PROVO, UT – One could call Utah State’s 38-26 loss to BYU on Thursday a tale of two halves. But more accurately, it was a tale of the Aggies failing to capitalize on their own improvements as a team. And they’ve now lost four games in a row as a result.
The Aggies were the better team in the first half in nearly every way. They outgained BYU 246-107, holding the Cougars to -21 rushing yards, its worst first-half rushing total in 29 years. Even if BYU had managed to do well on offense, the ball was nearly always in USU’s hands as the Aggies held a 21:21 to 8:39 time of possession advantage.
“Best we’ve played all year. Encouraging part is that the guys aren’t giving up on the process and we’re getting better,” USU head coach Blake Anderson said. “We played out best game of the season at the right time. Gave ourselves a chance to be competitive.”
This good start came about even though Utah State were forced into starting its backup quarterback. Logan Bonner broke his foot on the final play of the team’s loss to UNLV — ending his season — and Cooper Legas had to step in for one of USU’s toughest matchups of the year.
“Coop did a great job,” Anderson said. “Prepared all week really exactly the way you ask him to. He’s been ready for this opportunity and did enough things to help us win the game tonight.”
Legas – who completed 19 of 31 passes for 188 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions on the night – played high school ball not too far away from Lavell Edwards Stadium over at Orem High School. The experience of getting his first start was obviously tough.
“Obviously, would have liked to win,” Legas said. “It’s cool finally playing a full game. As fun as it is to be the guy it hurts that much worse to lose.”
The junior QB also had to prepare in silence, unable to tell anyone but close family of his impending first career start. USU chose to keep the news heavily under wraps until the news started leaking on Thursday before the game.
Huge in the USU offensive attack all night was the run game. The offensive linemen got the best push they’ve had all year and the Aggie rushers benefitted from it. Calvin Tyler Jr. ran for 104 yards – his second 100-yard game of the season — Cooper Legas had 52, including a seven-yard touchdown run, and Robert Briggs added 46 yards.
“I was really, really pleased with how we ran the ball,” Anderson said. “That’s something we’ve been missing, something we’ve needed consistently.”
But, and it is a huge but, Utah State failed to take full advantage of its advantages and great play on offense. Two big first-half turnovers allowed BYU to stay right with USU and even lead for much of the first half. Penalties also made things unnecessarily harder, though weren’t the killers the turnovers were.
Both turnovers had immediate or very likely impacts on the scoreboard. The first, a pick-six thrown by Legas, obviously put six quick points on the board for BYU and gave it a 14-7 lead. A second turnover, a fumble by Legas on the BYU 12, took at least three points, possibly six, off the USU side of the scoreboard.
“You can’t turn the football over. You can’t,” Anderson said. “We’ve got to get rid of those.”
Anderson didn’t blame Legas for the interception, it being a tipped pass that fell right into the hands of BYU’s Max Tooley. The fumble though, was something he said had to be fixed.
Utah State were still able to put 17 points on the board with those turnovers, but BYU were able to match that and the teams went into halftime tied 17 -17.
And the Aggies would never get it that good again.
In the second half, BYU asserted the dominance expected of a team that entered as 24-point favorites. The Cougars went on A 21-3 run getting yards however they wanted (they outgained USU 290-146 in the second half). BYU even left points off the board in the form of a missed 33-yard field goal by Jacob Oldroyd.
USU defensive end Byron Vaughns said BYU made several adjustments, including using 12 personnel (two-tight ends, two receivers and one running back), trying to use more tight ends to help the struggling rushing attack, among other things the Aggies hadn’t seen.
“They brought out a lot of RPO plays that we didn’t practice over the week,” Vaughns said. “They came out of halftime with the tempo that we didn’t see all first half and plays we didn’t see all first half. That was a very good adjustment by the OC over there at BYU.”
Though a fourth straight loss for the Aggies, it’s a game that can go down as a moral victory. Anderson emphasized that the team is growing, and that, for a second straight game, Utah State showed improvements on both sides of the ball. Of course, moral victories will only go so far. This team needs wins and they know it. Next week will at home against Air Force will be arguably the most important game of the year.
“There’s never been a more important game for us,” Anderson said. “We still can control our destiny in this league and the team I saw tonight can beat anybody in our league if we play like that every week. Aggie nation, I don’t know what your thinking about doing next week but we need you there and loud and helping our guys. They need you now more than ever.”
USU kicks off their Homecoming game against Air Force Saturday, Oct. 10 at 5 p.m. The game will also be broadcast on FS1.