Utah State suffered a blowout loss to Alabama Saturday night, falling to 1-1 on the season.
The Aggies were uncompetitive against the Crimson Tide, which wasn’t much of a surprise.
Leading into the game, Utah State head coach Blake Anderson was nothing but honest about how his team stacked up against Alabama, a sentiment he reiterated after the contest as well.
“I was very clear with the media and very clear with our team all week,” Anderson said. “... Ultimately we just got out-athleted.”
There isn’t a whole lot to be gleaned from a game as lopsided as a 55-0 shutout, but here are some things we learned about Utah State in the loss to Alabama.
Utah State has some playmakers in its secondary
- It is never ideal to have your secondary be your most productive defenders — that usually means the opposing offense is getting into the second level of the defense with ease — but that was the case for Utah State against Alabama.
- Five of the top six tacklers for the Aggies were safeties and corners, and the sixth player was a striker, a hybrid safety/linebacker.
- With such an outsized load placed upon the backend of the Aggies’ defense, multiple players in secondary stood out.
- Redshirt freshman safety Ike Larsen showed a knack for big plays once again, recording his second interception in as many weeks and Utah State’s only quarterback hurry of the game.
- Cornerback Mike Anyanwu was targeted early and often, but showed an ability to fight though wide receiver blocks to make plays on the outside. He finished with five tackles, including four solo tackles.
- Safety Gurvan Hall Jr. proved capable of making an impact in run defense and finished with the most solo tackles (5) of any Aggie.
- Safety Hunter Reynolds and corner Ajani Carter each recorded a pass breakup, two of Utah State’s few successes against the Alabama passing attack.
Having a mobile quarterback is essential for the Aggies’ offense
- Utah State starting quarterback Logan Bonner was a prolific passer last season, breaking five program records, but the Aggies’ offense is at its best when the quarterback is a threat to run.
- That was put on display against Alabama. Bonner was limited in the run game by his knee — an injury he has been rehabbing since the end of last season — and was taken out of the game entirely after tweaking it.
- Immediately after backup quarterback Cooper Legas entered the game, the Utah State offense showed its first signs of life (as much as it could in a shutout loss) thanks to Legas’ running ability.
- Later, when Levi Williams entered, his scrambling ability kept the Alabama defense a little more honest, leading to multiple first downs.
- Given the still unproven nature of the Aggies’ receiving corps, a mobile quarterback will be vital moving forward.
Utah State’s defense will go as its D-line goes
- One of the main reasons Utah State’s secondary was asked to do so much against Alabama was because of the struggles of the Aggies’ defensive front.
- No Utah State defensive lineman recorded more than two tackles — defensive ends Daniel Grzesiak, Byron Vaughns and John Ward had two each — and the Aggies totaled just five tackles for loss, with the D-line accounting for four of those.
- Aside from a couple of instances — such as when Grzesiak recorded Utah State’s only sack — Alabama quarterback Bryce Young was unbothered in the pocket.
- Against UConn, Utah State struggled up front early before settling, and that was when the game changed in the Aggies’ favor. Against Alabama, the defensive line was never quite capable of making an impact, and because of that, Utah State was at Alabama’s mercy.
Special teams should make a difference come conference play
- Special teams play has been a strength of the Aggies for years now, but it was a question mark entering this season with the departures of Savon Scarver, Deven Thompkins and Jordan Nathan in the return game.
- Punter Stephen Kotsanlee is back, though, and after a fine performance against UConn, he showed glimpses of how good he can be against Alabama. Kotsanlee punted 10 times, four of which were downed inside the 20-yard line.
- He also had a 60-yard punt and four punts of at least 50 yards.
- Outside of Kotsanlee, Larsen was the most impactful USU player on special teams. He had a 10-yard punt return, the Aggies’ only successful kick return of any kind, and blocked a punt.
- Special teams weren’t going to make any sort of real difference against Alabama, but if Kotsanlee can be an All-Mountain West caliber punter again, kicker Connor Coles can continue what has been a successful Aggie career and Larsen and others can be playmakers in the return game, Utah State’s special teams will be the difference between multiple wins and losses this season.