USU’s conference title hopes remain alive
The phrase “cardiac kids” comes to mind with this Utah State team.
Much like the Aggies of 2011, this group of players has been hanging tough in numerous one-score games. Unlike the 2011 team, this Aggie team has had significantly better luck in close contests. USU has gone a solid 3-1 this year when the game is on the line in the closing minutes. No thanks to untimely penalties, Wyoming shot themselves in the foot just one time too many to reclaim the rifle.
The game started out extremely poorly for both teams. USU failed to gain any offensive rhythm and turned the ball over in the first minute of the game on a batted and intercepted pass from Jordan Love. This felt like a “here we go again” type moment for USU as Love’s struggles with ball security reared their head yet again.
Unfortunately for Wyoming, newly minted starting QB Tyler Vander Waal showed some serious jitters. After easily getting his offense inside USU’s 15-yard line, a blitz off the edge sent Vander Waal scrambling backwards. Vander Waal then promptly lost the ball after tripping on the turf and USU recovered it around the 35-yard line.
This game would overall be a battle of defenses as neither team scored anything in the first quarter. Wyoming’s star LB Logan Wilson then made his presence felt beginning the second quarter as he picked off another batted Jordan Love pass and took it 10 yards for an easy score. Already at two turnovers on the afternoon, it felt like this game could get out of hand quickly for USU.
A few minutes later after USU’s defense forced a punt, Jordan Love shook off his funk and tossed a dart to Siaosi Mariner for an 80-yard touchdown pass. It would signal the start of a strong second quarter as Love threw a TD to Gerold Bright on a busted coverage in Wyoming’s questionable secondary. Now the Aggies had rhythm and Wyoming would have to keep up.
For Wyo’s RB Xazavian Valladay, this would prove to be no issue. The rusher bullied his way down the field on a strong drive, aided by a couple of sloppy penalties on USU’s defense. It then set up Vander Waal for a leap into the endzone, tying the game up.
Before the half ended, USU kicked a couple of field goals to go up 20-14. One of the kicks was set up after Shaq Bond intercepted a tipped pass from Vander Waal. USU had a chance to go up more before half, but USU got caught with an ineligible player penalty that wiped away an endzone bomb from Love to Thompkins.
In the second half, the defensive war was in full effect.
USU forced the Cowboys to punt after sacking Vander Waal to end an extended drive. USU then went on an extended drive themselves and made it all the way inside Wyoming’s five-yard line. Jordan Love took a nasty hit on a scramble and then USU was unable to finish the drive with a touchdown. On a frustratingly predictable play call, they turned the ball over on downs.
These defenses continued hitting each others’ offenses in the mouth. USU was able to squeeze out one more field goal apiece from Dominik Eberle per remaining quarter to take a 26-14 lead with 11:11 to go in the fourth. But Wyoming wasn’t going away by a long-shot.
The Cowboys ate up over four minutes of the clock and scored on a touchdown drive to bring the game to 26-21. USU QB Henry Colombi, filling in for the possibly injured Love, was then unable to respond with a score of his own in two drive attempts and USU had to punt. Not only was the game getting too close for comfort, it looked like an ending we’d all seen before.
Not known for their passing prowess, Wyoming would need to rely on Tyler Vander Waal’s arm to win the game. Walk-on LB Eric Munoz for the Aggies had other plans though.
Vander Waal got his offense moving and the Cowboys inside the Aggie 40-yard line. Sure heartbreak felt like an inevitability as the Aggies struggled all afternoon with the QB’s ability to scramble. Some late pressure came from USU’s defense and got the QB rushed. He threw across his body right into the arms of the waiting Munoz.
Ecstasy and relief in one fell swoop for the Aggies. They avoided the upset and preserved their conference title hopes, even with the status of Jordan Love unknown. Wyoming suffered their second consecutive heartbreaking loss and was left to wonder what might have been. But oh what a game!
The Last Stand
Utah State, despite some big ups and downs this season, is right where they want to be. With two games remaining in the regular season, they have a chance to at least tie for first in the loaded Mountain Division. Another loss from Air Force and then an Aggie win over the Broncos would launch USU into the MWC title game.
Boise State comes to Logan with QB uncertainty of their own, as well as some other question marks. Despite their strong 9-1 record and national ranking, the Broncos have looked inconsistent and downright ugly at times on offense. They struggled to put away Wyoming on the blue turf and had to go to overtime to finish the job. They also had to survive a shootout on the road against upstart San Jose State, a team with a less than stellar defense.
While team depth is still better for the Broncos, the potential loss of Curtis Weaver from their defensive line could make the upcoming game a suddenly fair fight. It could be Boise’s backup QB vs USU’s backup QB.
USU’s offensive line has gelled better in recent weeks and if RB Jaylen Warren continues to heal up, the Ags may finally have the offensive balance they need to take on the Broncos. With or without Love at the helm, the receivers have stepped up big in recent weeks to help secure the close wins.
This is the moment we’ve been waiting for since 2013, Aggie fans: show up this weekend and support our boys! They’ve battled through significant hardship and they still have a shot to accomplish all their team goals on November 23rd (coupled with an Air Force loss somewhere).
A win validates the program culture, possibly for good. A loss would be painful, but we would still have gone bowling in eight of the last nine seasons. All things considered, that is no small feat for a program that is only a decade removed from its dark ages.
I believe. Do you?