Utah State report card: Some good and more than a little bad in the Aggies’ season opening loss to Boise State
Utah State lost to Boise State 42-13, in a game filled with miscues and less than stellar performances
The 2020 season opener did not go the way Utah State hoped it would.
After months of uncertainty, followed by weeks of anxious anticipation, USU kicked off the season against Boise State Saturday night on the road and lost 42-13.
The Aggies were beaten in nearly every facet of the game, and, save for a strong third quarter, were no match for the Broncos. There were some good individual performances, and moments of inspiring team play, but the positives were more than outweighed by struggles and miscues.
Here are the grades for Utah State’s first game of the season:
Where to start? For much of the game, Utah State’s offense was simply not good enough. You could even argue that it was not good at all.
That held true particularly in the first half. Through the first two quarters, USU racked up just 45 yards of total offense, 24 through the air and 21 on the ground.
It didn’t matter who was in at quarterback, Jason Shelley or Andrew Peasley — the Aggies tried both — running back or wide receiver. Utah State simply could not move the ball.
And while those players deserve some of the blame — the wide receiver corps in particular struggled to get separation most of the game — much of the blame has to be laid at the feet of the offensive line.
Billed as one of the team’s strength’s heading into the year, the Aggies’ O-line left a lot to be desired, both in pass protection and run blocking.
“It was tough sledding in there from a protection standpoint,” Utah State head coach Gary Andersen said.
Things got better in the second half as USU got its running game going, with Jaylen Warren doing the heavy lifting. The senior rushed for a team-high 89 yards and two touchdowns on the night, including 48 yards on the Aggies’ first scoring drive of the contest.
His hard-nosed running helped open up the passing game a little, and Shelley finished with 14 completions for 92 yards, but against a team like Boise State, two touchdowns and 203 yards of total offense is well below what is needed.
Tackling, tackling, tackling.
It all went back to tackling Saturday night, and, well, the Aggies weren’t very good at it.
You need look no further than the 17-yard touchdown reception by Boise State running back George Holani late in the second quarter for evidence of that fact.
Holani simply embarrassed the Aggies time and again in the first half, as did Khalil Shakir and really almost every Bronco who had a carry or a reception.
Things did improve defensively in the second half, for a time at least — “for a couple of series,” said Andersen — and linebacker Cash Gilliam had a career-performance with a team-high eight tackles. UCLA transfer Marcus Moore showed flashes, as did sophomore linebacker Elijah Shelton, inside linebacker AJ Vongphacanh and cornerback Cam Lampkin, but overall, Utah State’s defense was lacking.
“We need to tackle better. That is absolutely 100% correct,” said Andersen. “That has been a pattern for a while. There are also some things like angles taken toward the football that we need to get better at. We have to tackle better against good players, but also we have to tackle better period.
Outside of Warren, special teams was probably the biggest brightest spot of the game for USU, and really it was only one play.
That play was the punt by Boise State punter Joel Velazquez that went 38 yards backward, ricocheting off the head of his own blocker.
Outside linebacker Nick Heninger recovered that Broncos miscue, and at the time it was a game-changing play. The Aggies quickly scored their second touchdown after Heninger’s recovery and pulled within two scores.
Of course, kicker Nels Haltom subsequently missed the extra point attempt, a blemish on the special teams’ mark.
Throw in a muffed punt by Jordan Nathan earlier in the game — a muff that was arguably a better camera angle away from being ruled a Boise State touchdown — and the Aggies were pretty average on special teams.
Again, it was not the season opener Utah State was hoping for. In past years, the last three to be exact, the Aggies dropped their first game, but in close, hard-fought fashion to Power 5 opponents Wisconsin, Michigan State and Wake Forest.
Unlike those games, Utah State was outclassed on Saturday, almost from start to finish.
There are certainly excuses that could be used to justify the Aggies’ performance, what with multiple key players out like safety Troy Lefeged Jr., wide receiver/All-American kick returner Savon Scarver and tight end Carson Terrell, but Andersen himself shot down any and all attempts to use those absences as a justification for USU’s showing.
“There were a large number of young kids out there tonight and I told them nobody cares why the guy who is in front of you (on the depth chart) isn’t playing. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter how many guys are down or how many guys are out. That isn’t what we care about as a team.”
With that in mind, Utah State was simply not up to the task against Boise State and needs to show some rapid improvement with San Diego State going to Logan on Halloween.