The Utah State Aggies fell to the Fresno State Bulldogs 37-32 Friday night in Logan.
It was a hotly contested game with multiple lead changes in the fourth quarter alone, but a late interception thrown by Utah State quarterback Cooper Legas cut a potential game-winning USU drive short.
The Aggies fell to 3-4 on the season, 1-2 in Mountain West Conference play and will enter the second half of their season with work to do, both in terms of becoming bowl eligible and trying to stay alive in the conference title race.
Here are three takeaways from the Aggies’ latest setback.
Ill-timed mistakes again and again
Utah State was far from perfect against Fresno State, and it cost them.
Be it turnovers, namely two interceptions by Legas, penalties (USU finished with eight penalties for 73 yards) or mistimed coaching decisions, the Aggies made one too many mistakes against the Bulldogs.
Starting with the turnovers, it is difficult to win a college football game when you lose the turnover battle, and the Aggies lost that battle 2-0, thanks to two picks.
The first interception was not Legas’ fault. There was a miscommunication on the outside between wide receivers Jalen Royals and Terrell Vaughn that led to a bobbled catch and then the pick by Fresno State nickel back Morice Norris Jr.
The second interception, meanwhile, came in the last minute of the game with USU driving for a potential game-winning touchdown when Legas threw the ball over the middle to Vaughn only to have Norris Jr. make a great play on it.
Neither interception was completely Legas’ fault, but both cut short promising Aggie drives in Fresno State territory.
As for the penalties, there were too many of the undisciplined variety, be it personal fouls, hands to the face or roughing the passer.
Each of those was a major penalty in the game, and nearly all either ended a promising Utah State drive or gave Fresno State a boost in what ended up being a scoring drive.
As for the coaching misadventures, the Aggies attempted a surprise onside kick that failed and led to a Bulldogs score.
Individually, those mistakes may have been overcome by Utah State, but combined they were too much for the Aggies, especially when considering the quality of the opponent.
This Utah State offense can score on almost anyone
Despite losing and having multiple promising drives comprised by penalties or turnovers, the USU offense was dynamic and explosive against a good Fresno State defense.
USU finished with 568 yards of offense, 363 through the air and another 205 on the ground.
The Aggies nearly had three receivers top the 100 yard receiving mark in the same game again, while Legas statistically had one of the best outings of his career, throwing for 363 yards and three touchdowns, along with the two interceptions.
Utah State’s rushing attack found purchase often, with all three running backs — Robert Briggs, Davon Booth and Rahsul Faison — proving adept at gaining good yardage (all three averaged at least 4.6 yards per carry).
And explosive plays were plentiful, with five Aggies having at least one reception or run of 24 yards or better.
Utah State didn’t score enough touchdowns, again because of multiple drives ended by turnovers or ill-timed penalties, but the Aggies still managed 32 points and scored at least one touchdown in three of four quarters.
It is clear now that the 2023 Aggies have offensive weapons all over the field (even the tight ends got some work against Fresno State) and can compete with just about any team in the Mountain West Conference.
Cooper Legas or McCae Hillstead won’t be an easy decision
Legas has not been perfect since taking over as the starting quarterback during McCae Hillstead’s absence.
He has had two multi-interception games — against Colorado State and Fresno State — and the Aggies are 2-3 when he starts games this season.
But he has given the Utah State coaching staff something to think about when Hillstead returns, which head coach Blake Anderson said postgame he expects to be next week at San Jose State.
A senior, Legas has proven more decisive since his benching, and his ability to scramble and be elusive has been of great help to an injured, young and inconsistent offensive line.
Against Fresno State, Legas singlehandedly kept drives alive with his scrambling ability.
Hillstead, though, has shown in his brief time on the field this season to be a more dynamic passer, a more natural thrower, and better at anticipating routes and throwing receivers open.
The Aggies coaching staff has a difficult choice awaiting them as to which quarterback should be the starter going forward.
It has been a benefit to have a backup as capable as Legas, but the team could use some stability at the quarterback position, something USU hasn’t had since the 2021 season.