Line: USU -4 via ESPN
Final Score: USU 23, SDSU 17
Aggies bully Aztecs early, hang on for dear life late
Recap: The Utah State Aggies finally got an enormous monkey off their backs: they beat the San Diego State Aztecs for the first time in 52 years.
On top of that, they did so in thrillingly (agonizingly?) close fashion. It’s not only a signature win for the program, but a major confidence booster as well.
The game did not get off to a promising start for the Aggies. SDSU won the toss and chose to receive, showing they were going to play keep away from the Aggie offense as much as possible. They then proceeded to march right down the field, chewing up over seven minutes of clock time.
Though the Aztecs had to settle for a field goal inside the red zone, the drive showed how effective the Aztec rushing attack could be.
Once the Aggie offense got on the field, they promptly went three and out, giving the ball right back to the Aztecs. It appeared it was going to be a long night for the Aggie defense.
Fortunately, safety Shaq Bond had other plans as he intercepted a deflected Ryan Agnew pass and promptly returned it 49 yards for a pick six. Going up 7-3 early, this was arguably the play of the game. It not only threw a wrench in Rocky Long’s game plan, it forced the slow moving Aztec offense to play catch up the remainder of the game.
Without these types of heads up plays by the Aggies, it may have been a long and painful night for the team. Utah State took advantage of critical SDSU mistakes to either score directly or get into scoring position.
Another play late in the first half guaranteed the Aztecs would have to dig themselves out of a large hole. One of their defensive linemen jumped offside, giving Jordan Love a free play to Savon Scarver for a huge reception.
After this play, Aggie RB Jaylen Warren took advantage of the great field position and put the Aggies up at the half 20-3 with a monster run. It appeared the victory was in the bag, but credit Rocky Long and his team, they absolutely did not give up.
Aggies make errors, too! Watch this
After the Aztecs forced a punt, Aztec QB Ryan Agnew engineered a drive that appeared on its way to stalling… until it didn’t. He got effectively flushed from the pocket, but his scrambling ability kept the drive alive just long enough so he could launch a desperation pass to WR Koby Smith, all by his lonesome at the 1-yd line thanks to a busted coverage.
After later completing another fourth down conversion on a pitch and catch play, SDSU got their second touchdown of the fourth quarter in a flash, trimming the once commanding Aggie lead to just six. Utah State’s secondary was getting exposed badly this quarter.
Needless to say, I (along with the rest of the Aggie twitterverse) was freaking out at this point. It felt like a bad dream as the Aggies were on their way to another nail-biting, heart-wrenching loss in the closing minutes of a hard-fought game. We’re not derisively nicknamed the “gaggies” for nothing, after all.
It helps the Aztecs decided they had one last embarrassing play in them.
A game defined by critical errors, final thoughts
After I thought USU’s goose was surely cooked, the Aggie defense made a great stand and forced SDSU into yet another fourth and long situation. What next took place was surreal, funny, a little cringe-worthy, but also a perfect encapsulation of San Diego State’s performance.
SDSU had a legitimate chance to complete their comeback, and they did look quite good at times in the contest. For this penultimate play, tight man coverage on the defensive end meant it would take time for a pass play to develop. The Aggie defensive line got pressure and forced Agnew into a scramble. Going the opposite direction of his team’s goal line, it all but guaranteed USU wouldn’t choke the game away after all.
If not for major Aztec mistakes (and those by the Aggies, too) there’s no telling how this game may have actually gone. San Diego State’s rushing attack is strong, the same as their defensive prowess. On the other hand, USU showed they could move the ball at will when they wanted to, and their own defense was no slouch.
I figured this game would be an ugly affair with the strength on strength match-up. While that turned out to be the case, I still want to see Utah State play other Mountain West teams before genuinely starting to gauge their odds at winning the conference this year. There are a lot of errors to be cleaned up on both sides of the ball.
Nonetheless, it’s a terrific way to start conference play for Utah State. They control their own destiny and get a heaping dose of confidence they sorely needed after losing the heart-breaker to Wake Forest a few weeks earlier. Winning an ugly contest not only puts the team’s mistakes on film, it allows them to learn from a positive place, not a negative one.
If the Aggies can continue to win close games, which we’ll certainly see more of with several tough conference foes on the docket, then they’ll be in a great spot to achieve their number one goal. I cursed the TV a few times in the process, but the close finish was wholly thrilling and well worth the ride.
Win or lose, it’s gonna be a fun season.