What We Learned From Utah State’s 26-23 Stunner Over Wazzou

What We Learned From Utah State’s 26-23 Stunner Over Wazzou

Mountain West Football

What We Learned From Utah State’s 26-23 Stunner Over Wazzou


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Utah State gets the road win and a major confidence boost after a thrilling upset in Pullman

Aggies already having way more fun than a lot of us thought

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What We Learned From Utah State’s 26-23 Stunner Over Wazzou

The most-Aggie game of all time through 3.5 quarters of play turned into a dazzling opening statement for the Blake Anderson Era(™) this weekend, as the new-look Utah State Aggies pieced together a pair of late touchdown drives to further decimate the state of Washington’s idling football programs in a 26-23 stunner.

As any USU fan from the past century can attest, staying in close games and actually winning them are two entirely different sensations. Let’s take a look at how the Aggies pulled off their first P5 road win since Yoko broke up the Beatles and what starting the season an unlikely 1-0 could mean for the rest of the Aggies’ 2021 campaign.

Those First Eight Minutes

I’ll save you all some time here. Scoring-wise, the first quarter was a dud.

The first truly notable development of the game came from what was (and still is) expected to be the Aggies’ strongest group — a beastly front seven built from multiple P5 cast-offs and transfer behemoths all looking to make life miserable for opposing offenses. Washington State’s first series saw the Cougars gain a grand total of 17 yards, and its second series was held to a tidy 3-and-out.

The second appeared in the form of a 45-yard bomb from Aggie QB Battle Participant 1B Andrew Peasley to verified stud and player-we’ll-talk-about-more-later Deven Thompkins. Thompkins hauled in what looked to be a touchdown grab to break the seal on the game’s early scoring drought, but was called down at the 1 because the sports gods weren’t ready to end roughly 50 years’ worth of Aggie pain and suffering quite so easily.

Utah State committed a bunch of dumb penalties and didn’t score a touchdown, but the first move had been made to establish who should be under center for this team. Peasley’s deep passing and dynamic ability to keep defenses honest with his legs seemed to offer something his counterpart Logan Bonner could not.

Punt-Punt-Punt-USU field goal had the good guys up 3-0 after the game’s opening stanza.

The Second Quarter

Former Miami Hurricane Patrick Joyner Jr. scored the Aggies’ only second quarter points, suplexing QB Jarrett Guarantano in Washington’s own end zone for a safety. Guarantano, engaged in a starting QB battle of his own up to this point, was shaken up on the play and exited the rest of the game.

From here, things took an awfully Aggie-ish turn. Wazzou kicked a field goal to tie the game. Peasley led a half-decent drive before running the ball 11 yards and coughing up a bad fumble, voiding any good grace he might’ve earned with the coaching staff in the previous quarter and giving WSU another chance to put points on the board. Wazzou proceeded to doink a field goal try off the left upright, because this game was already getting weird and there was no way we were getting through an entire half without someone missing a kick.

Two plays later, USU’s projected QB starter Logan Bonner threw his second extremely-interceptable pass of the game and was rightly punished by senior DB Derrick Langford, who made an easy catch and took it 36 yards deep into Utah State territory. The Aggie defense held again and Washington kicked another field goal to take a somewhat humorous 6-5 lead into the halftime break.

Despite some egregious self-inflicted wounds, the underdog Aggies trailed by just 1 at a P5 team’s home opener. Though not exactly cause for celebration, it was worth staying put at the local Buffalo Wild Wings to see how the second half would unfold.

The First Drive After the Break

With just under 13 minutes to go in the third quarter, Coach Blake Anderson had a choice to make — display zero faith in the offense by punting the ball (and the game) back to the Cougars from the WSU 36 like so many teams before him have done because college football can be super dumb, or roll the dice on converting a 4th and 6 with Peasley under center. Since Anderson ain’t no chump, he made the right call.

Stoically patrolling the Aggie sideline with his massive stones in tow, Anderson looked on as Peasley completed a 13-yard dart to the latest Van Leeuwen brother (Kyle) for a first down at the WSU 23. It was the kind of call you make when you’re actually trying to win a game and have faith in your team, and it led directly to a successful field goal that ultimately represented the game’s slim margin of victory. The score was 8-6, Aggies.

Some Inevitable Bad Stuff Finally Happened

Three plays later, Washington State got their big play. The Aggie defense hadn’t broken all night, but Max Borghi is a really good athlete and managed to find the edge around the entire USU backend for a 64-yard score. Not quite a back-breaker, but a glaring mistake for an otherwise stellar effort from a defense more than halfway through its first game together.

Aggie kicker Connor Coles, somehow a bit of an unsung hero despite going 3/3 this game, chipped in another field goal toward the middle of the 3rd. At this point, it became obvious piling up field goals wasn’t going to be enough down the stretch, as WSU QB Jayden de Laura had found a rhythm in the Cougar offense. Troubling the Aggies with his scrambling ability and feeling more comfortable in his role under center, de Laura led an 8-play, 69-yard scoring drive and made the WSU lead 20-11.

Utah State drove 17 yards in 5 plays and punted. Wazzou kicked another field goal. In a game where points came at a premium, USU found itself trailing 23-11 with a little over a quarter remaining.

The Kickass Ending, Pt. I

What a time for a 14-play, 70-yard face-melter of a drive. This was the moment for Aggie RBs John Gentry, Calvin Tyler Jr. and Elelyon Noa, who each took a turn taking handoffs from Bonner for effective yards on the ground. Bonner also found the kind of rhythm here that he needs to have to be the starter for this team moving forward, completing three straight passes to three different receivers once WSU started attacking the run more aggressively. A 2-yard run from Tyler Jr. capped the Aggies’ first TD drive of the night, pulling the score to 23-18 with 5:25 remaining.

To Washington State’s credit, the coaches trusted de Laura to throw the ball on this drive and made a valiant effort to play-to-win rather than simply not-to-lose — but it wouldn’t matter.

Peppering Travell Harris with targets advanced the ball just 5 yards in two plays and had the Cougars facing a daunting 3rd-and-5. Under center still fighting for his team’s starting job was de Laura, who had designs to use his legs to pick up a critical first down if his first read wasn’t open — only by the time that read was made, Jaylin Bannerman had erased de Laura’s protection and introduced himself with a game-saving sack to complete the most inspiring defensive stop of this young season.

The Aggies were getting the ball back with three minutes to play.

The Kickass Ending, Pt. II

Bonner’s poise and control over the offense on its previous drive saw him take the field again, this time for the game’s closing argument. The Arkansas State transfer began his orchestrations with an 8-yard dish to Justin McGriff, followed by a 4-yard run from Calvin Tyler. Two passes to Tyler and a QB keeper brought up a do-or-die 4th and 3 from the 41, which the new coaching staff decided would be a passing down because they like winning football games. Tyler Jr’s number was called again, hauling in a 7-yard reception that made Aggie fans’ internal organs scream “WE CAN WIN THIS GAME” while battling the overwhelming sense that they’d seen this exact game play out for the last, like, nine years in row.

Under a minute now, and it’s Bonner to Thompkins for 12, then again for 11 after a big 20-second chunk of time rolls off the clock. Just 29 seconds remain. Bonner hikes the ball from the 29 and immediately senses pressure, climbs in the pocket like a damn pro and rumbles forward for a 7-yard gain. With 15 seconds left, Bonner takes a snap and hurls it in Thompkins’ direction. For the first time all game, WSU is dinged with a pass interference call that brings the Aggies to the 7.

And who better to complete the Aggie comeback bid than Thompkins, who sliced underneath the Cougars’ coverage to snap up a dart from Bonner for the go-ahead score. The 2-pt conversion try was successful, deflating WSU fans so completely that the remaining 13 seconds in the game felt like little more than a formality.

All-told, the Aggies put up 15 points in the final quarter after scoring just 11 through three. They overcame a familiar sense of “what-if” and instilled an excitement in the rest of the season that could pay massive dividends in the weeks and, to be honest, the years ahead. Blake Anderson’s made-from-scratch Aggies are 1-0, and Aggieland is once again given reason to rejoice.

Quick-Hit Takeaways

—Through 80% of this game, I wasn’t sure who deserved the starting QB spot. Peasley brings a dynamic element to the game that makes opposing defenses uncomfortable, but Bonner seems to make better decisions and has more complete control over the offense. After that final drive, it seems obvious the starter role is now Bonner’s to lose, if for no other reason than the locker room can trust him to be The Guy in pressure situations. You simply can’t ask a dude to win you a game like that and then bench him. Expect to see both in action next week against North Dakota, but for Bonner to be the dude.

—I love Deven Thompkins. YOU love Deven Thompkins. All my homies love Deven Thompkins. 8 receptions for 94 yards and a touchdown never looked so good.

—Seven other players caught a pass in this game, and a whole host of running backs toted the ball with good success. When it wants to, this Aggie offense can move. Wazzou’s defense was gassed the final five minutes of the game and it showed.

—The Aggie front seven is as-advertised. WSU was supposed to pose something of a potent run attack, but outside of one homerun play the Aggies made it look mediocre at best. Justin Rice, Patrick Joyner and Marcus Moore all have a certain star-quality to them, and plenty of others in this unit have similar potential to disrupt plays in the backfield (holy crap Bannerman is so good). If teams struggle to run on the Aggies this year, USU’s expected wins total can easily reach bowl-game contention.

—What a gutsy performance from Blake Anderson in his first outing. He made the right aggressive calls and kept the Aggies in the fight even when it appeared things were slipping away. Toppling a P5 opponent on the road is an impressive feat no matter who it is, and doing it while balancing a tight QB competition only increases the degree of difficulty. Really exciting start for this entire staff, and reason to believe the best is yet to come for a young Aggie team still fresh out of the package.



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