Relieved to get past Air Force, Utah State will have an advantage vs. BYU

USU safety Gaje Ferguson likes the bye week’s timing, after making 15 tackles.

(Eli Lucero/The Herald Journal via AP) Utah State defensive end Dalton Baker tackles Air Force running back Kadin Remsberg during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018, in Logan, Utah.

Logan • The calendar moved to Sunday as Utah State quarterback Jordan Love took the final, clock-killing snap.

A long, challenging night for the Aggie defense ended in a 42-32 win over Air Force at Maverik Stadium. USU's Mountain West opener led into a bye week that comes at “a pretty dang good time, I'd say,” safety Gaje Ferguson observed.

That’s logical, after Ferguson and his group defended 107 plays against the Falcons. The heavy workload resulted from some combination of the USU defense’s inability to get off the field and the Aggie offense’s insistence on scoring touchdowns quickly, while having some inconsistency of its own. USU ran a total of 62 plays and held the ball for just 16:20 compared to AFA’s 43:40.

In any case, the Aggies (3-1) can rest this week. And they’ll have an advantage against BYU in a Friday game (Oct. 5) with the Old Wagon Wheel at stake, as the Cougars will have traveled home from Saturday night’s contest at Washington. ESPN’s Football Power Index projects USU for 9.2 wins, with a 56.9-percent chance of beating BYU in Provo.

In his sixth year, USU coach Matt Wells is 6-0 after bye weeks, counting two games in 2013, his first season. The following season, USU and BYU each had a bye before the Aggies won in Provo for the first time in 36 years.

Wells referenced that history after beating Air Force, while being relieved his team broke its trend of losing to the Falcons in close games for three straight years. With the advantage of knowing the outcome, Wells liked how his team had to work for the victory, after winning its previous two games by an average of 54 points. Yet when AFA was driving in the fourth quarter after cutting a 21-point deficit to 35-32, Wells was thinking, “Can we just hang on?”

USU did. The Falcons reached the Aggies' 42-yard line, before linebacker Justus Te’i made a tackle for loss on third and 3, forcing a punt. USU’s offense responded with Gerold Bright’s 70-yard touchdown run down the right side.

USU’s defense allowed 471 total yards, but surrendered a respectable number of points, considering one of AFA’s touchdowns came via a fumble return on a kickoff. The problem was Utah State didn’t force many punts. Of the Falcons' first 24 series that reached third down, they converted 16 times on either third or fourth down. But after going ahead 42-32, the Aggies made two fourth-down stops.

“We weren’t perfect tonight,” Ferguson said, “but we found a way to get stops when it was really important. … I know we were the tougher team tonight.”

Six of AFA’s drives lasted 10 plays or longer. USU had a 11-play touchdown drive that took nearly three minutes. The Aggies' other five TD productions took a total of slightly more than four minutes. Love, a sophomore, passed for a career-high 356 yards and USU posted 489 total yards.