Utah State University football coach Blake Anderson talks to a referee during a game in Logan on Friday, Oct. 1, 2021. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)
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LOGAN — On Saturday night at Maverik Stadium, several members of “The Hurd” student chapter dressed up as cows, poking fun at the university’s established reputation for being known for its agricultural education.
In the game played in front of the students, Utah State football has leaned into a reputation all its own that has started to gain traction in recent weeks: having a dud on offense.
In a 34-24 loss to UNLV, the offense failed to move the chains consistently until they trailed 17 points in the fourth quarter, responsible for four interceptions – one fumble and three turnovers on downs – and continually put the Aggies defense in one of the tough spots against a sudden and dynamic Rebels offense.
Of course, not everything was bad. Logan Bonner threw for 246 yards and three touchdowns, and had his three biggest passes of the season, a 44-yard pass to Brian Cobbs, a 40-yard pass to Justin Mcgriff and a 39-yard touchdown pass to Terrell Vaughn; Utah State even beat the Rebels 421-320 in total yards.
But for those who watched the first three quarters of the match, those who ultimately decided the outcome, it was clear that defeat lay on the shoulders of the attack.
If there were two issues to focus on – beyond the myriad others including play calls – they would be turnovers and the inability to move chains in close range situations. .
Bonner threw four interceptions (to add to his total of seven for the season), and two of them, in particular, were expensive. The first came with the Aggies down 21-7 and leading Utah State; he threw in double coverage and returned the ball to UNLV. Later in the second quarter, trailing 21-9, he was picked off by safety Austin Ajiake, who brought him back to field goal range.
It seemed that when Bonner wasn’t throwing interceptions, the team couldn’t sustain practices. The failure to convert on short range situations on Saturday night was largely to blame; the Aggies were 4 of 13 on third attempts, with four failed attempts on plays with 5 yards. The Aggies were 2 of 5 on fourth down — and stopped on fourth down three times in UNLV territory.
“We just didn’t execute well enough, especially on offense, to really have a chance of winning,” coach Blake Anderson said. “We had a few yards but couldn’t finish. Turnovers will kill you.”
These are two difficult problems to solve.
The first is that Bonner doesn’t pass the ball accurately and rushes into bad decisions. Credit the Aggies offensive line for protecting Bonner better than they have all season against the Rebels, but he keeps getting the ball over his target or he tries to force something that doesn’t. is not there.
Neither will be fixed by the arrival of Cooper Legas, much to the chagrin of the fan base. Sure, Legas’ mobility could be an advantage and is the best argument for change, but from what we’ve seen of Legas’ limited time, his accuracy isn’t much better than Bonner’s, and the receivers no longer open. for him.
Last season, Bonner could have thrown him around Deven Thompkins and he would have gone down with it; Derek Wright also didn’t let defensive backs dominate him.
This year, receivers from Vaughn to McGriff to Cobbs are struggling to find separation, especially in deep yardage situations. In turn, opposing defenses were able to condense the field and push back under the roads, which were available last year, and further expose Bonner’s throws.
“It’s hard to say until we watch the tape, but were there other areas where we just weren’t on the same page as the quarterback? ” Anderson asked. “I know (Bonner) also had a bad night in terms of pick throwing, but it’s not always the quarterback. … Is he making good calls? Aren’t we in the right places? Aren’t we on the same page? If so, these things we need to clean up.”
On a positive note for the Aggies, four receivers had six catches apiece, so are you progressing?
“We fought through some of the collision-type coverage that we really struggled with two weeks ago, made a few competitive plays that I haven’t seen us do in the last two weeks, so baby take a step maybe,” Anderson said.
However, small steps aren’t enough to beat a burgeoning program like UNLV, especially when there doesn’t seem to be a bigger margin for error in other aspects of the offense.
The rushing attack featured 96 yards on 32 attempts – an average of 3 yards which was not enough. When the Aggies needed a yard, they couldn’t get it. On the first play of the second quarter, Calvin Tyler Jr. was stuffed on fourth down inside Rebels territory. Robert Briggs was also held in the fourth and third quarter in the fourth quarter, when the Aggies tried to come back.
Overall, the Aggies offense threw five interceptions, fumbled it once and turned the ball over three times. In some lenses, losing just by 10 with essentially nine turnovers, not to mention punter Stephen Kotstanlees’ turnover inside the 5-yard line, is a slight moral victory.
But losing to the Rebels for the first time since 2008 to fall 1-3 on the season is nothing to be proud of, and the offense played a big part in that.