QB injuries, explosive plays and an entire quarter without scoring — it was a USU-BYU game, alright
Utah State drops one at home to No. 13 BYU, heads into bye week 3-2
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What We Learned From Utah State’s 34-20 Loss to BYU
Utah State attempted yet another come-from-behind thriller Friday, this time against a visiting 4-0 BYU squad which frankly I can’t think of anything nice to say about just yet. The rally fell short 34-20 in a sort of mixed-bag effort that lost the Aggies the Old Wagon Wheel (and potentially a starting QB) while raising some interesting questions about the remainder of the 2021 season and the big-picture direction of a rebuilding USU program.
Let’s dive in.
The Dreaded First Quarter
Utah State received the opening kickoff and immediately went to work with a pair of runs from Calvin Tyler Jr. and Logan Bonner. Bonner then zipped a pass toward the increasingly-reliable Brandon Bowling for 12 yards and a first down before another Tyler run and a BYU sack quickly brought up the second 3rd-and-long of the game.
Just six plays into the contest, the Aggies’ enduring first quarter woes struck in the form of Malik Moore’s outrageous one-handed interception.
— CBS Sports Network (@CBSSportsNet) October 2, 2021
It was an underthrown ball from Bonner (who struggled all night with his deep throws), but it was an excellent defensive play all the same. About 90 actual seconds later, two completions from BYU QB Baylor Romney and a 22-yard run from stud RB Tyler Allgeier had BYU on the board with a touchdown, because USU’s first-half defense just never looks ready to play until someone throws dirt in its face.
Look, I know it’s more about how you finish than how you start, but the Aggies have really got to stop sleeping late for class and showing up to the stadium with mismatched socks and their pants unzipped. This is five games in a row now they’ve allowed opponents to put them on their heels. Do better.
Not a lot else happened in the opening period aside from trading a pair of long field goals for a 10-3 deficit heading into the second quarter.
The Much More Exciting Second Quarter
Romney kept dealing throughout BYU’s next drive, guiding the Cougars downfield to set up a 15-yard touchdown strike to Isaac Rex (one of the many 6’6” WR clones BYU seems to effortlessly produce with each passing year). The score completed a 75-yard drive in which almost nothing USU’s defense offered seemed to make the Cougars remotely uncomfortable.
The Aggies answered with a 75-yard drive of their own, spread across a grueling 18(!) plays that kept BYU’s defense on the field for nearly half of the second quarter. Facing 3rd-and-15 from the BYU 21, Bonner danced around a three-man BYU rush for nearly six full seconds before whipping a 21-yard completion to Justin McGriff in the front corner of the endzone. The score cut into the Cougars’ early two-score cushion and provided genuine signs of life from the Aggie offense — the game was afoot.
— USU Football (@USUFootball) October 2, 2021
Five plays later, Allgeier flexed again. The Aggie front seven just had no answer for the former walk-on running back all night, as evidenced by a 59-yard house call which wouldn’t even end up being his longest “how-is-he-this-untouched?” run of the night.
Hello? Yes, this is Tyler Allgeier for a house call.
— CBS Sports Network (@CBSSportsNet) October 2, 2021
The Aggies made a valiant attempt to respond toward the close of the first half, but 11 plays and four first downs later their drive stalled, resulting in a field goal. Although the game wouldn’t end up coming down to kicking, it was nice to see Utah State’s Connor Coles knocking down field goals from 52 and 47 to finish a perfect 2/2 in this one.
There’s mounting evidence indicating all quarterbacks unlucky enough to start in this in-state matchup are cursed. BYU, already on its second-stringer at the position, would lose Baylor Romney to injury in the final minute of the first half. It was a significant blow to the Cougar offense, as Romney had been working on a pretty immaculate half of football (15/19 for 187 and a touchdown). The halftime score settled at 24-13, Cougars — more on QB injuries later.
The Third Quarter
Nobody scored in the third quarter.
Yes. I am not recapping punt-punt-punt-downs-punt-punt. I won’t do it.
The Fourth Quarter
Romney’s absence seemed to rob BYU of any ability to move the ball, but third-stringer Jacob Conover started to work things out in the fourth. With most of the quarter still to play, BYU booted a field goal to restore its early two-touchdown lead and dare USU to once again mount a near-impossible comeback for the fifth time in as many games.
And for a minute there, it looked like the Aggies just might do it. Starting on their own 10 with just over 14 minutes to play, Bonner flipped a pass to Kyle Van Leeuwen for an early conversion on third down.
Two plays later, Calvin Tyler Jr. scampered for a 2-yard gain and Derek Wright caught a pass for another 7, bringing up 4th and 1. True to form, Anderson trusted Tyler with the rock again and got the yard he needed for a fresh set of downs.
Now at their own 30, the Aggies needed to pick up the pace. Bonner threw a pair of incompletions to bring up the thousandth 3rd-and-long of the game, which he heroically converted on a mad scramble (and truly impressive reach) for exactly ten yards. If the Aggie signal-caller wasn’t hurt before this play it certainly looked like he was now, torquing his knee mid-scramble and limping around the backfield between plays.
Needing to push the ball further upfield, Bonner took the next snap and launched a high arcing bomb in Thompkins’ direction. Thompkins was too busy getting body slammed by his defender to catch it, resulting in what might be the first BYU pass interference penalty in recorded history.
With a first down at the BYU 45, Tyler gained another yard on the ground before Bonner found Bowling again, this time for 16 yards. The growing sense of optimism in the stadium reached roaring new heights moments later, as Bonner dialed up a perfect 28-yard shot to Deven Thompkins in the end zone.
— USU Football (@USUFootball) October 2, 2021
And Then What?
You know what. Seconds after Thompkins breathed new life into every Aggie fan giddily dreaming up a glorious close to what was now a one-score game, Allgeier struck with the merciless precision of a stake through the heart. Stabbing through a gaping hole courtesy of his O-line and past a stumbling defensive back, Allgeier all but ended this game in one smooth 67-yard run called down just shy of the goal line.
— Kyle Jordan (@KyleWTOC) October 2, 2021
With the wind visibly removed from their sails, the Aggies punted after gaining just ten yards on their next drive and garbage time ensued. This offense also endured a notable non-contact injury to Bonner’s previously torqued knee, which is thought to have been a hyperextension. Peasley came in cold off the bench and didn’t do much.
All told, the Aggies lost a game they probably could have won, but showed considerably more fight than in last week’s Boise drubbing and gave plenty of reason to believe this is still a promising group. A 3-2 record and a whole heap of beatable teams on the horizon means Utah State still has plenty to play and prepare for after the upcoming bye week.
-Try not to dwell on this one. BYU has a good squad this year and Allgeier had a special night stepping in for the team’s rocky QB situation. While the emotional toll of losing to BYU is certainly weighty, the impact it has on USU’s conference standing and post-season bowl hopes is minimal.
-Bonner didn’t look right well before his injury, and his situation is admittedly a difficult one. Coach Anderson has wisely opted to no longer rotate in dual-QBs, both because that never works and because Bonner needs to be able to find rhythm in the offense without looking over his shoulder in fear of being benched after one bad drive or key mistake. That said, it’s dangerous to stay on the field when your knees aren’t cooperating, and USU does have a very capable backup QB ready to step in. I admire the commitment to one starting QB, but this is a case where you may have considered relieving an ailing starter a little sooner.
-More on Bonner: 21/41 for 276, 2 TDs and an INT. Not bad, but he has to figure out the timing on those open deep shots to take this offense to the next level.
-Thompkins: 9 for 125 and a TD. He is an all-conference caliber WR in a conference with some true studs at the position, and the Aggies are right to continue looking his way every week.
-As a team, Utah State rushers carried the ball 35 times for 31 yards. Even against a talented defensive front, you have to generate something more from the ground game. All of Anderson’s post-game comments about BYU having bigger, stronger athletes were almost certainly directed toward the utter devastation the Cougars wrought on the hapless Aggie rushing attack.
-AJ Vongphachanh and Marcus Moore had nice nights on the defensive side of the ball. Yes, the no. 13 team in the country came into USU’s house and dropped 466 yards of total offense on the Aggie D, and it was hard to watch at times. But you also aren’t likely to see a lot of dudes like Allgeier the rest of the season, so that’s not nothing. There is a lot of talent within the ranks of this defense, and they’ve been put through an absolute pressure cooker over the last three games. Improvements are coming.
Overall, this Aggie team doesn’t strike me as one with an ailing sickness preventing it from flying right — it’s just a group that’s building toward an exciting new ceiling and experiencing predictable growing pains along the way. It takes time to work out the kinks between a new coaching staff and a team half-built from new transfers. Penalties, defensive breakdowns and stale offensive drives are still bound to happen — but I expect with two weeks to finally catch a breather, coach Anderson will have this team in the right frame of mind for what’s to come.