Logan • Any hopes that Gary Andersen’s first season back at Utah State would have a fairytale finish came crashing down on the Aggies and their fans Saturday night.
The No. 20 Boise State Broncos, playing like a team chasing a conference championship, not to mention a New Years Six Bowl, crushed defenseless USU 56-21 before a chilled audience of 18,315 at Maverik Stadium.
Utah State, which gained bowl eligibility last week, had hoped its modest late-season turnaround — back-to-back wins over Fresno State and Wyoming — would provide a little bit of momentum against the reigning MW heavyweight in USU’s final home game of the season.
It was not to be. Boise State, led by backup quarterback Jaylon Henderson, unleashed a brutally efficient attack against Utah State, totaling 484 yards of offense and showing meticulous balance along the way. Missing linebacker David Woodward, their leader, the banged up Aggie defense struggled to contain the Broncos on the perimeter, were blown up inside and tackled poorly. The pass coverage was terrible, too, just for good measure.
“Very difficult loss,” Andersen said. Boise State is “a very good football team. It was a physical game and it got away from us.”
USU dropped to 6-5 overall and 5-2 in the MW with the loss. Boise State improved to 10-1 and 7-0 and clinched a conference championship game date with Hawaii, a Saturday winner over San Diego State in Honolulu.
The Broncos’ only blemish remains their 28-25 defeat at BYU on Oct. 19.
BOISE STATE 56, UTAH STATE 21
• The No. 20 Broncos destroy Aggies from the start, taking a 42-7 lead at the half and snapping USU’s two-game winning streak.
• Utah State doesn’t force a 3-and-out until the fourth quarter, getting strafed on the ground and through the air by Boise’s balance attack.
• Jordan Love returns after an undisclosed injury, but throws an early pick-six and has little impact on the game.
It didn’t feel like a blowout kind of night initially.
The Aggies got a boost at the start of the game when quarterback Jordan Love returned to the starting lineup after leaving late in last week’s 26-21 win over Wyoming with an undisclosed injury. Love had his moments on Saturday, but he also threw a pick-six to Boise corner Jalen Walker in the first quarter and the Aggies inconsistent offensively most of the night.
Falling behind early probably had something to do with that. Boise State grabbed a 21-7 lead after a quarter, thanks to Walker’s interception and a pair of rushing TDs by running back George Holani. The Broncos went up 28-7 just a few minutes into the second period and led 42-7 at the half. Maverik Stadium emptied quickly after intermission.
Boise rolled up 383 yards in the opening half, 231 on the ground and 152 through the air. Love threw for 158 yards in the first, the but the USU ground game (29 yards) was virtually nonexistent.
How frustrated were the Aggies? USU defensive back DJ Williams got tossed after drawing two personal foul penalties within minutes of each other in the second quarter.
Most of that frustration, defensively anyway, was that the Aggies simply couldn’t get their arms around the Broncos.
“They were bouncing off our guys pretty good,” Andersen said. It’s obviously "something we need to work on.”
For Andersen, who returned to Utah State after head coaching stops at Wisconsin and Oregon State, and an assistant coaching gig at Utah, Saturday marked the season’s low point, simply because his team was never competitive in a game with so much riding on it. The Aggies could have pulled into a first-place tie with the Broncos with a win.
The hardest part for Andersen on Saturday was watching his team get out-toughed by the visitors.
“It was a physical game,” he said. “They wanted to be physical on both sides of the football, and that’s how they’re built.”
It turned out to be anticlimactic, but whether Love would start for USU on Saturday was the Cache Valley’s favorite parlor game during the week. He wasn’t terrible, completing 21 of 36 passes for 229 yards and a TD. But the interception was costly, and much of his yardage came after the game was no longer in doubt.
The Broncos’ Henderson, subbing for injured freshman starter Hank Bachmeier was good enough (16 of 28 for 187 yards and 3 TDs), but it was Holani who hurt the Aggies the most, rumbling for 178 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns. He averaged 11.1 yards per carry.
The Broncos have a quick turnaround, playing Colorado State on Friday afternoon in Ford Collins. The Aggies wrap up their regular season next Saturday at New Mexico in a 2 p.m. contest.
Andersen believes there is still plenty for the Aggies to play for, as he told them in the locker room after the loss.
“Six wins doesn’t guarantee bowl game,” he said. “Six wins gets you eligible. They’ve got a lot to fight for.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the Utah State player who was ejected from the game.