Madison, Wis. • Offensively and defensively, Utah State football has improved so much that going toe-to-toe against a BCS conference opponent in a pressure-packed road game with the expectation of winning has become the expected.
Special teams? Well, in that area, the Aggies still have a long ways to go.
USU was a 16-14 loser to Wisconsin on Saturday night before 79,332 at Camp Randall Stadium after Josh Thompson missed a relatively simple 37-yard field-goal attempt that could have won the game with 14 seconds remaining. As the Badgers danced their way off the field, the Aggies left the stadium in disgust.
“It’s a tough loss,” USU head coach Gary Andersen said. “This was a game we absolutely had a chance of winning. But in the end, Wisconsin made one more play than us. Hats off to them — that’s a quality opponent.”
Utah State had every opportunity to pull off what would have been a landmark victory. But the little things ultimately tripped the Aggies up.
The third quarter provided the majority of the special-teams follies. A terrible line-drive punt by Tyler Bennett resulted in an 82-yard touchdown return from Kenzel Doe. On the next possession, Jaron Bentrude shanked a 19-yard punt, leading to another Badger touchdown.
The special-teams play undermined a superb performance by USU’s defense, which allowed one true length of the field drive all game. The Aggies did what was needed to win. They allowed 139 rushing yards to Montee Ball. But the star senior needed 37 attempts to get there. They allowed 78 passing yards and forced nine punts, while winning the total offense battle.
“The punt return was huge,” Andersen said. “It was the flip of the game. We made a couple of big plays, they made some big plays. It goes back and forth. It’s a huge play when you get the special teams to play for a touchdown.”
Chuckie Keeton’s touchdown pass to Matt Austin, with time winding down in the first half, supplied USU with a 14-3 lead. Wisconsin, at that point, was reeling. Starting quarterback Danny O’Brien would be pulled in the second half for redshirt freshman Joel Stave. The Badgers’ passing game had been completely stymied, and nobody quite knew where the points were going to come from for Wisconsin.
But Doe energized the Badgers with his return, and Wisconsin was able to use Bentrude’s ensuing punt for a short field. The Aggies wouldn’t score again.
“Obviously, it feels really good to get a win,” Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema said. “We didn’t do very well in certain phases of the game. We had some guys make some plays. We feel like we’re on the verge.”
Utah State falls to 2-1 with the defeat, a hollow feeling for such a relatively good start. The Aggies have struggled offensively in the last two games as well.
Colorado State on the road is next for USU. But for now, the Aggies will take a few hours and wonder what could’ve been.
R Utah State surrenders 13 consecutive points in the second half.
• The Aggies fall short in a bid to start 3-0 for the first time since 1978.
• Josh Thompson misses the potential game-winner, a 37-yard field-goal attempt.