LOGAN — Utah State added some flavor to its usual serving of early deficits and later rallies. This time the Aggies went down by three scores faster than it has in any game this season, but then rallied quicker than it has in any other game. USU went down 17-0 but scored 37 unanswered points across the second, third and fourth quarters, leading to a 44-24 win on homecoming night.
The Game Flow
Struggles on special teams were the vehicle for early struggles in this game. The Aggies’ defense held the Rams to a three-and-out on the first drive, but the punt bounced off Xavion Steele and Colorado State recovered the muffed punt. That led to a field goal for the first points of the game. Utah State’s first offensive possession also ended with a three-and-out, but the punt still went Colorado State’s way. Tory Horton, a preseason All-Mountain West punt returner (in addition to his distinctions as a wide receiver) returned Stephen Kotsanlee’s 49-yard punt 79 yards the other way for a touchdown.
The problems then shifted to the USU offense. It one-upped the three-play drive to open the game with a two-play drive, ending with Cooper Legas throwing an interception on a long pass that the Rams returned to the Utah State 33-yard line. Colorado State made short work of the short field, going the distance in two plays, largely on the 22-yard touchdown run from Vann Schield.
And that’s how, in just over five minutes of game time, the Aggies found themselves down 17-0. It’s not the first time USU has been down by three scores, but it is the fastest.
As has been typical for Utah State, things slowed down a bit. The defense began to hold better, forcing two straight punts and getting a field goal after the second. So by the end of the first, the Aggies were down 17-3.
Although Utah State outdid itself by going down 17 points much earlier than normal, it also started its comeback earlier than normal. The three points in the first were the first time Utah State has scored in the opening frame against an FBS team (it’s only previous first-quarter score being a touchdown against Idaho State).
In addition to those first first quarter points, Utah State went on two touchdown drives in the second quarter, the first an 89-yard drive that showcased the best offense to that point. Legas, who’d throw two interceptions on deep passes, threw one of his best passes of the day on a 37-yard completion to Micah Davis. Davon Booth capped of the drive with a 22-yard rush right up the gut for his third rushing score of the season.
Confirmed: Davon Booth is that dude😤‼️October 8, 2023
Utah State’s defense kept up the pressure on a Colorado State offense they’d held scoreless since early in the first quarter. Ike Larsen, who picked off a pass earlier in the second quarter, snagged a second pick — tying his single-game career high — which gave a suddenly warmed-up Aggie offense the ball on their own 46. Five plays later, Legas threw the first of his eventual four touchdown passes, a 24-yard beauty to Jalen Royals.
got ROYALty inside his DNA‼️October 8, 2023
That score would lead to a 17-17 tie at halftime, though the Aggies had a chance to go up at the break. They drove into Colorado State territory (after a sixth straight stop on defense) but Elliott Nimrod missed a field goal attempt from 41 yards with 12 seconds to go in the first half.
That missed chance wouldn’t hold Utah State down much as it opened the second half with a 76-yard touchdown pass from Legas to Vaughn that gave USU its first lead of the night, 24-17.
Utah State comes out swinging in the 2nd half.
76 yards ‼️ @USUFootballOctober 8, 2023
The Aggies kept pouring it on by adding another touchdown after what was the defense’s eighth straight stop of the game. Legas found Royals again, this time for a 51-yard touchdown. After going down 17-0, the Aggies eventually wound up scoring 37 unanswered points, taking a 37-17 lead a few minutes into the fourth quarter.
Colorado State would draw one score back to make it 37-24, but a 48-yard rushing TD from Davon Booth with 4:48 left in the game slammed the door on any late comeback hopes for the Rams.
Notes and Quotes
Legas shuns poor start, puts up career numbers
The first few drives were not the most encouraging for Legas. He threw two first-half interceptions and at one points was 2-for-9 passing for just 21 yards. Those numbers echo the 2-for-7 for 46 yards and two turnovers (one pick, one fumble) that Legas put up prior to getting benched at Air Force. And USU head coach Blake Anderson admitted he “wanted to choke him a couple of times tonight,” but gave the senior his well-earned props.
“You’ve got to give him credit,” Anderson said. “He took butt-chewing, a couple of them. He took a deep breathe, he went out and didn’t quit playing and made some huge plays coming off some mistakes that could have cost (us) the game.”
Legas himself was surprised by Colorado State’s ability to get those picks since it wasn’t something he’d seen the Rams, who had only two interceptions on the year before Saturday, do on film. But after those initial mistakes and struggles, and with the team down 17-0, Legas began to turn things on. After those first nine passes, Legas went on to complete 17 of 20 passes for 366 yards and four touchdowns. A complete domination of the Colorado State secondary. The fact Legas was able to turn things around so well after the up-and-down last couple of weeks defies old notions of quarterbacks losing confidence after being benched.
“Nobody wants to be benched,” Legas said, “but I prepared the same since I got here as a freshman. It’s the same every week. I’m preparing as if I’m going to play and whether that means I’m the one starting out the game or the one that comes in when the guy goes down, I prepared the same and I’m ready to go the same and whoever’s in, I’m helping them out as much as I can. Sucks that McCae (Hillstead) is hurt, and he’ll be back and be good, but it was fun watching him and I prepared as if I was going to play this whole time.”
Dominant trio of USU receivers
Of the 19 completions for 387 yards Legas had Saturday, all of it went to just three receivers — Terrell Vaughn, Jalen Royals and Micah Davis. All three topped 100 yards, led by Vaughn’s 143 yards and Royals’ two TD catches. It wasn’t exactly an intentional thing, but given all three player’s track record this year it’s not terribly surprising to many.
“All awesome playmakers,” Legas said. “They show it every day in practice. They all want the ball as much as anyone, so they’re doing everything they can to be open on every play and if it comes to them they’re going to make the most of it, whether it’s contested or they’re wide-open, they’re going to take it and make the most of it.”
Legas’ performance raises an obvious question, and one Anderson was not surprised to hear in his postgame press conference. Since he stepped in for an injured McCae Hillstead, Legas has thrown for 591 yards on a 71.4 percent completion percentages along with seven touchdowns and two interceptions in relief of the injured McCae Hillstead.
Anderson didn’t want to say anything definitive about the possibility of Legas keeping his job once Hillstead returns from his concussion suffered last week at UConn.
“I would never make a decision without watching the tape thoroughly,” Anderson said. “(Legas) made some mistakes that he can’t make and we’re lucky that we survived. I don’t know when McCae’s gonna be ready. He may not be ready this week with a Friday game at Fresno (State). I’m just gonna keep coaching the crap out of both of them and try to get them both better and we’ll see where that goes.”
Anderson has previously said he didn’t like the idea of a player losing a starting job to injury. He’s also shown willingness to play two quarterbacks in the same game, having done so in 2021 with Logan Bonner and Andrew Peasley.
Holding down one of the top passing games in the country
Colorado State entered Saturday’s game averaging 383.5 passing yards per game with a completion percentage of 71.2. Brayden Fowler-Nicolosi ended the night having completed 26 of 57 passes for just 225 yards with three interceptions. Tory Horton, the Rams’ star receiver, was held to three catches for just 20 yards, by far his lowest totals in either category this season, although Horton did leave the game early with an injury.
Larsen said stopping the Ram’s pass attack came from “just us sticking to the gameplan and just flying around doing what we do best.”
“When we play teams like this that throw the ball, that’s when we’re best for sure,” Larsen said, “because we can cover and we can come down and make tackles when we need to, too. That game was awesome. We feel good about it.”
Ike Larsen leads USU defense in five-turnover effort
A big part of USU’s solid defensive effort came from the five turnovers it forced. Larsen led the way with his two interceptions, the first of which had to be the most impressive. He went up for a 50/50 ball against Horton, the nation’s leading receiver who also happens to be four inches taller than Larsen, and game down with the ball.
IKE LARSEN WRECKING HAVOCOctober 8, 2023
The defensive line played a big part in many of the poor passes the Rams threw all night. As a team, USU finished with just one sack but had 14 QB hurries. Larsen gave due credit to that effort in helping get the interceptions.
“At the end of the day, our interceptions, 99 percent of them come from pressure from the d-line or linebacker,” Larsen said. “With them pressuring and them doing their job, it helps us. It makes our jobs easier so when a quarterback throws a ball like that, it’s easy to get. Props to the d-line, Hale Motu’apuaka and everybody else, our linebackers, putting pressure to make that happen.”
Aside from Larsen’s pair of picks, the Aggies got an interception from Simeon Harris along with fumbles forced by Devin Dye and Paul Fitzgerald, recovered by Seni Tuiaki and Blaine Spires.
Aggies lose punter Kotsanlee
Stephen Kotsanlee, one of the longest-tenured members of this Aggie squad, suffered a season-ending injury late in the game. Already up 38-17, Kotsanlee went out to punt with about five minutes left in the game. He booted the ball 38 yards but was hit after the kick. That hit drew a 15-yard penalty that gave USU a fresh set of downs, but also ended with Kotsanlee on the ground with a leg injury. He was carted off the field but showed great enthusiasm, pumping up the crowd despite what appeared to be a serious injury.
After the game, Anderson confirmed Kotsanlee’s injury is season-ending with posts on social media saying that his injury is a broken leg and that he is undergoing surgery on the leg tonight.
“He’s a great punter, but just beyond that, he’s just an unbelievable kid,” Anderson said, also adding that “Our thoughts and prayers are with him right now.”
The Aggies rallied for their injured teammate, actually scoring a touchdown on the first play after the pause for Kotsanlee’s injury. It was Booth’s 48-yard run that put USU up 44-24.
Utah State players are in bold, James Madison players in italics.
- Cooper Legas – 19/28, 387 yards, 4 TD, 2 INT
- Brayden Fowler-Nicolosi – 26/57, 225 yards, 3 INT
- Davon Booth – 14 att, 141 yards, 2 TD
- Robert Briggs – 19 att, 82 yards
- Kobe Johnson – 17 att, 62 yards, 1 TD
- Vann Schield – 5 att, 29 yards, 1 TD
- Terrell Vaughn – 8 rec, 143 yards, 1 TD
- Jalen Royals – 6 rec, 140 yards, 2 TD
- Micah Davis – 5 rec, 104 yards, 1 TD
- Louis Brown IV – 6 rec, 54 yards
- Dallin Holker – 6 rec, 50 yards
- Tory Horton – 3 rec, 20 yards
- Justin Sanchez – 14 tackles (5 solo)
- MJ Tafisi – 9 tackles (4 solo), 2 TFL
- Ike Larsen – 7 tackles (5 solo), 2 INT, 1 pass breakup
- Devin Dye – 7 tackles (4 solo), 1 forced fumble, 1 pass breakup
- Simeon Harris – 6 tackles (3 solo), 1 INT, 1 pass breakup
- Mohamed Kamara – 5 tackles (3 solo), 3.0 sacks, 3 TFL
- Tory Horton – 2 PR, 86 yards, 1 PR TD (79 yards)
By the Stats
- Utah State has been down by at least 17-0 in four games this season. It occurring by the 9:34 mark in the first was the fastest of those instances (22-0 to Air Force by 0:11 in the first quarter; 17-0 to James Madison by 4:44 in the first; 17-0 to UConn by 0:37 in the second quarter).
- Of the four games USU has trailed by 17+ in — three of which led to USU tying or taking a lead — this was the fastest rally, with the tying score coming with 3:50 left in the second quarter.
- The Aggies were outscored by 17 points in the first 5:26 of the game, but outscored Colorado State 44-7 the rest of the way.
- Jalen Royals recorded his second straight game of 100+ yards, following up his 185 yards last week with 140 this week.
- Royals had multiple touchdowns for the second game in a row. He has five total in the last two games alone,
- Cooper Legas’ 387 passing yards is a career-high and his second 300-yard passing game of his career, first since Nov. 25, 2022 at Boise State (306)
- Cooper Legas also threw for a career-high four touchdown passes. It’s the second time he’s thrown at least three in the last two games (three was his previous career-high).
- Davon Booth’s 141 rushing yards are a career-high, with his two rushing touchdowns tying his career high (also two against Idaho State). It’s his second 100-yard rushing game of the season (103 vs James Madison).
- * Utah State has now won five-straight games against Colorado State and eight of the last 11 in the series. Overall, USU now trails in the series 38-39-2.
- * Utah State posted its 14th come-from-behind win under Anderson, including the ninth time that USU has rallied from double-digits for the win.
- * Utah State rallied from a 17-0 deficit for the second-straight week to notch the win, which is tied for the fourth-largest comeback in school history.
- * Utah State finished the game with a season-high 639 yards of total offense, which is the 10th most in school history.
- * Utah State had three players with 100 receiving yards in a game for the second time in school history, joining the 1996 team that had three 100-yard receivers against Cal State Northridge. It is also just the second time in school history that USU has had three 100-yard receivers and a 100-yard rusher in the same game, as it also accomplished that feat against CS Northridge in 1996.
- * Utah State’s defense forced five turnovers with three interceptions and two fumbles. It is the second time in the last three games that USU has forced five turnovers.
*Stat was provided by USU Athletics Media Relations
Mountain West Standings
Standings and results updated though Oct. 7.
|This Week’s Opponent
|24-19 W vs #24 Fresno St
|35-27 W vs San Jose State
|24-19 L @ Wyoming
|44-24 W vs Colorado St
|44-24 L @ Utah State
|San Diego State
|San Jose State
|35-27 L @ Boise State
NEXT UP FOR UTAH STATE — Oct. 13 vs #24 Fresno State