Five observations on Wyoming trampling Utah State’s five-game winning streak

The loss deals a big blow to USU’s hopes to appear in the Mountain West championship game.

(Eli Lucero | The Herald Journal via AP) Wyoming defensive end Victor Jones celebrates with the Bridger Rifle trophy after defeating Utah State in an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, in Logan, Utah.

The Bridger Rifle will go to Wyoming for the first time since 2017 as the Cowboys walloped the Utah State Aggies 41-17. The loss, which breaks a five-game Aggie winning streak, deals a big but not decisive blow to USU’s hopes to appear in the Mountain West championship game in two weeks.

USU head coach Blake Anderson summarized the game well, saying Wyoming had a “really good game plan” and that “it went exactly the way [Wyoming] would tell you they designed it up.”

Here are five observations on what that looked like live from Merlin Olsen Field on Saturday night.

1. Wyoming abused Utah State in the run game

After holding Hawaii, New Mexico State and San Jose State to a combined 73 rushing yards, Utah State let Wyoming run all over them. The Cowboys galloped for 362 rushing yards and had two separate 100-yard rushers — Titus Swen (178) and Xazavian Valladay (148) — with Swen breaking off a 98-yard rushing touchdown in the third quarter.

This defensive performance called back to USU’s mid-season form when they allowed 243.0 yards per game on the ground across a five-game stretch in September and October.

”I was worried all week about our inability to match up to [Wyoming’s] style of play and their size and we did not in any area,” Anderson said. “Didn’t think we helped ourselves at all with just some big mistakes that we hadn’t seen out of our team in the last few weeks.”

2. Special teams failures gave Wyoming extra help (that they didn’t need)

Twice the Aggies had major special teams slip-ups. The first came when they allowed a 99-yard kickoff return touchdown to Cameron Stone. It completely negated an 11-play 75-yard touchdown drive that pulled the Aggies to an even 7-7 with the Cowboys late in the first quarter. Going down 14-7 put USU right back behind the eight-ball.

The second big mistake also cost USU on the scoreboard. On a 41-yard field goal attempt, the snap went through the hands of holder Stephen Konstanlee and the Aggies had to fall on it. That mistake cost USU not only a potential three points but also 19 yards and the chance to make it a 24-20 game in the third quarter.

Instead, two plays later, Swen ran the ball into the end zone from 43 yards to give Wyoming a 31-17 lead.

”Felt like we did a lot of work for nothing,” Anderson said of the sequence.

3. Calvin Tyler Jr. a quiet positive on the night

The Cowboys went bonkers in the run game, but Utah State quietly had a decent night on the ground thanks to Calvin Tyler Jr. An injury derailed a promising start to Tyler’s season, but he got back in form with his first 100-yard game since September. He got to his 109 yards on just 17 carries, giving him a quality 6.1 yards per carry.

Unfortunately, Tyler’s solid rushing really only had a real impact on one drive with the rest of his stats being mostly empty, coming on a night where Utah State couldn’t move the ball.

4. Thompkins comes up short on breaking receiving yards record

Given Thompkins had averaged 144.1 yards receiving so far this year, it seemed a given that he’d end up with the 91 yards necessary to pass Kevin Curtis’ 20-year old record. But miscommunications on multiple deep passes, consistent double-coverages and heavy pressure on Bonner most of the game kept Thompkins down. He produced about half of his average totals with five catches for just 67 yards and a touchdown. That TD reception accounted for 41 of Thompkins’ yards on the night.

Thompkins’ lack of production highlighted an inability for the entire passing game to move the ball. In the five-game win streak, Bonner averaged north of 300 yards per game but had just 181 this week and completed less than half of his passes (19-of-40).

5. Utah State fans will also be San Diego State fans next week

Winning the remaining games on their schedule was the surest way for the Aggies to clinch an appearance in the conference title game. Now, with a second loss in conference play, Utah State currently sits in a three-way tie with Air Force and Boise State. It’s a tie-breaker they won’t come out on top of if it stands through next week.

Should Boise State lose at San Diego State next week, Utah State would win a tiebreaker with Air Force. So Aggie fans are now grudgingly Aztec fans for the coming week. Even Anderson admitted that fact in the post-game conference.

Had the Aggies won on Saturday and the Broncos beaten the Aztecs next week, Utah State could have hosted its first-ever championship game in football. But that ship has now sailed.