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3 takeaways from Utah State’s thrilling victory over UConn

The Aggies rallied from a 17-0 deficit and then blocked an extra point try in the final minute to walk away with the win

SHARE 3 takeaways from Utah State’s thrilling victory over UConn

James Madison running back Kaelon Black, right, carries the ball as Utah State safety Ike Larsen defends during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023, in Logan, Utah.

Eli Lucero/Herald Journal via AP

Utah State’s first quarter woes remain a thing and starting quarterback McCae Hillstead is injured — it’s a concussion — but the Aggies leave Hartford, Connecticut, with their first win over an FBS opponent this season.

Utah State defeated UConn 34-33 Saturday afternoon, rallying from a 17-0 deficit, thanks to strong quarterback play from both Hillstead and Cooper Legas, a career day from wide receiver Jalen Royals and special teams brilliance from safety Ike Larsen.

Here are three takeaways from the Aggies’ victory, their second this season:

Cooper Legas was ready

Legas was benched early on in the Aggies’ loss to Air Force on Sept. 15, replaced by Hillstead, who USU head coach Blake Anderson believed was more decisive as a QB.

Legas had been the presumed and actual starter for the Aggies at times in both the 2022 and 2023 seasons, but when the senior was replaced by the true freshman Hillstead, he could have transferred midseason, could have given up on Utah State, any number of scenarios, really.

As shown by his performance against UConn, Legas actually did nothing but prepare for his return to the gridiron, and what a return it was.

After replacing Hillstead early in the third quarter Saturday, Legas completed a Utah State rally throwing for 204 yards and three touchdowns.

Legas was nearly perfect through the air, completing 11 of 13 passes and made good work with his legs as well, rushing for 26 yards on six carries.

Jalen Royals finally gets his breakthrough

Throughout fall camp, Utah State coaches spoke effusively about the talent and ability of wide receiver Jalen Royals. He was seen as a potential breakout player for the Aggies this season and a real weapon for the USU offense.

Through the first four games of the year, though, Royals was largely absent. Sure, he made a play or two here and there, but Royals wasn’t a true difference maker.

That all changed against UConn. With Terrell Vaughn being smothered by the Huskies secondary, Royals had a true breakout performance Saturday, with seven receptions for 185 yards and three touchdowns.

Other notable Royals’ stats:

  • Royals is the first Aggie to have three touchdown catches in a game since Hunter Sharp hauled in three at Air Force in 2015. 
  • His 185 receiving yards are the most by an Aggie since Deven Thompkins finished with 215 receiving yards at New Mexico State in 2021. 

Speed, playmaking ability, concentration — Royals put it all on display against the Huskies.

Ike Larsen remains special

Some players just have an innate ability to make plays in the right moments, and more and more it seems as though safety Ike Larsen is one of those athletes.

Case in point — after UConn scored a touchdown with under a minute remaining in the game, pulling within a made extra point of a tie, Larsen went out and blocked the extra point try.

It wasn’t abnormal for the Cache Valley native, either, who has now blocked two kicks this season and holds the Utah State record for blocked kicks in a career with five.

Larsen was good on defense most of the game — he finished with six tackles and a pass breakup — but put him on special teams and he becomes a game breaker, to the benefit of Utah State.

And this most recent play may have been the most impressive yet.