5 things we learned in Utah State’s loss to No. 13 BYU

The Aggies struggled to run the ball against the Cougars in a 34-20 defeat in Logan

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah State Aggies wide receiver Deven Thompkins (13) celebrates his touchdown as the Utah State Aggies host Brigham Young University Cougars at Maverik Stadium Oct. 1, 2021. The Cougars attempt a second straight win for the Wagon Wheel, the trophy of the in-state rivalry, while the Aggies will try to recapture the trophy.

Utah State failed to recapture the Old Wagon Wheel, losing 34-20 to rival BYU at home on the heels of last week’s loss to another regional rival, Boise State.

These losses exposed Utah State’s weaknesses on both sides of the ball and have ruined USU’s once-perfect 3-0 start. And yet, head coach Blake Anderson’s first remarks after losing by two touchdowns were to point out the improvement of his team, saying “we played a lot better than we did a week ago” against Boise State where the Aggies lost 27-3

Here are five things we’ve learned about the now 3-2 Utah State Aggies.

USU’s defensive front is good for the Mountain West, but not against Top 15 teams

BYU running back Tyler Allgeier will get plenty of attention for his gaudy numbers — 218 rushing yards and three touchdowns — but he got those off the back of the big hogs up front. The Cougars’ offensive line dominated all night, easily blocking Utah State’s defensive linemen and getting to the linebackers to create big holes with easy reads and cuts for Allgeier to make. From Anderson’s point of view, BYU’s control of the line of scrimmage “won the game for them.”

The Aggies had bright spots, such as 11 tackles for loss on the night, but those plays ultimately didn’t stop BYU from controlling the game on the ground.

In passing situations, Utah State did all right, getting plenty of hits on Baylor Romney (ultimately knocking him out of the game) including a couple of QB sacks. However, it wasn’t enough as Romney completed 15 of 19 passes and his mid-game replacement, Jacob Conover, completed 5 of 9 attempts.

USU senior defensive tackle Marcus Moore summed the line’s performance nicely.

“Ultimately there were just times where we didn’t execute properly and we’ve got to work on that.”

No run game, no victory

Perhaps this falls more under conventional wisdom rather than something learned just Friday, but Utah State relearned the hard way. In the first four games of the season, USU thrived in the run game with Calvin Tyler Jr. emerging as the next up in a solid line of all-conference level running backs in Logan. The team averaged 213.5 rushing yards per game and 5.2 yards per carry through the first four games. On Friday, the Aggies averaged a paltry 0.6 yards per carry and had a grand total of 22 net rushing yards. Tyler carried the ball 12 times and gained just 3 net yards.

Since 2000, Utah State has had only four games where they’ve averaged under a yard per rush attempt, Friday becoming the fifth. Unsurprisingly, they lost all four of the previous games too (and by an average of more 22 points)

Logan Bonner’s inconsistency has been exposed against better competition

Bonner had a decent second half, but once again had a spotty night. He threw an interception on his second throw of the night — now his sixth of the season — and completed barely more than half of his throws Friday (21-of-41). His combined numbers against Boise State and BYU amount to a 48.5 completion percentage, three interceptions to two passing TDs and 6.8 yards per attempt. Contrast that with his first three games where he completed nearly 65 percent completion rate in the first three games and a 7-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Bonner did finish with a solid 276 yards through the air and had two perfectly placed touchdown throws. It’s just the off-target passes rear their ugly head too often when he drops back and it kills drives or makes third-down conversions that much harder.

Utah State has a lot of fight in them

For all the negativity surrounding a game where the Aggies lost to a rival by two touchdowns, the team showed true resilience. Anderson said his biggest takeaway from the game was “our team’s willingness to battle and fight. Even in some situations where we’re physically a little bit outmatched.”

Despite trailing 24-13 at halftime, Utah State made the game a one-possession game. And had Allgeier not immediately broken off a 67-yard run to set up his own eventual touchdown, the Aggies might have tied the contest up and changed the post-game discussion.

With the exception of the Boise State loss, USU has successfully fought its way back into every game it’s played in. From down 14 and 11 points in the fourth against Washington State and Air Force, respectively, to the early 21-7 deficit against North Dakota. Utah State simply battles back. The comeback fell short on Friday, but the spirit and fight was still present.

The Aggie defense is either too slow on defense or isn’t fully utilizing its speed

In his postgame comments, Anderson said “the only thing we have is quickness and speed.” Yet on defense the Aggies have consistently given up big plays out the outside, not just to BYU on Friday but also against Washington State, Boise State and especially Air Force.

That would suggest that USU doesn’t have the speed Anderson thinks it does, but his explanation of the Aggies’ inability to guard the perimeter also fits. Anderson said the defense has been “out-gapped a couple times, out-leveraged a couple times” and used BYU’s big run and a long run by Washington State as examples where poor execution led to huge running lanes and thus big runs.