USU escapes with a win after Colorado State’s clock management fiasco

Here are 5 observations on USU’s win over Colorado State

(Rick Bowmer | AP) Utah State head coach Blake Anderson shouts to his team during a game earlier this year. After a thrilling win over Colorado State, the Aggies are 5-2 and 3-1 in conference play.

In just about every sense of the term, Utah State escaped the jaws of defeat at home against Colorado State. The game featured an ending so unorthodox it will be remembered for years. In the final minute of regulation, the Rams drove 61 yards in 30 seconds only to end the drive with confusion on and a 42-yard field goal missed wide left.

Utah State, predicted by some sportsbooks to only win three games this season, now sits at 5-2 in October and will play for bowl eligibility next week.

Here are five observations on Utah State’s latest victory.

1. Utah State controls its own destiny in the Mountain Division

This has been true since the end of last week when USU won and Boise State lost its second Mountain West game. But with this win over Colorado State — which were previously in first in the Mountain Division — the Aggies sit in first place (holding a tiebreaker over Air Force, which has an identical conference record at the moment) among its division peers with five very winnable games remaining.

For the Aggies themselves, however, a potential championship game in December isn’t the main focus of the team now in October.

“We don’t talk about championships, first place, second place at all,” coach Blake Anderson said. “We’re just focused on getting better every day. One degree better every day. Just had that same conversation in the locker room. Don’t let the focus change. If we do what we’re supposed to do, everything will take care of itself.”

2. Utah State wins are bad for the heart

“They’re killing me man, they’re absolutely killing me.”

That’s what Anderson had to say at the end of his initial statement in the post-game press conference. The Aggies took the hardest path to victory on Friday, much as they have all season. In five wins, four have been decided by four points or less. And in the one blowout win against North Dakota, USU spotted the FCS side a 21-7 lead in the first quarter.

“It gets more and more stressful every week,” USU senior wide receiver Derek Wright said.

Utah State chose a new flavor of cardiac finish to a game this week. In all six games prior to Friday, the Aggies trailed at halftime, necessitating a comeback for each of their four wins. This time, USU never trailed and led every moment after the 1:30 mark in the first half when it took a 17-14 lead.

The flaw in this week’s iteration of Aggie-induced heart failure came not from a slow start, but a stale finish. USU scored 20 first-half points but just six in the second. Should USU put 48 minutes together ... well, Wright said it best:

“Once we can put a full, complete game together we’re going to be really good.”

3. A bounce-back game for Connor Coles

Coles would probably rather forget last time out against UNLV where he missed all three of his field-goal attempts. He made up for that performance with a perfect 4-for-4 night, making kicks from 30, 34, 40 and 42 yards. A “phenomenal job” as Anderson put it despite the fact that, according to Anderson, Coles didn’t have a good week of kicking at practice either. But when it mattered, the team stood by Coles.

“I’m extremely grateful to my coaches and my teammates for sticking with me through last week,” Coles said. “They trusted me that it would be better and so I did everything this week so I wouldn’t let the team down again and I’m really happy that I was able to perform and help us win this game.”

With the four field goals and two extra-point kicks, Coles set a career-high in points scored with 14. He’s also just the third USU kicker since 2000 to be perfect on field goals with at least four attempts, joining Nick Diaz and Dominik Eberle.

4. Logan Bonner took a ton of hits

Utah State entered Friday night T-39th in the NCAA in sacks allowed. Only 10 times in six games had defenders dragged down the Aggie QB.

Colorado State almost doubled that season total, bringing Bonner down eight times for a total loss of 52 yards. Perhaps not too surprising since the Rams ranked eighth in the NCAA with 21 sacks on the year.

“(Colorado State’s) edge rushers were dynamic,” Anderson said. “Some of the best all year. At times we absolutely struggled. We’re a little beat up front on the O-line. We’re playing some dudes that don’t have a lot of experience and at times it showed in really big ways.”

Among the many hits Bonner took (not all of them legal as CSU was twice called for roughing the passer), several provided significant scares. One hit sent the junior signal-caller crumbling to the ground holding his head and he sat out on the field for several minutes. Andrew Peasley had to be called upon but Bonner came back just a few plays later.

Logan Bonner has already missed a couple of quarters and played at less than 100 percent his season due to injuries. And while Utah State may feel comfortable with the prospect of turning to Peasley, volatility at quarterback is not something a team vying for a spot in the MW championship game needs.

5. Aggies timely in both fourth-down attempts and in forcing the Rams offside

Utah State went a perfect 3-for-3 on fourth down attempts. On each drive the Aggies converted on fourth down, they went on to score. In fact, on each of USU’s 14 fourth down conversions (on 22 attempts), the drive ended in a score of some kind (10 touchdowns and four field goals).

In addition to forcing the Rams to hold them for four plays, the Aggies messed with the defensive line using hard counts. Six times Colorado State offensive linemen jumped offside, giving USU a free shot downfield and/or five free yards.

The Aggies combined their fourth-down aggressiveness and hard count tactics into one beautiful sequence in the second quarter. On a fourth down, Bonner got the defense to jump offside and then lofted a pass to Derek Wright who hauled it in for a 38-yard touchdown.