LOGAN – Though much improved from previous weeks, Utah State could not wrestle victory away from its opponents, losing 34-24 to UNLV at home. It’s the first loss to the Rebels since 2008 and makes the Aggies 1-3 for just the second time in more than a decade.
For the first nine minutes of the game, Utah State showed off a new-look self, a far cry from the team outscored 90-7 in its previous two outings of the season. It opened the game by stuffing a UNLV run play, sacking its quarterback Doug Brumfield for a loss of seven and then sniffing out a screen pass for a loss of four more yards. The offense only got one first down on its first drive, but the ensuing punt pinned UNLV mere inches from its own goal line. After forcing a three-and-out, the Aggies executed an eight-play, 52-yard touchdown drive, finished by an impressive Justin McGriff catch in the back of the end zone. The first points scored by the offense in 28 days were a big relief in the moment and, just as important, USU held a lead.
After that, however, UNLV took over. The Rebels scored 21 unanswered points, featuring three straight touchdown drives. Doug Brumfield completed his first seven passes for 96 yards. His eighth completion capped off that three-TD spree which featured two rushing scores by Brumfield.
Meanwhile, the USU offense couldn’t capitalize on its more-competent-than-lately offense. Three of its next four drives ended disastrously, none more so than when Stephen Kotsanlee had to field a low snap and his knee touched the ground, giving UNLV the ball three yards from the end zone.
Logan Bonner, supposedly on a “very short leash” by Anderson’s own words on Monday, worked his way to the end of that by throwing bad interceptions on two straight drives. Bonner would end the night with five interceptions, the most of his career in a single game. But Bonner did complete a season-best 27 passes for 313 yards and three touchdowns.
“If I felt like he was making a ton of bad decisions we would have changed. He ran the ball when he needed to. Moved the chains with his feet, something we hadn’t seen him do,” Anderson said. “Gave coach (Anthony) Tucker the opportunity to change quarterbacks mid-stream and he felt like he was making good choices.”
The turnovers on Saturday were a huge factor in USU’s ability to put points on the board. Bonner accounted for all six with his five interceptions and later a fumble. Those giveaways wiped out the face that the Aggies outgained the Rebels 421-320 on the night and had more first downs (22-21).
“We just didn’t execute nearly well enough, especially on offense, to really have a chance,” Anderson said. “We had some yards, but couldn’t finish. Turnovers kill you.”
Penalties, too, held back the Aggies. They committed 11 penalties (at least that were accepted) and lost 93 yards for their troubles.
With UNLV’s scoring spree and USU unable to not shoot itself in the foot, the game spiraled toward disaster. But, a spark came from a familiar source: Ike Larsen, the redshirt freshman safety. Larsen, already the architect of two interceptions and a blocked punt, worked his magic to block his second punt of the season. The ball caromed all the way into the end zone and just before the Aggies managed to recover it for a touchdown, it rolled out of bounds for a mere safety.
Though not a six/seven-point boost USU certainly could have used, it still began something. The Aggies drew to within 21-9 and after allowing a field goal to go down 24-9, Utah State was able to put together one of its longest drives of the season — eight plays, 75 yards capped off by a thrilling 10-yard throw from Bonner to Terrell Vaughn on fourth down.
Thanks to a couple of field goals UNLV added after its TD spurt, it held a 27-16 lead going into halftime, but USU was slated to get the ball at halftime. Unfortunately, that first drive ended with a turnover-on-downs and UNLV promptly went on another touchdown drive to go up 34-16.
Utah State came up short on its last-ditch attempt at a comeback in the fourth. The 34-16 score held until the 6:15 mark of the final quarter when Bonner found Vaughn for a second touchdown, this time a 39-yard arcing pass into the front corner of the end zone. A successful two-point conversion brought the game to a clean two-possession game.
Things almost got interesting after Utah State stopped UNLV’s next drive outright and began driving down the field. The Aggies made it down to the Rebels’ 40 but the drive ended when Bonner had the ball stripped during a throw and the defense recovered the loose fumble. UNLV’s next drive took out enough clock (and USU’s timeouts) to make the 10-point comeback too difficult.
Though the Aggies didn’t come out on top, Anderson was able to offer praise to his team that he certainly couldn’t after the loss to Weber State.
“The energy and passion which we played with is something to build on,” Anderson said. “If we’d have had that two weeks ago I think we win a game. We didn’t. It showed tonight and it gave us a chance to compete with a good team.”