Takeaways from USU’s narrow loss at Wake Forest
Aggies stay in to study while rest of conference parties late into the night
Aggies look great in season opener, Wake Forest wins anyway
A marquee weekend for the Mountain West saw Utah State sitting out most of the fun, falling to Wake Forest 38-35. A season-opening road loss to a P5 opponent isn’t unfamiliar to the Aggie faithful, as evidenced by the swift Twitter fallout Friday evening.
While fans grow increasingly perturbed with a Utah State team still hunting for that program-defining road win, it’s worth noting that Wake Forest certainly isn’t Auburn/Wisconsin/Michigan State. The Demon Deacons lost to the Aggies as recently as 2014, and though immensely satisfying it wasn’t particularly transformative for the program.
In the eyes of many, beating the worst Tennessee team ever assembled raises your standing in the CFB landscape more than battling a good Wake Forest team to a tough loss (that’s not to discredit Georgia State in the slightest — you rock, Panthers). Some teams are simply bigger brands than others, and this year’s Aggies won’t get their shot at that national statement game until week 5 at LSU.
So sure, it stings to lose by a field goal with the german god of field goals standing on your own sideline. It sucks to come so close again, only to miss out again, then watch Boise State pull some Harsin magic out of a hat to win its own big game — again. It’s hard to watch Hawaii and even Nevada getting in on the action over the weekend, stopping Arizona half a yard short of the end zone and booting a 56-yarder(!) to seal a win over Purdue. It sucks.
But this does not spell the end for Utah State’s promising season, so long as it’s able to regroup and show a conference on the upswing they still belong in the MW title conversation.
Utah State vs Wake Forest: What we learned
— Jordan Love is still legit, throwing for over 400 yards and 3 TDs with a 68.8% completion rate against one of the trickier defenses he’ll see this season. He’s a star with a crazy high ceiling and deserves chances to make plays as the best player on the field in almost any circumstance.
Unfortunately, a negative trend has emerged for the Junior QB on the road against top-level opponents. In 20 career starts, Love has just two games on his record with 2+ interceptions — Friday at Wake Forest (3), and last season’s opener at Michigan State (2). In both cases, potential game-winning drives for the Aggies were cut short by fatal throws. Love is too good not to trust and his skill set could make him a top draft pick next spring, but be sure to have Oct. 5 circled on your calendar.
— David Woodward is inhuman. The junior LB recorded 24 tackles (18 solo), a pair of forced fumbles and a sack Friday night. You’d hope one player wouldn’t need to produce this type of performance every week for USU to stand a fighting chance, but Woodward is certainly capable when called upon. After sitting out the fall scrimmage it’s nice to see another NFL-bound Aggie evidently fully healthy and ready to roll.
— Saosi Mariner is the WR1. Eight catches for 118 yards and this touchdown grab paced the team on what was a solid first game in an Aggie uniform.
You won’t find me preaching moral victories here, but plays like this and putting 35 points on the board in Wake Forest wasn’t the problem. Mariner is a major factor for the Aggies moving forward.
— Jaylen Warren is the RB1. 19 rushes, 141 yards and a touchdown more than doubled Gerold Bright’s nine rushes for 37 yards in both volume and efficiency. Both will play a role in this offense, but a pair of breakaway runs from Warren likely secured his spot as the team’s primary rusher. On the other end of the spectrum, just two rushing yards for Love over the weekend. It’s possible the playbook is staying closed early in the season, but worth keeping an eye on as Love previously proved able to keep defenses more honest with his legs.
— There’s still plenty of offense to go around. Eight Aggies caught a pass Friday, including both Warren and Bright, two TEs and previously underutilized Savon Scarver. Scarver’s role in the passing game is likely to develop further throughout the year, as is TE Caleb Rupp’s.
— The OL looked…fine. One sack allowed, a handful of penalties and a fair amount of protection on both rushing and passing downs gets this largely mysterious young group a passing grade.
— The secondary got lit up. A major area of concern this fall was confirmed problematic, as USU’s back end looked all out of sorts surrendering 401 passing yards and three TDs to the Demon Deacons’ junior QB Jamie Newman. Obvious regression was sure to hit this defense after ranking No. 3 in forced turnovers last year and losing starters across the board, but in this one-game sample things looked even worse than expected. Utah State’s front seven proved strong against the run, but didn’t generate enough pressure to make up for the secondary’s mismatches. In total the Aggie defense allowed 579 yards of offense, and a smaller less-physical secondary can’t be fixed overnight.
— Wake Forest won three key battles: turnover margin, time of possession and penalty differential all favored the home team by sizable margins. Perhaps WF should’ve been flagged a bit more, but the Aggies’ eight penalties for 84 yards looms large.
Overall the Aggies managed a B- performance Friday that tastes more like a C- due to a lack of execution down the stretch. It’ll be a few weeks before USU gets another shot at a good defense, but first a matchup against Stony Brook and then a week off to scout the rest of the Mountain West as the season continues to unfold.