Logan • Utah State's pass defense has emerged as a key component in the Aggies' regular season-ending five game winning streak, but it will be tested in Saturday's Mountain West Conference championship game at Fresno State.
After going through a rough stretches in the middle of theseason, USU's secondary bounced back and covered effectively even against good passing teams.
In a three-game stretch against San Jose State, BYU and Boise State, the Aggies gave up an average of 316.3 yards per game and five passing touchdowns. In the last five games, Utah State is allowing only 192.2 passing yards per game and has let in a total of three passing touchdowns.
The Aggies have intercepted seven more passes, but they've also gotten 27 break-ups in that stretch. Sacks and quarterback hurries are also up, partially an indicator that it's been harder to find targets down field.
Junior linebacker Zach Vigil said he's seen growth from the defense overall this season in playing "smarter." Coach Matt Wells spun that answer a little bit.
"I think it's just those veterans are more comfortable with those guys around them," Wells said. "Nick [Vigil] has played an extended amount of time for the first time. Kyler [Fackrell] has moved to a new position. They didn't just become that much smarter."
The pass defense will have to be on point this week: At 410.3 yards per game, Fresno State is the No. 1-ranked passing offense in the country.
Wells openly acknowledged that quarterback Derek Carr and his tandem of receivers may be the best Utah State has faced in the last few years.
Wildcat gets makeover
Since his breakout game against UNLV as a wildcat quarterback, Jojo Natson hasn't had much more success in the run game.
The Aggies receiver ran for one total yard against Colorado State, then was stopped for negative-12 yards last week against Wyoming. The sophomore acknowledged that the Wildcat sometimes the WildNat or Wild Jojo had been limited by defenses keying on his running ability.
That's why Utah State gave the package some different looks against the Cowboys. Natson handed off to Joey DeMartino, and once even threw to the end zone to try for his first passing touchdown, which was something he did in fall camp. Although it's been a lot to learn, Natson said, it's been fun.
"I was surprised that I actually got a chance to throw it but we're trying to switch it up and give them a couple different looks," he said. "Hopefully we do have a little Wildcat this week."
Utah State on CBS
The Aggies will play on their biggest broadcasting platform Saturday, even in a season when the program has been on TV a lot.
The Mountain West championship kicks off at 8 p.m. on CBS, coming right on the heels of the Auburn-Missouri SEC title game. They'll have access to just about every TV in the country and likely be the only major college football game on at that time.
Mountain West championship
O USU at Fresno State
Saturday, 8 p.m.
TV • Ch. 2