Logan • Utah State junior quarterback Jason Shelley got sacked a few minutes into the fourth quarter on Saturday. After the play was called dead, Shelley flipped the football in air behind him, walking off in apparent frustration.
The moment was indicative of a difficult afternoon overall for the Utah State football team. Before former coach Gary Andersen’s departure last weekend, he said one of the main things the Aggies lacked was big plays on offense.
Well, the Aggies got a few of those Saturday against the Fresno State Bulldogs. But the result compared to the first three games didn’t change.
The Aggies lost 35-16 to the Bulldogs at a fan-less Maverik Stadium, extending their losing streak to five games going back to last season. Fresno State (3-1) has now won three consecutive contests.
“We have to be better,” said Frank Maile, in his first regular season game as Utah State’s interim coach. “We have to be better coaches. We have to coach this a little bit cleaner.”
The Aggies (0-4) tallied 343 yards of total offense, marking the first time all season they had more than 300 yards.
The USU ground game, especially, showed promise. Senior running back Jaylen Warren ran for 136 yards on nine carries — the third 100-yard rushing game of his career. Fellow senior Devonta’e Henry-Cole, the former Utah Ute, had a season-high 73 rushing yards on 11 carries.
Shelley, meanwhile, struggled. He completed just 9 of 24 passes for 144 yards, but was often running for his life. He was sacked six times Saturday.
Utah State managed a 94-yard touchdown on a kickoff return by senior wide receiver Savon Scarver. The Aggies also got an 84-yard scoring run from Warren.
But those were the only significant sequences for the Aggies all game.
USU had a chance to turn Shelley’s 44-yard pass to Deven Thompkins into a TD — the play gave Utah State a first-and-goal on the Fresno State 2. But the Aggies lost 16 yards on a high snap over Shelley’s head, and they had to settle for a field goal.
With less than two minutes remaining in the game, the Aggies again stood just 2 yards away from a touchdown. USU went for it on fourth-and-7, but Shelley got sacked.
Overall, there were things to like about the way the Aggies played. USU’s second-half defense limited Fresno State to just one touchdown, and the offense showed more life than it has all season.
“All week, instead of putting new plays and trying to do something extra, we capitalized on our simple plays and decided to execute on those,” said Warren, who rushed for 136 yards on nine carries. “Today, it kind of showed. We need more, though.”
FRESNO STATE 35, UTAH STATE 16
• Utah State loses its fourth consecutive game, and first since the departure of coach Gary Andersen.
• Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener throws for 422 yards and four touchdowns
• Aggies tallied more than 300 yards in total offense for the first time this season
The third quarter was especially anemic for both teams. The Bulldogs tallied just 52 yards of total offense in the frame, while the Aggies mustered only 20. Neither team scored a point as a result.
USU gave up multiple big plays to the Bulldogs, who put up 541 yards of total offense, 422 of those from quarterback Jake Haener’s passing.
“At the end of the day, those explosive plays are killing us,” Aggies sophomore linebacker AJ Vongphachanh said. “That’s what we need to fix.”
Utah State now faces a quick turnaround, with a Thursday night date at Wyoming up next.
“Moving forward, it is going to be a short week for us going into Wyoming, but there are some positives there that we need to catapult forward to where we need to be," Maile said.
Maile said two of his assistant coaches — offensive coordinator Bodie Reeder and co-defensive coordinator Stacy Collins — tested positive for COVID-19 and were unavailable Saturday. He said he did not see a drop-off in preparation in the week of practice.