Utah State football: USU defense comes up big in second half
Colorado Springs • There was no way the Aggies were going to let it happen twice.
Utah had fooled them the week before on special teams. Air Force wasn't going to on Saturday.
As David Baska lined up for the punt, Utah State's coaches screamed from the sidelines. "Fake! Fake!" And as Baska took off on a run, he only managed to get back to the line of scrimmage before he was promptly tackled.
"That was a big turning point, a big momentum changer for us," coach Matt Wells said. "Our defense made some stops for us, and we were able to turn them into points."
It was a common story in the second half, as the Aggies totally shut down Air Force's vaunted rushing attack.
The third quarter domination is staggering: Air Force gained 40 yards and only one first down. The Falcons didn't convert a third down on four tries, and never once got in the red zone.
Utah State held Air Force to only 270 offensive yards, and 162 yards rushing a week after the Falcons had gained over 400 on Colgate. More importantly, the defense was half the equation when the Aggies scored 31 unanswered points.
The Aggies were glad to have a performance to celebrate one week after a disappointing loss to the Utes.
"I think what we took is we just have to realize who we are," linebacker Zach Vigil, who finished with nine tackles and a forced fumble. "We know we're a tough-minded program, and last week we didn't show that. Especially as a defense."
The performance was not without its flaws. For the second week, the Aggies were dogged by penalties, giving up 36 yards on two pass interference calls and defensive holding on Air Force's first-half touchdown drive.
Utah State also struggled to adjust to quarterback Jaleel Awini's throwing ability, as the sophomore passer was able to find his receivers deep. Fortunately for the Aggies, Air Force's receivers struggled to catch the throws, dropping a handful of passes that might've gone for scores.
By the time Utah State had built up its lead, the Falcons were too deep in the hole. The Aggies' defense had them playing from behind, and thrived on putting them in 3rd and long situations. What started off as a challenge ended up as easy pickings.
"We came out her and we executed at a high level," Vigil said. "We knew what they were going to do, and we stopped them, so it worked out pretty well for us as a defense."