Utah State’s 24-13 victory over Oregon State in the Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl fit right in with the rest of the Aggies’ improbable run to an 11-3 season and a conference championship. The Aggies, a seven-point underdog, were forced to rely on its third-string quarterback for three quarters of the game. And yet, USU came through and matched its all-time season high in wins, tying two other seasons (2018, 2012).
Here are five observations from Utah State’s win in Los Angeles.
1. Cooper Legas pressed into action and delivers
At the start of the second quarter, Utah State starting quarterback Logan Bonner — the holder of two major single-season school passing records he set this year — wasn’t behind center for the Aggies. Instead it was Cooper Legas. Earlier in the first quarter, Bonner suffered an injury that kept him out the rest of the game. The redshirt sophomore Legas was suddenly handed the keys to the second-best offense in Utah State history.
“Once I found out that Logan went down, I went over and grabbed Coop and I just told him ‘It’s time to step up,’” USU senior wide receiver Deven Thompkins said.
At the 14:51 mark of the second quarter, Legas dropped back for what would be his first-ever collegiate pass attempt. He wound up and threw a perfect ball to Thompkins for a 62-yard touchdown that tied the game up at 7-7.
Legas didn’t light up the stat sheet, just 171 yards on 11-of-20 passing for two TD but in three quarters he threw for 171 yards with two touchdowns and one interception on 11-of-20 passing. The effort was enough though for his teammates to consider him a hero for the night. After the final kneel-down, Legas was lifted onto his teammates’ shoulders.
“It does not surprise me that Cooper played as well as he did,” senior edge rusher Nick Heninger said. “I’ve seen the work he puts in on and off the field.”
This game was effectively Legas’ debut though technically not. In USU’s blowout win over New Mexico, Legas took a few snaps at the end of the game with Bonner having been pulled and second-stringer Andrew Peasley suffering an injury. Peasley’s lingering injury is the reason Legas, the third-string QB at the start of the season, was the backup to Bonner on Saturday.
2. Resilient Aggie defense strikes again
On the first drive of the game, Oregon State ran three plays: a 12-yard run, a 39-yard pass and a 20-yard touchdown run. A very demoralizing start for a defense that was two weeks removed from one of its best performances of the season.
“That’s just the kind of team we are,” Heninger said. “We do not give up. That’s the identity of this team. We will finish the game, all 60 minutes, and we’ll see what the score is.”
It didn’t seem to matter that Utah State gave up more yards (415) than the offense gained (383), the defense made plays when it mattered. Twice the Aggies held the Beavers on downs and two times in the fourth quarter Utah State came up with turnovers.
The biggest of those turnovers was a recovered fumble early in the fourth. Utah State held its 24-13 lead but the Beavers were driving. They’d gained 30 yards in three plays when Chance Nolan completed a pass to Tre-Shaun Harrison. Harrison made it 16 yards up the field, first down yardage and more, when USU linebacker Justin Rice punched the ball out and AJ Vongphachanh recovered the loose ball to end the promising drive.
3. Calvin Tyler Jr. revenge game
You may have seen somewhere or heard from someone in the run-up to this game that junior running back Calvin Tyler Jr played for Oregon State from 2017-20. He made only occasional appearances and thus transferred to Utah State.
Saturday marked Tyler’s chance at revenge, and he made the most of it being the game’s leading rusher with 120 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries. He nearly matched the combined yardage from his three seasons at OSU (124).
A goal-line fumble marred Tyler’s night and gave Oregon State a last-gasp chance to get back in the game, but didn’t negate an overall performance that drove the Aggies to a big win.
4. Nick Heninger caps off long career with a career night
In 2016, Heninger walked-on to the Utah State football team. This game marked the end of his sixth season with the Aggies and boy did he make the most of his last time wearing the Fighting White.
Heninger set career-highs in both tackles for loss (5.0) and sacks (3.0) in the bowl game and had seven tackles total.He spent all evening in the Beavers’ backfield. Mind you, Heninger did this to an offensive line that ranked fifth in the NCAA in sacks allowed and fourth in tackles for loss allowed.
The super-senior was emotional after the game, looking back on a career where he walked on for both the University of Utah and Utah State and ended his time as a team captain and top producer for the Aggies. In his final season, Heninger finished with 21.5 tackles for loss, second-most all-time at USU in a single season.
“Hopefully I left a legacy that won’t be forgotten,” Heninger said.
Anderson cut in after Heninger’s comments, saying that his legacy is being “the glue.”
5. Back on the winning track in bowl games
Utah State has reason to brag about being in nine bowl games over the last 11 years. It’s just one fewer than BYU in that span (10 bowl appearances) and more than the University of Utah (eight). Unfortunately, the Aggies haven’t been the best at winning in these bowl games.
In its last five bowl appearances, Utah State were 1-4, the lone win coming in the New Mexico to cap off an all-time 2018 season. This win puts the Aggies back on the right track, similar to how they won three straight bowl games from 2012-14.