Heading to Las Vegas after a bye week, Utah State appeared to have an easy win on the schedule against UNLV. The Rebels, which came into the game without a win on the season, looked like the perfect recipe to end Utah State’s two-game losing streak.
The Aggies came into the game favored by a touchdown, although looking at the records, many people thought it would be more.
But as mentioned previously, UNLV kept the game close like they have for most of the season. Honestly, this should’ve been the Rebels’ first win of the season. Nonetheless, Utah State found the endzone with 35 seconds remaining, coming from behind for a 28-24 win.
The victory means the Aggies are 4-2 overall, 2-1 in Mountain West play. They are just two wins from bowl eligibility after winning just one game during a COVID shortened 2020 season hampered by coaching changes and off-field problems. Although a win would usually be a step forward to something greater, this win felt more like a step backward.
The opening win over Washington State was record-breaking. The comeback 26-23 win after trailing by 11 in the fourth quarter showed something special could be coming under first-year coach Blake Anderson. It was the Aggies’ first win over a Power 5 conference school — SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 — on the road since 1971.
The following week against North Dakota in its home opener, Utah State started slow and fell behind to one of the better teams at the FCS level. It seemed as though there was a bit of a hangover after the record-breaking win. Even then, the Aggies mounted a comeback that ended in a 48-24 victory.
The game at Air Force was a nail-biter, another close call. Having not won in Colorado Springs since 2013 and after being blown out against the Falcons last year, it seemed a worthy litmus test to the progress of the Aggies early in the season. The Aggies seemingly passed the test, recording a comeback 49-45 win, which to this point is the only loss Air Force has suffered this season (6-1).
A 3-0 start for the first time since 1978, the Aggies had the two biggest games of the year coming up in back-to-back weeks. Boise State came to Logan and the Aggies played well, other than finishing scoring chances which ended in a 27-3 loss. BYU was next, but the Cougars simply outplayed and outmatched Utah State for a 34-20 win. The Aggies were even able to cut the deficit to just seven in the final frame before a big play from BYU just a minute later ended any comeback hopes.
So a 3-2 start, with some record-breaking wins and even what seemed to be signs of progress in many areas of the game in the pair of losses. A bye week was a chance to rest, reset, and get healthy for the game that should’ve been the easiest win of the season.
Instead, the game was close. The Aggies couldn’t convert in the red zone. They scored just three offensive touchdowns against one of the nation’s worst defenses. One of their touchdowns was a kick return. They missed three field goals, including one that was blocked.
The Utah State defense was, to put it bluntly, terrible. The run defense was torn apart by Rebels running back Charles Williams, who gashed the Aggies for 221 yards on 27 carries and three touchdowns. UNLV had 17 points by halftime, but they average just 18.6 over a full game. They forced two turnovers, although really just one that counted (the last was a last-second heave from UNLV).
The special teams weren’t great either. The highlight was returner Savon Scarver tying the NCAA career record for kickoff return touchdowns in the first quarter. Other than that, the Aggies missed all of their three field goal attempts.
After making a career-long 52 yarder versus BYU, kicker Connor Coles must’ve forgotten there was a game after a week off. He missed attempts from 52, 44, and 41 yards, the last of which was blocked.
Even the Aggies run game was non-existent. Calvin Tyler led the team in rushing with 60 yards on 17 carries. If it weren’t for a long run of 27 yards, he would have had far less. Utah State fumbled the ball five times (although they ultimately did not lose possession on any of them) and Logan Bonner threw an interception. The Aggies also had eight penalties on the night for 55 yards.
In a lot of ways, the Aggies really shouldn’t have won this game. I suppose give credit to where credit is due though. They came back from behind to win in the final moments. But it was not impressive in the least. Name any problem you can think of on the football field, and the Aggies have them in some shape or form. Missed field goals, penalties, rush defense, red-zone offense, and falling behind are at the top of the list.
And yes it is still a team that has a new head coach and a new quarterback that is coming off a tumultuous 2020. But if they want to make 2021 memorable and capitalize on a weaker schedule, they simply have to play better in all facets of the game. Losing to UNLV was an unacceptable result. And ya they didn’t actually lose the game on the scoreboard, but it felt like it while watching it.
Homecoming week is up next against Colorado State, a team that is 3-3 and can still reach a bowl game that also has an undefeated record in Mountain West play (2-0). Simply put, this team is much better than UNLV and if we play like we did in Las Vegas, they are going to run us off our own field. Let’s hope that another week of practice and watching game film shows improvements. Otherwise, Friday will not be a night Aggie fans will want to remember, and the team will continue taking steps in the wrong direction.