Utah State vs. Fresno State: Keys to an Aggie Victory
The Aggies look to turn their season around against the surging Bulldogs.
USU plays the ‘Dogs without Gary Andersen.
WEEK 11: Utah State Aggies (0-3) vs. Fresno State Bulldogs (2-1)
WHEN: Saturday, November 14th, 2020 – 12:30 pm MST
WHERE: Maverik Stadium; Logan, UT (25,100)
STREAMING: FuboTV – Get a 7-day free trial
RADIO: Utah State radio broadcast on 1280 The Zone (1280 AM), 1280thezone.com / Tunein.com
ODDS (via ESPN): Fresno State -10
Three Keys to an Aggie Victory
1. Contain Ronnie Rivers
Last year in Fresno, Utah State barely came out a win over the Bulldogs. The Aggies’ defensive front largely failed to contain RB Ronnie Rivers as he churned out 102 yards and three touchdowns on the ground last go around. He’s incredibly fast and elusive and he’s stronger than he looks, despite his smaller stature.
Amidst an 0-3 start and having a defense that might be worse than last year, the Aggies are going to face an even tougher version of this same player in Logan. Against the hapless UNLV Rebels, Rivers piled up 232 all purpose yards and found the endzone four times in a solid win. He’s a multi-talented threat that USU can ill afford to sleep on or take for granted. It’s not a matter of if USU can stop him: it’s a matter of limiting the damage he’s inevitably going to do. USU currently ranks a dismal 111th in the NCAA against the rush, giving up 233 yards per game. If USU wants to stay in this game, they have to keep Rivers in front of them and make him earn his yards.
2. Get the defense off the field
It’s no secret the Aggies have given up numerous long scoring drives to their opponents this season. It’s been a common occurrence for the Aggies to give up big plays on the all important third down as well. Just when you think USU’s offense is going to get a chance to develop chemistry and give the defense a rest, the defense falters and gets pounded due to their inability to stop the run. That absolutely must change on Saturday or it’s going to be a long afternoon.
The Aggies not only need to tackle much better, the defensive backs need to play closer to Fresno’s wide receivers, even if it means risking more penalty markers. The Aggies are giving up 287.7 yards per game through the air this season, which is terrible news against a Bulldogs team that likes to pass. Fresno State’s offense is clicking nicely and amassing 293.7 passing yards per game to go along with five passing touchdowns from QB Jake Haener.
The lack of a pass rush from USU means they need make plays on the defensive backend, which has been hard to do this season. If they can’t do that, the secondary is going to get lit up (again).
3. Offense needs to show up… for once
It would be all too easy to point out USU’s shortcomings on the offensive side of the ball this season, but I’m going to do it anyway. There’s absolutely no sugarcoating it: Utah State’s offensive prowess is non-existent. The Aggies are scoring an abysmal 9.7 points per game, second to last in the FBS. Fresno State doesn’t play great defense, but they don’t have to if the Aggies can’t find a way to manufacture points and extend drives.
We’ve seen flashes from the Aggies and some of their offensive playmakers like RB Jaylen Warren and WR Deven Thompkins. The problem is that this has never been consistent this season. Thompkins had a spectacular Hail Mary touchdown catch vs the Aztecs. Warren can bowl over most defenders when he wants to. Unfortunately, QB Jason Shelley has struggled mightily to get either of these players the ball. Shelley needs to hang in and throw better, but the receivers can’t drop easy passes, a disturbing hallmark that has reared its ugly head plenty of times just three games into the year.
This game won’t be pretty. USU will hang around for three quarters against a team that isn’t nearly as stout as Boise or San Diego State, but they’ll inevitably give up yards late.
The good news for USU is that Fresno State has given up a fair amount of points this season. Ranking 48th in the NCAA with 26 points per game given up, the Bulldogs have definite vulnerabilities that can be exploited by USU. It remains to be seen how USU as a whole is affected without the presence of Gary Andersen on the sidelines, but it can hardly get worse statistically.
USU’s offense will finally click a bit and keep them in this game. They likely aren’t going to win, though, as Ronnie Rivers will ultimately be the deciding factor in this one.
Fresno State 34, Utah State 24