week he goes out.”
With Legas at the helm, Utah State was the most effective it had been all season offensively, at least through the first half.
The Aggies ran with ball to great effect, with running back Calvin Tyler Jr., rushing for 104 yards, while Robert Briggs added 46.
That success opened up the Aggies’ passing game, which saw wide receiver Brian Cobbs rack up 96 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
Things turned against the Aggies in the second half, in large part due to successful adjustments by BYU’s offense.
“They came out in 12 personnel with two tight ends and got the tight end on a smaller defender, ran a lot of zone schemes and RPO plays that we didn’t practice during the week and they came out with tempo and plays we didn’t see at all in the first half,” Vaughns said.
“There were some very good adjustments made by (BYU’s offensive coordinator, Aaron Roderick).”
Throw in more than a few breaks that went BYU’s way — Anderson wasn’t shy about his displeasure regarding the officiating, both during the game and afterward — and Utah State was simply outplayed and outmaneuvered after halftime.
“Kind of a tale of two halves,” Anderson said. “We couldn’t do any better in the first half and then struggled late.”
And yet, Utah State walked away from LaVell Edwards Stadium with hope. At 0-1 in conference play, the Aggies have seven league games remaining and the Mountain Division title is still up for grabs, as is a spot in the MW championship game.
“Every week matters going forward and we can’t let another one slip,” Anderson said. “That team that played tonight, if we play like that, that gives us a chance every week in conference.
“That team can beat anyone in our conference.”
Just not BYU in Provo on Thursday night.