LOGAN — The fourth game of the season could be the most challenging so far for Utah State football. Head coach Blake Anderson and his Aggies are a perfect 3-0, but come 10 a.m. Saturday morning, under a national television audience, Merlin Olsen Field will be visited by a team that hasn’t been kind to Utah State in recent years. Boise State’s current 1-2 record and the stats that go with it are deceptive, Anderson said. He isn’t taking the Broncos lightly.
Scouting Boise State
For Boise State, a losing record is rare territory. Sure, it has only been three games, and the losses have come against some tough competition, but for the players and coaches of a program whose fans are used to winning, there will be pressure to right the ship immediately.
The team’s schedule so far:
Sept. 2 at Central Florida 36-31 Loss
Sept. 10 vs UTEP 54-13 Win
Sept. 18 vs Oklahoma State 21-20 Loss
Boise State’s blowout win is sandwiched between a pair of close losses against respectable programs. The team will be hungry to get back into the win column, and if that wasn’t motivation enough, this will be the first Mountain West game. With conference dates against No. 22 Fresno State, Nevada and San Diego State on the calendar, the Broncos already have to play three of the toughest teams in the conference’s West Division. First year head coach Andy Avalos will be looking to get wins wherever he can.
Aggie head coach Blake Anderson is happy he gets this one at home, and is hoping for a full, loud stadium.
“We need the student section all on point,” he said. “Everything we can do to get a hostile environment for Boise coming in.”
Historically, Boise State has had little problem with the Aggies. The two have faced off every season since becoming conference opponents in 2013, but Utah State has won just one of those games. Anderson said that Boise State has built a great program, and the team has recruited well because of it. He also said that others have proven they are beatable, if you can “play great ball.”
“They’ve got speed, they’ve got size, they’ve got power,” he said. “They are going to test you in every area, every phase. They are well coached, but if we go out and play the best ball we can play, then it is a game that we can win. We are just going to have to earn every bit we can get.”
Boise State has an experienced passer in Hank Bachmeier, who always seems to put up big numbers. At 281.7 passing yards per game, his junior year has been no different. Boise State’s weaknesses are usually few, but if there is one this season, it may be the ground game. The team has only managed 67.3 rushing yards per game while giving up more than 200 defensively.
Anderson attributed some of those struggles to their competition.
“Stats lie to you,” he said. “Look, they can play. It is a good football team. Central Florida and Oklahoma State are good football teams. They have not played an easy schedule by any means.”
Three games, three comebacks
Utah State does not want to fall behind early in this one, but don’t count USU out if it happens. The Aggies are 3-0 for the first time since 1978 and each win has been a 10-point come-from-behind at least. The most recent may have been the most impressive: USU trailed by 10 or more four times and came back to take the lead each time—keeping it the fourth time.
In its 100-plus years of football, Utah State had never had three-straight come-from-behind wins of ten or more points. Anderson described the games as “stressful”, but said he is proud of the way his team has fought through it.
“They’ve learned to keep fighting and play hard to give us a chance,” he said. “That’s what it has taken all three weeks. It’s probably going to keep doing that on a weekly basis.”
National standouts and stat leaders
On offense, there are plenty of guys to mention who have helped lead the team’s turnaround. Both quarterbacks have proven capable of leading the offense, and luckily, according to Anderson, Logan Bonner will be ready to go Saturday morning. He took a hit Saturday at Air Force that sidelined him for most of the second half. Running back Calvin Tyler has been a crucial addition, averaging just under 100 yards per game. There are others who have played big roles, but the one getting the most national attention might be Deven Thompkins, the guy who almost wasn’t an Aggie this season. He entered the transfer portal after USU’s one-win season, then came back. Now he has collected 454 receiving yards in three games. The number of players across the country who have more than that? Zero.
On the defensive side, there is Justin Rice. The recent transfer’s three interceptions are tied for the most in the country. He also forced a fumble late in last week’s game that very likely saved the win for Utah State. He also has averaged 10 tackles per game, which puts him at No. 14 overall in that category. All of that has been good enough for the Arkansas State transfer to be named back-to-back Mountain West Defensive Player of the Week.
“He’s worked very, very hard,” Anderson said. “He is in much better shape than he was a year ago. I think he completely understands what we have asked him to do and has taken on a leadership role and is very prepared on a weekly basis.”