Through the first five games of the season, Utah State was not good defensively.
Not especially good at all.
The Aggies ranked among the worst teams at the FBS level in total defense (No. 112), scoring defense (No. 115), passing yards allowed (No. 91), team passing efficiency defense (No. 101), rushing defense (No. 110) and third-down conversion percentage defense (No. 86) ahead of their game against Colorado State.
Those defensive struggles did not seem to bode all that well for the Aggies’ chances against the Rams, considering CSU had the highest-rated offense in the Mountain West Conference coming, with a truly elite passing attack.
Fast forward to the end of the game Saturday night, though, and the Aggies’ defense looked elite, the Rams’ offense middling at best.
That’s because USU had its finest defensive outing of the season, almost across the board.
USU forced five Colorado State turnovers, three interceptions and two fumbles. The Aggies held the Rams’ vaunted offense to just 320 yards, including only 225 passing yards.
Colorado State quarterback Brayden Fowler-Nicolosi had a dismal night, completing only 26 of 57 pass attempts, or only 46% of his throws.
The Rams weren’t able to get much going on the ground either, despite USU’s clear focus on limiting the passing game.
CSU finished with less than 100 yards rushing and only lost nine yards to tackles to loss.
It was a great showing by Utah State’s defense and a far cry from what the Aggies had shown capable of defensively during the weeks leading up to the game.
“It (Utah State’s defense) took a lot of criticism from last week,” Utah State head coach Blake Anderson said after the game. “It was a struggle (against UConn). We got tired and kind of got beat up a little bit. I think they just had a big chip on their shoulder.”
Chip or no, Utah State’s defense was relentless at all levels, despite once again being undersized when compared to the competition.
“We did things that we had to do to,” Anderson said. “We competed well at the point of attack, right? We got pressure. They didn’t try to run it much, but when they did we hit them, we hit them hard I think.
“We knew we had to be physical and felt we matched up relatively well, in most areas. So that was a good job. (Defensive coordinator Joe Cauthen) will tell you there were more points on the board than he wanted to be there, but against that offensive and what they’ve been doing, that’s a pretty good outing for our defense.”
Safety Ike Larsen was one of the standout performers and he believes USU was ideally suited to play against Colorado State’s Air Raid attack.
Larsen said that the Aggies have playmakers throughout their secondary and it showed against a talented Rams receiving corps.
“I just feel like we’ve got to you got a good knack for the ball, we can come to people. So I mean, that’s what we do really,” he said. “We’ve done that for the past few years, since Coach A (arrived). I feel like (defending the Air Raid) is definitely our strength on defense. It’s really just what we do.”
To Larsen’s point it is what the Aggies have proven capable of defending best thus far this season, first against Idaho State and then Colorado State, and by a large margin.
The question that remains is whether or not Utah State can parlay its performance against Colorado State to future games such as Fresno State on Friday night.
For now, though, the Aggies will relish a great performance.
“It was it was a really, really good defensive effort against the very good offensive football,” Anderson said. “A great game, no doubt. And it took everybody doing a great job.”