Utah State puts the Mountain West on notice
Are the Aggies for real?
“To be able to play the way we did and have a chance to win at the end, I’m proud of our guys. Don’t misconstrue that to say that was a moral victory or anything like that, I did not say that, so don’t misconstrue it. I said, we’ll take confidence going out of it. Hopefully, we will hold our head high and our chest will be out, we’ll be very humbled, and we’ll go back to work Monday morning and get ready for New Mexico State.” — Coach Wells
No moral victories, but confidence in what’s coming. That’s the takeaway the Aggie faithful should have after a great game against a great Michigan State team last night. Some will use the 38-31 loss as reason to moan about the “same old Aggies,” but those people generally don’t read these articles so we won’t worry about that jaded crowd.
In one night, Utah State upgraded itself from conference darkhorse full of question marks to legitimate threat to restructure the Mountain West hierarchy. The Aggies picked up first downs and put together steady scoring drives without a single ultra-explosive play of more than 30 yards, made their signature statement on defense with goal line stands and a pick-six, and briefly seized a lead with five minutes remaining before ultimately coming up just short.
The Aggies are for real, and all signs from yesterday point to a fun season in store.
QB Jordan Love is like, really good
Okay, casually moving the ball against a stellar Spartan secondary 75 yards in just under two minutes technically could be the result of scripting that opening drive to perfection during weeks of preparation — but then, how do you explain that go-ahead drive to end the first half? Or another such drive in the second half? Either Michigan State secretly sucks (unlikely) or the Aggies’ new man under center has potential to ink his name in the record books this season.
Jordan Love looked poised in a tough environment and sharp against a tough secondary. The sophomore tallied 319 yards on 29-of-44 passing on a night when the ground game couldn’t find open space anywhere but near the goal-line. Love recorded a rushing TD and two interceptions, one off a tipped pass and the other in the game’s final seconds.
It was his offensive rhythm that really impressed. Utah State gathered 22 first downs against the Spartans with 18 coming through the air. Love repeatedly located TE Dax Raymond for relatively easy gains, routinely kept drives from stalling with a decent third down conversion rate (7-of-13) and in all ways appeared to be in control of himself. Good night from Love.
The ground game needs work — but Thompson will fix it
The Aggies netted 25 total rushing yards last night and that’s as low as we’ll ever see that number this year. Some of that was game script, some was Jordan Love getting dropped a few times for losses, and some was simply Michigan State being great up front.
That said, we were fortunate to witness the birth of an Aggie career we’ll all soon cherish, as Darwin Thompson reached paydirt for the first time in a Utah State uniform late in the second quarter. And then again in the fourth. The JuCo standout now has two go-ahead touchdowns to his credit one game into his Div. I career, and will continue to be the guy USU turns to when Love’s throwing arm needs rest.
Tipa time is the best time
Tipa Galeai recorded two sacks and a forced fumble last night. For context, last year’s Aggie sack leader was cornerback Jalen Davis with four, followed by Suliasi Tamaivena and Deante Fortenberry (three each). Despite that relative lack of QB pressure, the 2017 squad forced turnovers like mad (16 fumbles, 13 interceptions, 6th best mark in the country), and Mr. Galeai hounding QBs when Mountain West play rolls around will only bolster the Aggie secondary’s ability to make plays.
It’s concerning what Tipa might do to an offensive line less capable than Michigan State’s.
The secondary is still re-tooling
Gaje Ferguson’s pick-six was a godsend and he’ll likely do it again by year’s end. That said, Michigan State was allowed a few too many explosive plays through the air. You generally won’t give up 452 yards of total offense to a Big Ten opponent and live to tell the tale, but this unit is still coming together and has a chance to regain some confidence itself next week against NMSU.
Oh yeah, about that NMSU game…
It’s going to be a freaking bloodbath. Preview incoming mid-week.
And lastly, some personal accountability
It’s irritating to see sportswriters celebrate their accurate predictions while burying the bad ones, so allow me to own up to yesterday’s wildly inaccurate score projection:
Darwin Thompson will bully his way to his first TD in an Aggie uniform and Dominik Eberle will return to form with a pair of nice 40-yard field goals, but this game will be all Spartans.”
Thompson did score, and Eberle was in fact money from 40, but the game was also a balanced fight, and coach Wells had his guys in a mindset and a position to win. Aggie nation, the future is bright.