Aggies take on Air Force tonight in Logan
Utah State expected to throw hat into the MW title contender ring tonight against AFA
Utah State spent the past two weekends pulverizing undercard teams and waiting for a shot to prove this 2018 Aggie squad is for real. That shot starts tonight against run-stopping, triple option-running Air Force Academy.
The Aggies are hot off a win against Tennessee Tech that went about how everyone thought it would — the 10-touchdown, 73-12 everyone-played-but-the-waterboy style beatdown was just the second game in which USU eclipsed 70+ points in the last century.
A long week of hype followed. Coach Wells stated and restated the importance of fan support at tonight’s contest, the program’s only late home kickoff of the year. Players tweeted out ticket links. Whiteout jerseys were pressed and cleaned. The student section managed to rope Donovan Mitchell into serving as an honorary captain.
In every way Utah State has gone all-in on making tonight the Aggies’ re-introduction to the college football landscape — here’s why:
Air Force won’t run for 400 yards this year
The Falcons managed to string together a three-game winning streak against the Aggies while averaging 310 rushing yards per game in some of the conference’s wildest games of the past three seasons.
Utah State now boasts a Top 25 run defense.* The Aggies are deep and experienced, and though much has been said in regards to focusing on this team and this season, last year’s 38-35 heartbreaker is hard to erase from memory.
Depth in the USU secondary and amongst the linebacking unit is plentiful, and will likely be called upon often to keep legs fresh against the Falcons’ endless torrent of tosses and handoffs. This game will test Aggie run-stoppers mentally as much as physically, as long drives and clutch 1st down conversions are the Falcons’ bread and butter.
Coach Wells will have some flexibility in how he utilizes do-it-all safety Gaje Ferguson and others in this increasingly impressive Aggie front seven in order to shut down sustained AFA drives before they become tiresome. The defensive key to this game is to simply be as disruptive as possible — this Falcons offense may be unique, but is nothing special.
*The Aggies’ last two opponents were so terrible on the ground this stat was basically guaranteed
AFA can’t stop Ron’quavion Tarver
The Falcons can stop the run as well as any team in the country, but who needs yards on the ground when you’ve got Ron’quavion Tarver waiting to exact three years of revenge on AFA’s suspect secondary?
Tarver, famously robbed of a touchdown-that-was-definitely-a-touchdown-but-wasn’t two years ago, seems like a prime candidate for a breakout game as Jordan love’s big-bodied endzone target.
Love will have time in the pocket tonight against a Falcons pass rush with just three sacks to their credit all year. With plenty of opportunities for guys to get downfield against this soft secondary, Love should have himself a fun conference opener — and Tarver will get his well-earned retribution.
Also, maybe Tarver will manage to get through four quarters of football today without an opponent punching him in the face.
The HURD (and special guests) will show up
Homefield advantage is often overrated, but it never hurts to bring the noise against a Falcons team that can’t afford to play from behind. Having thoroughly enjoyed back-to-back weeks of trash-canning inferior opponents, Aggie fans have pulled out all the stops to make tonight’s contest electric — including pulling in Utah Jazz guard and all-around likable guy Donovan Mitchell to perform the coin flip. Just Utah things.
This game feels like the true test of what USU can do this season, and the fans know it.
Bonus bullet point: Tipa time will roll on without mercy
So what if the headline says “three keys to victory,” Tipa does what Tipa wants. The standout LB ranks first in the MW and third in the nation with two forced fumbles, and is first in the MW and tied for 10th in the nation in both sacks (1.17 pg) and tackles for loss (2.0 pg).
Of course this game largely depends on defensive discipline, but Galeai has been such a disruptive force against offenses this year it may be worth it to set him loose on a few plays and see what reckless Zach Vigil-like destruction the junior exerts on the Falcons. Football is supposed to be fun, after all.
Jordan Love exceeds 200 yards passing and 2 TDs, Tarver finds the end zone and Air Force struggles to catch up late as Utah State claims its first 2018 conference victory.
USU 38, AFA 27