Logan • It was like thunder and lightning. Whenever Colorado State scored Saturday night at Maverik Stadium, Utah State rumbled right back.
The call and response was fitting for a homecoming game delayed half an hour by the electricity in the air over Merlin Olsen Field. Yet once the Aggies took the lead late in the second half, the Rams had no answer, and USU survived for a 34-24 Mountain West Conference victory.
“It was not perfect by any means. There was a lot to work on. I thought the defense continually just got put in poor spots tonight,” USU coach Gary Andersen said. “But we found a way to keep fighting, keep battling.”
The game was as sloppy as the field, which was drenched as sheets of rain fell on the announced crowd of 20,017, most covered by parkas and dripping even before the opening kickoff. By the end of the game, the teams had combined for seven turnovers -- four for the Aggies and three for the Rams. Those translated into 10 points per team.
Andersen refused to pin his teams problems on the weather.
“If you’re going to be where we play football, you’d better be able to handle weather,” he said. “... I don’t think it was a factor with the turnovers. It was a factor with the offensive struggles, but not with the turnovers.”
The Aggies committed two turnovers in the opening half. One of those, a 44-yard pick-6 by Andre Neal, resulted in a CSU touchdown. The Rams also scored the possession after Troy Golden blocked Pierce Callister’s punt early in the first quarter.
CSU, meanwhile, escaped the half without allowing a takeaway. Junior linebacker David Woodward and the USU defense did their best to balance the scales in the second half, however, scoring on two of the Rams’ three missteps.
In the third quarter, Cameron Haney forced the Rams’ E.J. Scott to cough up the ball on Utah State’s 47-yard line after completing a 37-yard catch and Dalton Baker recovered it. Six plays later, kicker Dominik Eberle’s 48-yard field goal attempt then barely cleared the crossbar to give the Aggies the 27-24 lead.
This time, the Aggies, and Woodward in particular, wouldn’t let the Rams rally back. An Olympia, Washington, native and admitted fan of the rain, Woodward set Kinsey as his target. The Rams running back had been reported as doubtful for the game earlier in the week because of a broken collarbone. If he had one, he appeared immune to the pain while racking up 60 yards on 19 carries and a touchdown through three quarters.
In the fourth quarter, he gained just 13 yards in three carries as Woodward twice stripped him of the ball. The Aggies couldn’t capitalize on the first one, but punter Callister made the best of it, landing his kick at the Rams’ 4-yard line. When CSU tried to get out of the bad spot by giving the ball to Kinsey for a run, Woodward went in for the kill. As his teammates held up Kinsey, he stripped the ball and returned it back to the end zone to put the win out of the Rams’ reach.
“I was relieved, looking around for a penalty just to make sure it counted," Woodward said. "Our whole defense was pretty much on that tackle and everyone did a great job of holding on long enough for me to get it out. I saw him getting held up but slowly gaining a couple of yards, and I knew that I had a chance to strip it and make a play.”
Woodward and junior safety Troy Lefeged Jr. -- who recorded 14 and 11 tackles, respectively -- shouldered the task of keeping CSU in check while the Aggies offense struggled to get rolling. Senior running back Gerold Bright coughed up a fumble on USU’s first possession. He recovered, however, to run the ball a career-high 165 yards on 36 carries. That’s the most by an Aggie since Emmett White carried the ball 38 times against Weber State in 2001.
“As a player you’ve got to have short-term memory loss and move on to the next play," Bright said, "because that next play could be the best play.”
CSU opened the scoring with a 2-yard pass to Jaylen Thomas from Patrick O’Brien midway through the first quarter. It took the Aggies just 14 seconds to answer back. Savon Scarver fielded the kickoff return deep in the USU end zone and ran it back for a touchdown. The kickoff return for a score was the fourth of his career, tying him for the USU record.
Aggies quarterback Jordan Love tossed two touchdowns, the longest of which was a Heisman-worthy pass he threaded to Caleb Repp, who was double-teamed in the end zone 40 yards downfield, with 1:08 to play in the first half. That gave the Aggies a 24-17 lead, their first of the game. Love also connected with Devon Thompkins on a 37-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter to make it 14-all. But Love wasn’t without his struggles. He finished 17 of 33 for 204 yards and two interceptions -- one of which led to CSU tying the score 24-all on a 45-yard Cayden Camper field goal. Love also was sacked once and fumbled a snap while the Aggies were facing second-and-goal on the CSU 1-yard line.
“The offense didn’t play great, we kind of took a step back. A lot of turnovers,” Bright said. "The execution in the run game was decent, but we can do a lot better. We can catch the balls more, so we’ve still got a chip on our shoulder to be better than what we played today.”
The win gives the Aggies some momentum as they travel to play No. 4 LSU next Saturday in a 10 a.m. game that will be broadcast on the SEC Network. They return to conference play the following week when they host Nevada-Reno at a time to be determined.
• David Woodward forces two turnovers in the fourth quarter, taking the second one back 4 yards for a touchdown
• Running back Gerold Bright has a career-high 36 carries, the most for any USU player since at least 2013, for 165 yards
• The Aggies improve to 2-0 in the Mountain West Conference