The Utah State Aggies defeated the rival Colorado State Rams 44-24 Saturday night in Logan by rallying from a 17-0 first quarter deficit for the second straight week.
The Aggies have now won back-to-back games for the first time since mid-November last season, and they are now 1-1 in Mountain West Conference play and 3-3 overall.
Here are three takeaways from the Aggies’ victory over the Rams:
Utah State’s defensive line showed up
The stats might not show it, but the Aggies’ defensive front played arguably its best game of the season against the Rams.
Pressure on the quarterback was a necessity, given the Rams’ electric Air Raid offense. From the get-go, the USU defense was up to the task.
Whether it be defensive tackle Hale Motu’apuaka or defensive ends Paul Fitzgerald, Cian Slone and Blaine Spires, the Aggies’ defensive line was active and effective from the start, routinely pressuring Colorado State quarterback Brayden Fowler-Nicolosi and opening up holes for linebackers MJ Tafisi and Anthony Switzer to pressure Fowler-Nicolosi.
Pressure by Motu’apuaka led to at least one of the three interceptions thrown by Fowler-Nicolosi — a pick recorded by safety Ike Larsen. The Rams’ QB ultimately completed only 26 of 57 passes as he was regularly forced out of the pocket.
Not only did the Aggies’ defensive front pressure the quarterback, they also managed to effectively limit Colorado State’s rushing attack.
The Rams rushed for only 95 yards, lead back Kobe Johnson finishing with just 56.
Through the first five games of the season, Utah State’s defensive line struggled to get pressure in the backfield and defend against the run. Against Colorado State, the defensive line put together its most complete performance of the season.
Is Utah State’s defense made to defend the Air Raid?
Week after week, Utah State head coach Blake Anderson has spoken about the size and strength limitations of his team, namely that the Aggies are smaller than everyone they play.
That was the case again against Colorado State, but CSU’s Air Raid attack played right into the Aggies’ hands.
Arguably the team’s top playmakers can be found in the secondary (or at linebacker now), including safeties Larsen and Devin Dye and linebackers Anthony Switzer and MJ Tafisi.
The Rams had plenty of playmakers on offense, including star wideout Tory Horton and tight end Dallin Holker, but the Aggies’ secondary was up to the task, even in one-on-one coverage.
Horton only caught three passes for 20 yards and lost a 50-50 ball to Larsen in the end zone (Horton was injured before the half and didn’t play the last two quarters).
As for Holker, the BYU transfer finished with six catches for 50 yards, but he was targeted 11 times and only gained eight yards after the catch.
The USU secondary was there for every one of his catches.
Effectively playing with six defensive backs on the field (with two safeties, two corners, a nickel back and a converted safety to linebacker in Switzer), the Aggies have the personnel to compete against pass-happy teams and they showed it.
USU has a plethora of offensive weapons
A year ago, Utah State relied heavily on a few playmakers to achieve anything on offense. Guys like running back Calvin Tyler Jr., and wide receiver Brian Cobbs.
This season, however, the Aggies have real depth at the offensive skill positions, and not just depth. They also have real and obvious talent.
Three wideouts finished with 100-plus receiving yards Saturday night — Terrell Vaughn (143 yards), Jalen Royals (140 yards) and Micah Davis (104 yards) — and all three caught at least one touchdown.
USU also had a 100-yard rusher in Davon Booth (141 yards and two touchdowns), an 80-yard rusher (Robert Briggs with 82 yards) and a 50-yard rusher (Rahsul Faison with 51 yards).
The Aggies scored 37 unanswered points against the Rams and finished with 639 total yards of offense.
Rated the second-best offense in the Mountain West coming into the game, Utah State showed that its offensive success this season hasn’t been a fluke. The Aggies have real talent on offense.