Matt Wells couldn’t pin it down to one thing.
There were the early penalties that had extended Utah’s scoring drives. The missed extra point was a disappointment, as were the three-and-outs on offense. The onside kick in the third quarter was a hard blow.
If any of them had gone a little differently, the game might’ve, too
“It was a total team loss,” Utah State’s coach said. “Every one of us, starting with myself.”
What made Thursday’s 30-26 loss at Rice-Eccles Stadium so painful was that the Aggies had seemed so close to getting a statement win in their season opener. But the chance to clinch the first road win against the Utes since 1997 slipped away, little by little, starting with the third quarter.
Utah State had bounced back from a sloppy start, rolling to 301 yards in the first half with its offensive line giving Chuckie Keeton all the time in the world to pick apart the Utes’ defense. The unproven Aggies receivers proved themselves, and Keeton finished the game 31 for 40 with 314 yards and two touchdowns.
Even the defense had recovered from early slip-ups after giving up 14 points in the first quarter, the most Utah State had allowed in the opening quarter since 2011. For almost 35 minutes after its second score, Utah’s offense was shut out, with the Aggies gaining a 23-14 lead.
That changed shortly after a Utah field goal with 2:24 remaining in the third. The Utes’ onside kick on the subsequent play threw Utah State on its heels. A Karl Williams touchdown capped a 10-point turnaround in less than a minute and a half, and the Aggies were battling back and forth the rest of the game.
“There’s always going to be adversity in every single game, and I guess that was it,” Keeton said. “It’s really how we respond to the adversity, and we didn’t really respond in the right way.”
Other factors fed into the lead crumbling away. Keeton was affected by cramps. Utah changed up its defense, and was harder to read. Utah State’s playcalling seemed to tighten up in the third, as the Aggies sought to grind away with the lead.
On defense, Connor Williams was sidelined with an injury. And Travis Wilson and the Utes kept finding holes in the middle of a spotty secondary, winding up with 450 yards of offense.
After missing another third down with 6:38 left in the game, Wells elected to punt. The Aggies wouldn’t get the ball back until 19 seconds were left. And then, it was too late.
“We weren’t executing well enough,” linebacker Zach Vigil said. “They came out and they executed. The mistakes we made, they executed with them.”
What went wrong
• Utah’s recovery of an onside kick late in the third quarter swung the momentum.
• QB Chuckie Keeton was affected by cramps and Connor Williams was injured.
• USU punted with 6:38 remaining, and didn’t get the ball back until 19 seconds were left.