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What to make of a blowout loss to the best team in the country

The Utah State Aggies were simply outclassed by No. 1 Alabama Saturday night, losing 55-0

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Utah State quarterback Levi Williams, left, and Alabama defensive back Kristian Story (11) chase Williams’ fumble during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022, in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Vasha Hunt, AP

Fifty-five to zero.

If that final score doesn’t convey it enough, Utah State was simply crushed by No. 1-ranked Alabama Saturday night at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

The statistics are overwhelming.

Alabama out-gained Utah State by 423 total yards, 559 to 136.

The Crimson Tide threw for 281 yards and rushed for 278. Utah State managed only 57 yards through the air and 79 on the ground.

Alabama quarterback Bryce Young, the 2021 Heisman Trophy winner, out-gained, out-performed and out-produced the Aggies by himself. Young accounted for six touchdowns, five passing and another on the ground. He completed 18 of 28 passes for 195 yards, finishing with a quarterback rating of 181.7.

Oh, and he also led Alabama with 100 yards on the ground, averaging 20 yards per carry.

By way of comparison, Utah State’s quarterbacks — Logan Bonner, Cooper Legas and Levi Williams — combined to complete only 8 of 22 passes, and they rushed the ball a combined seven times, for a total of 8 yards.

The Alabama defense was balanced and nearly impenetrable — 18 Alabama defenders recorded multiple tackles — limiting Utah State to an average of 2.3 yards per play.

Utah State was 3 of 17 on third down, and penalties were a significant issue (the Aggies committed 11, which added up to 110 negative yards).

Realistically, those and other stats don’t really do Alabama justice, either.

The Crimson Tide were more talented, more physical and more capable than the Aggies. And it was evident from start to finish.

“This was a game we had to come play and didn’t feel like we were physically going to match up very well and we didn’t,” Utah State head coach Blake Anderson said.

“We are not built that way. Only having been here a year and a half, we are a long way away from being able to play that game physically, to be able to match up, and maybe we will never be able to.”

Or in simpler terms, as redshirt freshman safety Ike Larsen put, “They are better than us.”

What can be made of a loss like that, a blowout so convincing that the game was realistically over in the first quarter after Alabama scored 17 unanswered points while limiting Utah State so much that not one of the 100,000-plus fans in attendance could have doubted for a moment that the Crimson Tide would be victorious?

Realistically, not a whole lot.

Alabama may end up being the best team Utah State has ever played, and that would be saying something considering the Aggies have played three eventual national champions since 1970, including one of the greatest college football teams ever in Joe Burrow-led LSU in 2019.

“I wish this was not an environment that our team had to be in, but it is what it is,” Anderson said. “As long as they played hard and tried to do what we asked them to do, all I want from them is to not doubt or be frustrated or be down at all.

“It is what it is. I’ve seen people in the SEC come in here and be treated exactly the same way.”

There are positives to be gleaned, even in demoralizing defeat.

For one — and this perhaps the most significant — the Aggies largely walked away unscathed on the injury front, despite scares to defensive tackles Hale Motu’apuaka and Poukesi Vakauta, as well as linebacker AJ Vongphachanh.

“First indication is it is all bumps and bruises,” Anderson said. “We were pretty cautious with the score where it was. Didn’t feel the need to risk anything. Once guys had bumps and bruises, we were pretty cautious about putting them back out there.

“At first glance, talking to the medical staff, we should have everyone healthy and ready for practice getting ready for Weber (State). In that sense, it is a victory. We couldn’t afford to lose a starter or a key player in a game like this, so I think that was fortunate.”

A byproduct of that conservative approach meant Utah State nearly emptied its bench, with 28 different Aggies recording at least one tackle, eight making at least one rush and six tallying receptions.

Legas and Williams both saw significant time after Bonner was benched following being dinged up early.

And there is nothing quite as valuable to development as in-game reps, and those reps coming against the best team in the country certainly didn’t hurt.

“There is nothing quite like playing a game,” Anderson said. “Practice is not the same and playing against that level of talent is unique in itself. We got a lot of people on the field. You’d like to think, and I don’t know if there is a way to calculate that, but I think game reps are huge.

“To tackle a guy, to line up where you are supposed to against a really physical, talented football team, with the matchups being that difficult, there have to be some residual benefits from that. Hopefully down the stretch as the season progresses and we have injuries and guys do have to step up, those reps will help us be better when it really matters, late in the year in conference play. That is one of the few maybe benefits of tonight. There’s not many, but that may be one.”

Early in the week, Anderson and the Aggies made it clear that they were under no illusions that they could compete with Alabama. Not really.

“They (Alabama) are maybe the best team on the planet,” Anderson said in his Monday press conference. “There are just no weaknesses. They are a huge challenge for our guys. We have to focus on us, focus on getting better.”

In Anderson’s eyes, his team did just that, even as the rest of the country sees a dismal shutout loss.

“I love them and I am proud of how hard they played,” Anderson said. “We have to put this one where it belongs. Don’t let this one linger. Learn from it, move on and trust the way we do things.”

That “way” led Utah State to a Mountain West Conference title last season, a goal that remains very much alive.

And the Aggies are still bought in.

“I’d never been in an environment like this before and there were butterflies,” Larsen said. “They were the better team tonight, and we just have to take what we learned and move on from it.”