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Six things we learned in Utah State’s loss to Boise State

The Aggies are 1-1 in Mountain West play after their first defeat under coach Blake Anderson

(USU Athletics) After leading Utah State to three straight wins to open the season, quarterback Logan Bonner (No. 1) suffered his first defeat as an Aggie on Saturday.

Utah State suffered its first loss of the season 27-3 to Boise State in a closer-than-the-score-indicates kind of game. The Aggies played their conference foe tough for most of the game but lacked execution on offense to have a real chance at winning.

Here are six things that stood out from Saturday’s game in Logan.

1. Logan Bonner is QB1 but keeps leaving the door open

Even with Andrew Peasley leading a heroic comeback at Air Force, head coach Blake Anderson went with Logan Bonner to start the game and every drive early in the game. That changed after Bonner threw his second interception of the game.

Peasley and Bonner swapped possessions for a bit in the second and third quarters, but Peasley led most of the late possessions including the only Aggie scoring drive.

Bonner finished the game 11-for-25 for 173 yards and two interceptions. Meanwhile, Peasley attempted just six passes, completing two for 35 yards. Peasley ran six times for 19 yards but also had a fumble that eventually led to a BSU touchdown.

2. Bonner’s interceptions on the rise

Speaking of Bonner’s interceptions, the junior QB has developed a worrying taste for turnovers. Bonner threw just nine interceptions in 27 games at Arkansas State. That interception total was tied for fourth-fewest among quarterbacks with at least 450 pass attempts between 2017 and 2020. In just four games at Utah State, Bonner has now thrown five passes to the other team.

“It’s a new system,” Anderson said in explanation of Bonner’s interceptions. “We’re doing some things that are different. We’ve got to make sure that he and the wideouts are on the same page. There’s some times we’re not all thinking the same, not all seeing the same.”

Both INTs on Saturday were arguably Bonner’s fault. The first — which came on the first drive of the game — did hit the hands of a wide-open Justin McGriff, but was at the highest point of the 6-foot-6 receiver’s catch radius. The second was undoubtedly Bonner’s doing, a ball floated beyond his man in the red zone and right into the waiting hands of the defender.

3. Blake Anderson’s aggressiveness has a cost

Prior to Saturday, the Aggies hadn’t really felt the bad side of Anderson’s aggressive tactics — the side that usually dissuades teams from being as aggressive. Coming into the game, USU had gone for it on fourth down 11 times (second-most in FBS) and converted eight of those.

The high success rate well outweighed the few failures. Even the failed surprise onside kick at Air Force didn’t come back to bite the Aggies too hard. But on Saturday, Anderson got burned by the fire he’s been playing with all season.

On USU’s first drive of the second half, the Aggies ran a fake punt on 4th and 10 on their own 26-yard line. Punter Stephen Konstanlee didn’t make it anywhere on his scramble, losing eight yards and giving BSU the ball on USU’s 16.

That play was arguably the turning point of the game. Boise State was only up 10 points and hadn’t seen much offensive success since the mid-first quarter. But with a short field, the Broncos easily marched into the end zone to turn a close, two-possession game into a three-possession contest.

Anderson took the blame for the decision and said it was a “calculated risk” based on the fact that his team had produced nothing on offense so far.

4. USU can move the ball well — at least until they get inside enemy territory

Utah State outgained Boise State 443-435 in yards but was outscored by 24. Whenever it came time to finish drives, the Aggies always stalled.

“Offensively it’s as bad as we’ve executed this season,” Anderson said. “Couldn’t finish in the red zone. It seemed like we had every little off-schedule issue — false starts, busts up front, a couple drops. Just couldn’t maintain a rhythm when we did get any rhythm at all.”

Five of USU’s drives on the day went inside the BSU 40-yard line. The results of those drives? Turnover on downs, missed field goal, interception, missed field goal, made field goal.

This trend isn’t new as the Aggies saw similar, though not as bad, struggles to finish against Washington State deep in Cougar territory. Against teams like North Dakota and Air Force, finishing drives wasn’t as much of a problem (and may not be later against foes like UNLV or New Mexico), but in marquee games, USU could see this problem crop up again.

5. Calvin Tyler Jr. is a legit force

The former Oregon State back had his second straight 100-yard game with 126 on 20 carries (following up 132 on 19 attempts against Air Force). Tyler now has 414 yards on the season. He’s just the fourth USU player since 2000 to have 400-plus rushing yards through four games joining Emmett White (2001), Robert Turbin (2009, 2011) and Kerwynn Williams (2012).

6. Utah State’s defense is a solid unit

The 45-points allowed hiccup at Air Force aside, the Aggies’ defense has been very good this season. Saturday’s matchup with Boise marked a litmus test as to whether the good defense against Washington State and North Dakota would continue to be a trend.

Boise State had its moments on offense, but was usually stymied by the Aggies’ defensive effort. Hank Bachmeier completed just 22 of his 39 passes (56.4 percent), his lowest completion percentage of the year and first time completing less than 64 percent of his throws. The Broncos got creative with the run game, but were held to 3.5 yards per rush anyway.

“Gotta be proud of the defense and how they just kind of held in there and kept us in and gave us a chance way longer than probably we deserved today,” Anderson said.

The Broncos had only a handful of long drives. The longest was a three-play 76-yard drive fueled by a 69-yard pitch and catch from Bachmeier to Khalil Shakir. The only other drives over 50 yards resulted in two field goal attempts (one of which was missed) and an interception. Two of Boise State’s touchdowns were drives that began inside the USU 20.

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