Can the Aggies finally stop the skid?
Week 12: Utah State (0-4) vs Wyoming (1-2)
When: Thursday, November 19th, 2020 – 7:00 pm MST
WHERE: War Memorial Stadium; Laramie, Wyoming (29,181)
TV: CBS Sports Network
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 BetMGM): Wyoming -20.5
Three Keys for an Aggie Victory (please)
1. Offensive Line needs to put up or shut up
By far the biggest disappointment on USU’s team this year has been the offensive line. Worse than the passing game and a bigger letdown than the defense, which is saying a lot quite frankly.
This unit has given up 11 sacks through four games. That may not sound too terrible, but it has translated to 60 lost yards. It’s a stat that shows USU is constantly behind the chains, and when you are over-reliant on your rushing attack, it’s a recipe for disaster. Backs like Jaylen Warren and Devonta’e Henry-Cole are strong and sure-footed, but they’re substantially less effective when opposing defenses know they can load the box and limit them to just a few gained yards. Standing tall, playing physical, and opening holes for the runners is paramount to having success against Craig Bohl’s Wyoming teams.
This leads to next most important item for the O-Line against the Pokes: this unit MUST help the newly christened QB, redshirt freshman Cooper Legas. This is his first collegiate start in an environment that is tough to win in. If he constantly has pressure in his face all night from Wyoming’s feisty blitzers, it’s gonna be a long and painful evening for the Aggies. Legas will have to get the ball out fast, but he can’t do that if the line doesn’t give him time, something of which was in short supply vs Fresno State last week.
2. Wide Receivers need to elevate their game
Wide receivers are the next most disappointing unit on the team this season, as much as it pains me to say it. The Aggies have solid talent that have made tons of plays in the last few years, but not this go around. This unit ranks an almost NCAA worst 124th in the country, ahead of only Umass and Cal. While this partly goes back to having an ineffective QB, the receivers have managed to haul in less than 50% of the passes thrown their way, and it’s amounted to a lowly 7.88 yard average per catch. That’s plagued an offense that is not explosive and overly predictable.
USU’s receivers have consistently dropped passes they need to catch. When they aren’t picking up four or five yards consistently through the air on any given offensive series, it ratchets up the pressure on the QB and makes it easy for opposing defenses to apply pressure. With a newly minted and inexperienced starter at QB, Aggie receivers need to make a play where they didn’t make one before. They need to find a way to get open versus a typically aggressive Wyoming secondary that is currently giving up 261.7 yards per game through the air. This opposing unit can be exploited by USU, but only as much as USU’s receivers want to exploit it.
3. Stop Xazavian Valladay
The undisputed leader of the Cowboy’s ground game, Valladay’s strength belies his pedestrian size. He consistently moves the football for the Pokes, averaging a healthy 4.8 yards per carry and 132.3 yards per game. He’s earned himself just three scores on the ground so far this season, but his ability to stay ahead of the chains gives an otherwise unspectacular Cowboy passing attack extra oomph.
Opposing defenses have to commit several defenders inside to bring him down, which has helped open the outside for Wyoming’s receivers this season. The passing offense comes in at a modest 73rd nationally with 222 yards per game, but the strong ground game has helped lift their total offense to 56th in nation with 406.3 yards per game and 10 touchdowns. Those numbers aren’t earth-shattering, but they’re miles ahead of an Aggie offense that has failed to score much through four games. If USU’s defensive line can’t pack a punch and eat up offensive blocks, Valladay will run wherever he wants and wear the Aggie defense down while draining clock, something that has been a disturbing trend through four games.
As ugly as the game against Fresno State was, USU showed improvement on defense and hung tough for most of the game. The players actually appeared to enjoy themselves most of the time, a welcome change over the listless and passionless outings beforehand.
The offensive output almost certainly can’t get worse for the Aggies, so there’s little risk in allowing Cooper Legas to throw the football against a vulnerable Cowboy secondary. If the Aggies are to stop being one dimensional, they need to take more chances with the ball and target proven playmakers from the past like Jordan Nathan and Deven Thompkins. USU has the speed on the edges to burn the Cowboys if the offensive line can keep Legas upright.
Games against Wyoming in War Memorial Stadium are always tough, and this will prove to be no exception. As long as the defense continues to improve and the offensive line takes last week’s performance personally, USU has a solid chance to pull off the upset and get into the win column for a change. Pass the ball!
USU 24, Wyoming 21