Weekly Review: Three Things We Learned About Utah State
USU struggled in Boise, but a few standout performances and a promising third quarter hint at good things to come
One game in, what do we know about the Aggies so far?
The Boise State Broncos trampled Utah State Saturday night in convincing fashion, 42-13. It was a less-than-ideal start to a season already rife with challenges, and though the Aggies did manage to show bursts of life here and there, the game’s outcome never felt much in doubt.
Fortunately, no other team in the conference is Boise State, making this week’s takeaways particularly intriguing. Let’s take a closer look at what went down in this matchup and see if we can’t parse some positives away from last weekend’s abject ugliness.
No. 1: Extreme Offensive Turnover Causes Growing Pains
It’s hard to imagine the majority of USU’s troubles aren’t in some way connected to constant turbulence at key coordinator positions. Let’s start with the offense, which looks to its third OC in as many years Bodie Reeder for some sense of direction after losing nearly every meaningful playmaker off of last year’s squad.
Reeder is an unproven commodity after just one year as the offensive coordinator and quarterback coach at North Texas in 2019. Not to dwell on his resume, but here are some bullet points I took from that team’s Wikipedia page for you to take as you will:
- North Texas was predicted to finish in first place in Conference USA’s West Division
- North Texas had more offensive players selected than any team in the conference for the preseason all-offensive team
- North Texas went 4-8 overall and 3-5 in the conference. To be fair, the Mean Green defense gave up 30-plus points seven times, so the underwhelming record probably wasn’t all on the offense. Wikipedia didn’t add that part, I added that part.
Reeder wasn’t exactly handed a stacked deck on offense this year, so he deserves some credit for feeling his way through a brutal first test in the Mountain West. Any team is likely to struggle after losing a great quarterback in Jordan Love and all of his favorite weapons in one offseason. It’s fair for things not to click right away between a new offensive coordinator and a quarterback that just got here in August.
This matchup’s negative outcome and somewhat valid excuses aren’t as concerning as the iffy decision-making. The first half featured multiple 3rd & long calls that didn’t effectively aim to move the chains, pitch plays on 3 & short that went nowhere, screen passes that every team in the conference can sniff out, and so on. The team looked like it wanted to run the offense through Warren — to some success in the second half, in fact — but consistently fell behind schedule and didn’t seem comfortable asking Shelley to throw the ball.
Maybe Aggie receivers just couldn’t separate from Boise’s coverage, or maybe the chemistry in this offense needs time to blossom — maybe there just aren’t many playmakers in positions to break out right now. Whatever ailed the offense in the first half, let’s hope the play-calling adjusts to stretching the field more vertically in the future.
No. 2: Don’t Write Off the Aggie Defense Just Yet
Admittedly, it was tough to feel any sort of good energy watching USU give up four uninterrupted touchdowns in the first half. Even against the Broncos on their home turf, it was a lot to take in.
That said, some good things happened for this defensive front — three sacks and six TFLs isn’t nothing against a strong Boise State O-line, and sophomore linebacker A.J. Vongphachanh is a name to keep an eye on this Saturday against SDSU (he’s the 230-pound guy wearing no. 98). It’s also worth noting Troy Lefeged Jr. was not active in this matchup, and the Aggies missed him.
They missed a lot of guys wearing Broncos unis too, in a concerning display of mistimed arm-tackling that makes you wonder how much live tackling this team had been able to practice during the week. This is a fixable problem, and it needs fixing fast.
Even so, this Aggie defense could go places this year if they can permanently shake off the shell-shock of that first half and just play ball. The third quarter was especially promising, holding Hank Bachmeier and friends to a 3-and-out and a 6-play, 19-yard drive ending in the week’s most awesome punt for -38 yards.
This, folks, is a punt of -38 yards for Boise State. pic.twitter.com/phIAoo8Ruh
— The Comeback (@thecomeback) October 25, 2020
The secondary struggled. Boise took a 14-0 lead on a 52-yard bomb to Khalil Shakir with no one even close to delaying his triumphant trot to the end zone. The deficit ballooned to 28-0 after George Holani wove through half a dozen defenders for a 17-yard score. Shakir would strike again in the fourth quarter in a similarly evasive fashion. Utah State can improve in a hurry by simply limiting the amount of unmitigated enemy scampering in and around its deep coverage.
Note: Having Co-DC’s is weird and unnecessary, don’t do that.
No. 3: The Mental Makeup of this Team Survived a Pretty Terrible Day
It sucks to admit, but we’ve seen Aggie teams quit in games like this before.
Instead, in a move that pushes the long-term entertainment potential for this team up several magnitudes, this group came out at halftime and rammed home a couple of touchdowns worth being proud of.
The first came off a 16-play, 80-yard drive that included a pair of conversions on 3rd and long, a key 22-yard run from Jaylen Warren on 3rd and 4, converting on 4th & 4 with a pass to hopeful breakout WR Justin McGriff, and finally a 1-yard TD run from Warren.
The drive was a peek at what the Aggies could be as the season progresses, with Warren looking especially physical and purposeful on each of his eight carries.
The next scoring drive only had to travel 21 yards, which were picked up easily by a couple of short runs from Elelyon Noa followed by four more runs from Warren. 28-13 was as close as the game would get in the second half, but the Aggies finding paydirt again felt like a sign of good things to come.
In a year of exceedingly strange and legitimately daunting challenges, seeing life from the Aggies when they could’ve just as easily packed it in makes this season worth having. If they bring some fire at home against the Aztecs this weekend, the next installment of this things-we-learned article will have plenty of exciting new things to discuss.