Logan • Utah State doesn’t believe in moral victories.
So, when the Aggies walked into Lansing and gave Big Ten power Michigan State all it could handle before falling 38-31 last Friday, the Aggies in the immediate aftermath took little solace from a close defeat to a nationally recognized program.
“The bottom line is we took a loss,” standout safety Jontrell Rocquemore said. “We have to take it, and we have to learn from it. We have to go back to the drawing boards and recognize the things we saw that were problem areas. We have to start with those, try to get them fixed, and get back to practice.”
Utah State has been here before. It’s a team that is almost famous for going into season openers against Power Five opponents and almost coming out with a win. The key word? Almost. There was Auburn. There was Wisconsin. There was Oklahoma. All were games where the Aggies could’ve, and in some cases should’ve, come out with a program-defining win. All turned into heartbreaking losses. Michigan State is no different.
So, Utah State’s focus turns to Saturday night’s home opener against New Mexico State, and toward the remainder of the season. Garnering a win for the sake of getting a win is crucial. But, taking the gains of standing toe-to-toe with a top 15 team nationally and using that as a slingshot for the remainder of the season?
That’s important as well.
“To be honest, I think we were all kind of upset,” Utah State wide receiver Ron’Quavion Tarver said. “We feel like we should’ve won the game. We had an opportunity, and we didn’t take advantage of it. Nobody is satisfied with just playing them close. But, we all have to realize that’s in the past now. Nobody even talks about it anymore. I think we’re all focused on New Mexico State and trying to get that first victory.”
Even so, the Aggies learned plenty in their season-opener.
NEW MEXICO STATE AT UTAH STATE
When • Saturday, 6 p.m.
TV • Facebook
During preseason camp, USU coach Matt Wells and his staff clearly hoped Jordan Love would become a franchise-type quarterback, and his early returns proved sensational. The sophomore made huge throw after huge throw against a Michigan State defense geared to stop Utah State’s passing game. He went 29 of 44 through the air for 319 yards and generated scores when the Aggies needed them the most.
Utah State’s defense proved opportunistic, generating turnovers, most notably an interception and touchdown return from Gaje Ferguson that got the Aggies back into the game when it looked like Michigan State had found its footing and had taken control.
Most importantly, USU showed poise. It showed resilience. And it showed the ability to stop the run, which may have been its biggest weakness last season defensively. In all, the Aggies held Spartan standout running back LJ Scott to 84 yards on the ground. But Scott, who has rushed for almost 3,000 yards in his Michigan State career, needed 23 carries to get to that total, and he was never able to find the end zone.
“I thought we did a lot of good things,” Utah State center Quin Ficklin said. “But, obviously, it wasn’t enough to win the game. I thought we had a pretty good pace offensively. We had a good first drive and that set the tone for the game. But, we have New Mexico State this week, and we have to prepare for them. It’s all about our preparation and what we do as a unit. How the USU Aggies play will determine the outcome.”
Ultimately, that’s the message for this week and the remainder of the season. Playing well against Michigan State means nothing on paper and certainly means nothing if that play doesn’t translate into this week and the upcoming Mountain West schedule.
In 2011, the Aggies almost beat Auburn and went on to a 7-6 record, good enough for a bowl appearance, but not as good as Gary Andersen and crew had hoped. This Utah State team wants to compete for a conference title, and thinks it has the talent to do so.
But, for them, doing so means moving at a snail’s pace, and taking things week by week.
Up next? New Mexico State.