Utah State running back Rahsul Faison (3) tries to break a tackle by Iowa defensive lineman Aaron Graves (95) during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 2, 2023, in Iowa City, Iowa. Iowa won 24-14. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Utah State battled hard for much of the game but ultimately came up well short against No. 25 Iowa, losing 24-14 in front of the sold-out crowd of Kinnick Stadium. Here’s the game report for the Aggies’ road loss which marked the third straight loss to an AP Top 25 team and dropped USU to a 9-5 road record in the last three seasons.
The Game Flow
One could hardly have drawn up a worse start for Utah State. The Aggies gave up a 54-yard kick return on the opening kickoff and then a two-play touchdown drive to go down 7-0 less than a minute into the game. After a three-and-out by the USU offense, Iowa marched another 75 yards for a second straight TD drive. The Aggies responded to that sequence by going three-and-out for a second straight time, taking all of 56 seconds in that drive.
Nerves and letting the fact they were on the road against a Big Ten team were a partial explanation for this poor start.
“A lot of us just knew we were coming out against a Big Ten team and big strong guys like Iowa and I think we were just not as locked in as we should have been,” USU quarterback Cooper Legas said.
For the rest of the game, though, Utah State actually outscored and outgained the Hawkeyes, a turnaround began immediately on the defensive side. Iowa’s third drive was showing as much promise as the first two but the Aggies stiffened up and held fast on a 4th and 1. The offense then took the ball 56 yards on 16 plays to set up a 32-yard field goal for the first USU points of the game.
Offensively, the remainder of the first half went poorly for the Aggies. Only 10 plays, 30 yards and the one turnover of the game for Utah State — an interception thrown by Cooper Legas — though the defense pretty much held on as best it could, giving up only three points which came after the short field Iowa had following Legas’ interception. Going into halftime the Aggies trailed 17-3.
The Aggies came out strong to start the third quarter with a seven-play, 47-yard drive for another field goal to cut the score to 17-6. On the next drive for the USU offense it went 40 yards on nine plays. The points weren’t ultimately there, a shortcoming that cost the Aggies a chance in this game, but the 110 yards gained in the third quarter were more than they had gained the entire first half.
“Second half we realized it’s just another team and we can really play with them,” Legas said. “Ended up working out a little better in the second half but obviously would have liked to start a lot earlier.”
Late in the fourth quarter Utah State came alive offensively, with 120 yards gained across two of its final three drives, but the effort ultimately proved too little and a bit too late. A 68-yard touchdown drive by Iowa, their first TD drive since early in the first quarter, had put the Hawkeyes up 24-6. So when Utah State rocked up to the Iowa 15-yard line with a little under four minutes to play, it was essentially now-or-never. Unfortunately, a 3rd and 1 became 3rd and 11 after two straight false starts then a failed draw play and incomplete pass later and the Aggies had turned the ball over on downs with 3:37 on the clock and an 18-point deficit on the scoreboard.
After holding Iowa to a three-and-out, the Aggies got the ball with 2:07 on the clock and engineered what was categorically the best drive of the day, a three-play, 70-yard touchdown drive. Rahsul Faison made two big plays, a 26-yard reception (that had 15 yards tacked on due to a late hit penalty) and a 13-yard gain. Legas then found Terrell Vaughn for a 16-yard touchdown. A two-point conversion later (a pass from Legas to Faison) and the Aggies drew within 10 points, 24-14.
With just 1:36 on the clock at that point, USU needed to try an onside kick. As usually happens, it failed and Iowa were able to make the Aggies burn all their time outs with three straight runs. The Aggies got the ball back with 1:08 left but the desperation drive ended on downs and Iowa ended the contest with one kneel-down.
Notes and Quotes
Not very many shots taken down the field
Utah State’s offense likes to go for big plays, but the Aggies didn’t take very many shots down the field. Legas only attempted four passes beyond 15 yards and threw 34 of his passes within five yards of the line of scrimmage.
“Iowa does a really good job of taking away the big shots. Every time we were trying to make a big play I had to go to the check-down,” Legas said. “Probably could have taken some more shots, but (I was) just trying to protect the ball.”
“We didn’t want to put ourselves in jeopardy so we picked our opportunities carefully,” Anderson said. “We missed a couple of opportunities too where we could have generated a couple more (big plays). A lot of it had to do with the matchups today.”
Anderson said that on one of Utah State’s field goal attempts, likely the 32-yard attempt early in the game, they had called for a fake field goal to try and score a touchdown but Iowa’s defensive lineup forced them to just take the three points.
Could have been “a completely different football game”
Self-inflicted errors plagued the Aggies throughout. They had 10 penalties, five of them personal fouls, four of which gave Iowa a fresh set of downs on offense. Utah State also missed out on a pair of fumbles, one on a simple run play but another on a muffed punt where the gunners didn’t seem to realize the ball had bounced off an Iowa player. A couple of other near-interceptions for USU’s defense formed a long list of “could-haves” for the Aggies.
Anderson told his players post-game that without so many mistakes, the flow of the game would have been quite different.
“I told them,” Anderson said, “if we went out there and started this game over, in the first quarter, if you eliminate five personal fouls, four missed turnover opportunities, a turnover on our part, two missed third-and-ones, and really just us not doing what we’re supposed to be doing, it’s a completely different football game.”
Defense has solid day (after the slow start)
Utah State allowed 159 yards on Iowa’s first three drives, spanning the first 10 or so minutes of the game, and gave up an average of 7.6 yards per play. After that, essentially the final three quarters and change, the Aggies allowed 166 yards, a mere 3.4 yards per play, forced Iowa into four three-and-out drives and only 10 points. It was quite the turnaround and a quality performance with the clear note that the start of the game was not something that needs to be repeated.
“There was a reset point when they realized that they’re just playing football, and it’s not some new game all of the sudden,” Anderson said. “I think when we got to that point, we played really well the rest of the day. It wasn’t perfect, by any means, but to be able to do some key things and force them to punt the ball, with this defense and this new staff, I was really pleased.”
Faison makes late impact
Entering the fourth quarter, Faison had touched the ball one time — a four-yard rush in a throw-away play to end the first half. He came back into play midway through the fourth where he then carried the ball another six times in the last couple of drives and also caught three passes for 22 yards. He accounted for all three of USU’s runs over 10 yards (gains of 18, 17 and 13) and one of the Aggies pass plays of 15-plus yards (the aforementioned 26-yard catch-and-run).
Faison is listed as the third-string running back, but his impact in this game could vault him up the depth chart.
Alford goes down early
Early in the game, one of Utah State’s starting linebackers, Max Alford, left the game with a knee injury. Anderson said after the game he didn’t have much info to give.
“Too early to tell on how he is doing,” Anderson said. “Don’t know the significance of it yet. We will wait and see. But he clearly could not come back today.”
Alford’s backup, Gavin Barthiel, came in and did admirably, recording three tackles plus a sack, although Barthiel left the game as well with an injury. But when asked about injuries beyond Alford, Anderson said there was nothing serious for any of the other players.
Utah State players are in bold, Iowa players in italics
- Cooper Legas – 32/48, 213 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
- Cade McNamara – 17/30, 191 yards, 2 TD
- Kaleb Robinson – 19 att, 63 yards, 1 TD
- Rahsul Faison – 7 att, 59 yards
- Davon Booth – 8 att, 33 yards
- Terrell Vaughn – 12 rec, 93 yards, 1 TD
- Luke Lachey – 7 rec, 73 yards
- Jalen Royals – 5 rec, 39 yards
- Seth Anderson – 2 rec, 41 yards, 1 TD
- Jay Higgins – 15 tackles (11 solo), 1 pass defended
- MJ Tafisi – 12 tackles (8 solo), 3.0 TFL, 1 FF
- Anthony Switzer – 8 tackles (5 solo)
- Cooper DeJean – 7 tackles (4 solo)
- Ike Larsen – 4 tackles (2 solo), 2 passes defended, 1 blocked punt
By the Stats
- The Aggies finished today’s game with 10 penalties for 75 yards lost. For reference, Utah State ranked 129th in penalties last year, averaging just under nine accepted penalties for 77 lost yards
- USU quarterback Cooper Legas threw half of his 48 total pass attempts behind the line of scrimmage. In all of 2022, Legas threw 16.3 percent of his passes behind the line of scrimmage.
- Legas set new career-highs in both completions (32) and attempts (48).
- Setting aside his 11-yard loss on USU’s final play from scrimmage, Rahsul Faison averaged 10.2 yards per touch (59 rush yards, 33 receiving yards)
- USU receiver Terrell Vaughn set a career-high in receptions with 12
- *Vaughn’s 12 receptions are the most by an Aggie since Deven Thompkins had 12 catches against UNLV in 2021
- * Utah State has now lost three-straight games against Associated Press Top 25 teams and is now 6-66 all-time against nationally ranked opponents.
- * Utah State is now 19-15 in road games over the last seven years, including a 9-5 record under head coach Blake Anderson.
- * A total of 26 USU players made their Aggie debut on Saturday, 15 of which made their Division I debut
*Stat was provided by USU Athletics Media Relations
Mountain West Standings
Results updated through 4:10 MT on Sept. 2.
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