What we learned about USU in 41-27 win over the Lobos

What we learned about USU in 41-27 win over the Lobos

NCAAF

What we learned about USU in 41-27 win over the Lobos

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A Refreshing Turkey Day Romp

Utah State looked and played like an actual team for the first time all season against a winless New Mexico team. The Lobos have now lost 14 straight games dating back to last season. Though USU still has major deficiencies, the offense came to life in a desperately needed win. It was not only USU’s first win of the season, it was the program’s first Thanksgiving game since 1973 and their first win on Thanksgiving since 1954.

1. Andrew Peasley should have started the whole season

For all the flak I originally dished out to both Jason Shelley and Andrew Peasley the last few games, Peasley showed out in a (mostly) great way this game and cemented his status as the starter moving forward. Peasley made overall good decisions with the ball and seemed to get better as the game went along, a promising sign for the future. He also made several clutch passes to extend drives, something the previous starter couldn’t consistently do.

Though Peasley looked good late, he committed what could have been a game-breaking mistake early. On the third Aggie drive of the game, he tried to run the ball into the endzone by stretching it out for the pylon. Instead of getting a touchdown to take the lead, he ended up losing control of the ball in what resulted in a touchback and turnover to the Lobos. To this point, the Aggie offense was still sluggish and somewhat ineffective

The good news is that fumble was the only bad news for the quarterback this  game.

Once the second half started, Peasley connected on back to back touchdown drives to Justin McGriff and Savon Scarver, both passes over 20 yards long. Late in the game, Peasley showed off his scrambling ability and avoided a sure sack and converted it into a 62 yard touchdown scramble, icing the game and wowing the announcers.

Peasley finished the night completing 14 of 21 passes for 226 yards and three touchdowns through the air. As a bonus to a sterling passing performance, it also marked just the fourth time since 1996 a USU quarterback scrambled for 100+ yards in a game. It’s an interesting statistic and surely a thorn in the side of Rocky Long’s defense for allowing it to happen.

2. Spreading the ball around means decent offense

In a major departure from the previous games this season, USU also made a sincere attempt at being creative on offense. This resulted in keeping the Lobos’ defense on their heels and it made for a more entertaining game as well.

One play involved using running back John Gentry in Wildcat formation, and another involved using Devontae Henry-Cole in a jet sweep. This simple variety resulted in decent gains on first downs and took some pressure off Peasley to boot.

In the first half, USU only managed 136 yards of offense and six points  through 30 plays. In the second half, the Aggies did a much better job of spreading the ball around to their best playmakers. The third quarter alone saw an offensive explosion we hadn’t seen all season. McGriff in particular had a great night with four catches for 92 yards. With a confident quarterback throwing past the sticks, Savon Scarver and even Carson Terrell scored on touchdown catches in rapid succession.

The offensive line deserves major credit for stepping up after having disappointing performances all season, too. The Ags went up 34-13 in this quarter and never lost the lead again, largely thanks to the line protecting the quarterback.

3. Defense is still flawed, but it’s disruptive when it clicks

The run defense struggled as much as ever this game. There were several drives by the Lobos that were 10+ plays long that resulted in touchdowns. Aggie defenders often missed easy tackles and let the Lobos’ star quarterback Trae Hall average over five yards per carry. Worse, numerous and avoidable PIs reared their head in the secondary.

On the plus side, the Aggie defense frequently got pressure on Hall and made him earn every yard the hard way, often resulting in a savage hit. They also forced turnovers. Nick Henninger applied pressure on a series and stripped the ball from Hall, which Kina Maile scooped and scored from the 16-yard line for Utah State.

Hall ended up leaving the game in the second half due to injury, so New Mexico’s third string option Connor Genal took over for him. Aggie safety Dominic Tatum got ejected for a targeting hit on Genal mid-way through the fourth quarter, making a thin secondary even thinner. It also is the point when the penalty flags made their most appearances, a possibly worrisome trend that could be an issue against the two remaining games on the schedule.

Still, there is plenty to be happy about from a defensive unit that has struggled all year. They not only were flying around and making big plays, they were having a blast doing so in a major boon to team morale. They could take a big step forward next year if they can stay together in the offseason.


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