Utah State vs. Washington State: Game Preview, How to Watch, Odds, Prediction
The Utah State Aggies open the season against Washington State. Here’s how to tune in and what to watch for against the Cougars.
The Aggies want to forget about 2020 with a big win.
WEEK 1: Utah State Aggies (0-0) vs. Washington State Cougars (0-0)
WHEN: Saturday, September 4th, 2021 – 9:00 PM MT/8:00 PM PT
WHERE: Martin Stadium; Pullman, Washington (32,952)
TV: Pac-12 Network
STREAMING: FuboTV – Get a 7-day free trial
RADIO: Utah State radio broadcast on 1280 the zone (1280 AM), 1280thezone.com / Tunein.com
SERIES RECORD: Washington State leads the all-time series, 2-1. In the last meeting on September 30, 1961, the Aggies defeated the Cougars, 34-14, in Spokane.
ODDS (via ESPN): Utah State +17
SP+ PROJECTION: Washington State by 21.2
FEI PROJECTION: Washington State by 12.1
Three Keys to an Aggie Victory
1. Contain Max Borghi
Washington State historically isn’t known for having a prolific rushing attack, but that is a completely different story this year. Max Borghi, along with backup running back Deon McIntosh, make for a potent one-two punch in the Pac-12. Both backs are over 200 pounds and a sheer load to stop on the ground.
Though Borghi only played in one game last year, he made the most of his limited carries against Utah. He rushed for 95 yards and a touchdown on just 10 carries, good for a whopping 9.5 YPC. Against great competition, Borghi has consistently gotten better year over year by improving his per carry numbers.
He rarely commits errors, does not shy away from physical contact, and also happens to be one of the better pass-catching running backs anywhere in the country for good measure. USU’s revamped defensive line is going to get an enormous test in trying to slow him down. If they are not disciplined in their assignments, don’t be shocked if Borghi gashes them for large gains.
2. Take advantage of Wazzu’s questionable secondary
The Cougars put up miserable pass defense numbers in 2020. Through four games last season, the Cougars gave up 307 pass yards per game and almost 12 yards per completion. This ranked in the bottom five of the NCAA. While their returning players at corner and safety are almost certainly going to improve, it’s been a weak spot on the team since Head Coach Nick Rolovich took over.
Playing opposite them, USU brings a loaded wide receiver group to the table. The Aggies have an embarrassment of riches at the slot receiver position and big bodies in Justin McGriff and Derek Wright. Both Jordan Nathan and Savon Scarver are extremely fast and could be an ideal receiving match for presumed starting quarterback Logan Bonner. The Aggies have both size and speed they can rely on. Getting out into space and possessing the ball is going to be key and we’ve seen many of USU’s receivers do this in recent years.
With this position group arguably being the most experienced on the team, now is the time more than ever for them to show up and carry the load while the offense learns its identity.
3. Limit mistakes, but also force them from Wazzu
This is a tall order for a new head coach and overhauled roster to overcome. Nevertheless, the Aggies won’t be able to keep pace with the run-and-shoot offense if they turn the ball over and keep themselves behind the chains with untimely snap penalties.
Going into a hostile road environment will be a new experience for many of the players since crowds were largely a non-factor in 2020. Returning to that will likely be a jarring experience. If the team hasn’t gelled well, it’s inevitable that any mistakes the Aggies make will compound themselves and take them out of the game against a more talented opponent. The Cougars have plenty of offensive weapons at their disposal and have a greater margin for error at home.
The good news for Utah State is there are enough playmakers on defense to wreak havoc on the experienced Cougar offense. USU has an underrated linebacking corps and plenty of depth. Senior LB Justin Rice led the FBS in 2020 in tackles for loss with 18.5. He’s a proven disrupter that can take the spotlight off another linebacker like Kevin Meitzenheimer or AJ Vongphachanh to then make a sneaky play of their own. At safety, Shaq Bond will need to make the most of his final year and force a turnover to give the Aggie offense an extra opportunity to say close.
— USU Football (@USUFootball) September 1, 2021
The first game of the year is always hard to pin down, but the Aggies are at a decided disadvantage. With an almost entirely new coaching staff and a heavily modified roster, the odds don’t look good going on the road and upsetting Washington State.
On the plus side, the Aggies do have a deep wide receiver and running back corps to draw from. If they can limit mistakes, they’ll be in the game heading to the fourth quarter. The depth at those two positions can then work positively against a Cougar defense with a few serious question marks. On the other hand, if the Aggie offensive line doesn’t perform up to expectations, the offense will be limited in keeping up with the Cougars, which spells trouble on the road.
Washington State 37, Utah State 24