In a game where they were favored in by nearly four touchdowns at home, the Utah State Aggies had to come from behind to beat a UConn team that won just once last season.
Under first-year head coach Jim Mora, it looked like UConn might pull off a stunner against the defending Mountain West champions in Logan.
Much like last season, the Aggies fell behind early, trailing 14-0 after the opening quarter. The first period was filled with struggles for the home team. The offense wasn’t able to find its footing, while the defense was shredded for 180 yards by an inspired Huskies offense desperate for a win.
At the beginning of the second frame, UConn was again driving down the field with ease, but a fumble on a 19-yard run was picked up by Utah State’s Daniel Grzesiak, the second UConn turnover.
The Aggies took advantage of the Huskies’ misfortune, scoring just five plays later. Logan Bonner found Kyle Van Leeuwen for an 11-yard strike, cutting the deficit to 14-7 after the extra point.
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After the Utah State defense forced punts on consecutive drives, the offense put together perhaps its most complete drive of the game. Third-string running back Robert Briggs capped the seven-play, 86-yard drive with a 23-yard scoring run to knot the score at 14.
After forcing another punt, the offense drove 67 yards, led by 26 yards from Calvin Tyler Jr. Logan Bonner then found Justin McGriff in the corner of the end zone for a 14-yard touchdown and the Aggies’ first lead at 21-14.
Utah State added a 46-yard field goal from Connor Coles at the end of the second quarter, scoring 24 unanswered points for a 24-14 halftime advantage. After a scoreless third frame, UConn was the first to get on the board in the second half, cutting the lead to 24-17 after a 47-yard field goal at the 13:28 mark of the fourth quarter.
Looking to extend the lead on the next drive, the Aggies instead fumbled the ball for the second time just a minute and a half later. The Huskies took advantage, converting a 56-yard field goal to make the score 24-20 with just over 10 minutes remaining.
With Utah State’s offense seemingly stalled, a controversial pass interference penalty against UConn gave the Aggies a first down. They took advantage of the fresh set of downs, scoring just five plays later. Logan Bonner threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Maryland transfer Brian Cobbs in the corner of the end zone with six minutes left on the clock for the 31-20 lead.
The Aggie defense then snuffed out any attempt at a comeback when Ike Larsen forced an interception to seal the season-opening win.
While the Aggie defense forced three turnovers, the offense committed two themselves. Both fumbles were by running backs – Calvin Tyler Jr. and Pailate Makakona – which is a concern on the offensive side of the ball.
On the bright side, Logan Bonner threw three touchdowns and no interceptions at the quarterback position.
Run Defense Struggles
Simply put, Utah State struggled to stop the run. UConn rushed for 245 yards on the ground, including a career-high 198 from Nate Carter. If the Aggies want to compete for another conference title, they have to do better stopping the opposing run game.
Calvin Tyler Jr. put on a show in last season’s LA Bowl victory over Oregon State, and many expected more consistency from the running back position this season.
While he did have a fumble (on a reception), Tyler Jr. did still run for 161 yards on 33 carries.
Perhaps the offense’s most unexpected bright spot though came from freshman running back Robert Briggs. Briggs ran for 85 yards on 10 carries (8.5 yards per carry), adding a 23-yard touchdown in the second quarter.
The Aggies (1-0) travel to Tuscaloosa to face No. 1 Alabama on Saturday, September 3. The game kicks off at 5:30 p.m. MT and can be seen on the SEC Network.