Utah State falters in second half, loses 42-21 at San Jose State – Cache Valley Daily

For the first time since 2008, Utah State lost to San Jose State, falling 42-21 on the road in a game Anderson said left him “about as disappointed as I could be in how we played.”

“Didn’t feel like we did anything well in any of the phases that needed to impact the game positively,” Anderson said. “Really didn’t do it at any point.”

As is custom, the first quarter didn’t go particularly well for Utah State. Though it was just about as hectic as it was nearly disastrous. San Jose State started off with a touchdown on the opening drive, effortlessly marching 75 yards in seven plays. The Aggies missed multiple tackles and struggled to stop the run. But it was after that first TD from the Spartans that things got crazy.

Micah Davis fumbled the ball on the kickoff following SJSU’s opening score. But despite taking over on USU’s 15, the Spartans couldn’t score again since they fumbled the ball, Devin Dye doing a great job to pop the ball lose with his helmet on a hit to Chevan Cordeiro. The Aggies didn’t hang on to the ball for too much longer, though, as McCae Hillstead threw an interception, giving the ball back . San Jose State, again with the ball on a short field, again couldn’t hang onto the ball. This time, Kairee Robinson coughed it up, punched out by MJ Tafisi.

Utah State couldn’t capitalize despite coming out on top after a four-turnover frenzy between the two sides. Following the Robinson fumble, the Aggies went three-and-out and then a poor punt by Ryan Marks meant SJSU took over just 39 yards away from the end zone. And the Spartans went all 39 yards to go up 14-0 with about a minute left in the first quarter.

“Defense create some turnovers early and gave us some opportunities that we squandered and never really got in a rhythm offensively at any point,” Anderson said.

Anderson’s statement that the offense never got into a rhythm at any point was mostly true. There was one point, and it came at seemingly the most predictable time — the start of the second quarter.

Shortly after the establishment of the 14-0 lead for the Spartans, and with the beginning of the second quarter, the Aggies appeared to flip the switch that’s led them to turn around numerous games this season post first-quarter. From gaining 49 total yards in the first 15 minutes, the Aggies gained 50 yards on their first eight plays of the second quarter alone — 127 for the entire second frame.

The bulk of those second-quarter yards came on back-to-back touchdown drives. Big runs from Rahsul Faison, Davon Booth, scrambles and big throws from Hillstead all contributed to long scoring possessions for the Aggies that tied the game up 14-14.

USU’s defense also began picking things up in the second quarter. The two turnovers on defense had marked the team’s only stops so far, but then it held SJSU to no points on three straight drives without having to force a takeaway. It started by holding the Spartans to a 48-yard field goal, which their kicker missed, and then two three-and-out possessions. The Aggies were starting to rack up TFLs and sacks.

In previous games, the Aggies have ridden this second-quarter momentum on both sides of the ball to take leads by the second half and several times even victories. And after one of Utah State’s three-and-out stops that gave it the ball with 2:13 on the clock and a tied 14-14 game, the Aggies were sitting on a gold mine of an opportunity. Score to go up 21-14 (or 17-14 if things didn’t go quite that perfect) and then score on the opening possession of the second half since USU would get the honor of having the ball out of the halftime break. The fact the Aggies had been perfect in terms of getting points on opening drives in the second half only added to the potential for the Aggies to flip a 14-0 deficit at the start of the second quarter to perhaps being up 28-14 early in the third.

Only, that didn’t happen. Not even really close to that. The Aggies went three-and-out themselves on that potentially game-changing drive and the game stayed tied 14-14 at the break. And on that opening drive of the second half, USU’s perfect mark of points to start the third ended. A holding call wiped out a 37-yard completion from Hillstead to Davis and the Aggies couldn’t recover from the 3 & 19 that penalty set up.

With the USU offense suddnely sputtering again, SJSU went back to work on offense, methodically wearing down the Aggie defense with long drives and a few too many third down conversions. In the second half, the Spartans converted on 7-for-8 third down plays, including five conversions on distances of six or more yards (twice on 3rd & 10 or longer).

San Jose State rode that ability to keep its offense on the field to 21 unanswered points in the third/early fourth quarter and 28 points in the second half overall. The Aggies, who ranked among the best in the country in scoring second-half points, only scored once in the final two periods.

“When you get it back to 14-14, though, you feel like alright, we’ve got a chance, we’ve recovered. We’re back in this,” Anderson said. “And then really from that point on just never got back into a rhythm on either side of the ball.”

One key turning point during that run came midway through the third quarter. Having gone down 21-14, the Aggies were stuffed on a 3rd & 1 run. Anderson made the decision to go for it on fourth down on the USU 34-yard line. Instead of a power run play, Anderson called a more complex play-action pass throw to Terrell Vaughn in the flat. The pass was completed without issue but Vaughn was swarmed for a one-yard loss. The Spartans took over on downs and, six plays later, scored to go up 28-14 which ballooned into a 35-14 lead.

“Completely my call,” Anderson said. “Felt like we were going to have to score way more than the twenty-one points to win it and felt like putting the defense out after a punt was really not a good answer. Felt like we had a chance to convert right there. They made a play. We didn’t. So that falls on me. It’s a risk, there’s no doubt it’s a risk. It’s my call and my call only. Would have loved if we could have converted and kept the drive going. Didn’t want to put the defense out there. It’s a risk that probably shouldn’t have taken. I don’t know if we convert it, maybe it sparks us and we move on. But at that point I didn’t feel like we were slowing them down much.”

The lone score of the second half by the Aggies — a 20-yard TD pass from Hillstead to Jalen Royals — perhaps established a glimmer of hope, bringing a 35-14 game to 35-21 with just over five minutes to play. But the Spartans put to bed any hopes of a rally with a touchdown drive to bring the score to its eventual final of 42-21. Fittingly, based on the evening thus far, the TD that iced the game came on a 3rd & 12.

Extra Notes and Quotes

Road offensive struggles continue

Utah State’s offense has been elite at times this season. Those time have almost exclusively been on Merlin Olsen Field, however. Coming into this game the four highest yardage totals for the Aggies had all come at home (an average of 574.5) with the three lowest totals coming on the road (349.0 on average). This week that trend continued. Utah State’s offense gained just 264 yards on the night, the worst offensive output of the season.

According to Anderson, whatever struggles the offense has had, road or home, have started up front at the line of scrimmage.

“It all starts up front. When we’ve been able to cover people up and get the first first down and create some tempo, it’s benefitted us,” Anderson said. “We’ve struggled early against defensive fronts as everybody knows. It’s been a little bit of a war of attrition. But tonight at no point did we play like what we’re capable of up front. And it made it really really difficult to stay on schedule.”

The inability to create something on the line of scrimmage factored into the most egregious part of USU’s struggles on offense, the mere 104 rushing yards against a San Jose State defense that ranked 127th in the country (third-worst among teams ranked), allowing 210.1 rushing yards per game on average prior to Saturday. The Aggies were no slouches themselves as runners, owning the 48th-ranked rushing offense with an average of 172.3 per game.

“We didn’t really get too much penetration going and we didn’t do a good job as backs, reading holes,” Faison said. “We missed a few opportunities that we wish we could get back.”

Aggie defense flounders against run and on third downs (again)

One of USU’s biggest issues against Fresno State last week was a failure to get off the field on third downs. A season-long issue for the Aggies has been stopping the run. Both of those were in play this week. The Spartans gained 251 yards on the ground — the second time in four weeks USU has allowed 200+ rushing yards — led by both of SJSU’s one-two punch of running backs, Robinson and Quali Conley, but also the quarterback, Cordeiro, who scrambled for big chunks of yards the whole night. 

“He’s a really good athlete. We definitely knew that going into this week,” USU defensive end Cian Slone said. “We knew he was going to make some plays like that. Credit to San Jose State up front for giving him those lanes.”

The failure to stop the run and inability to stop third down were somewhat related. On some plays, the Spartans ran for long gains on third down, such as Cordeiro’s 22-yard scramble on a 3rd & 10.  Though often it simply came down to setting up manageable third down distances and converting third and short plays.

Hillstead poor in return

Hillstead made his return to the starting lineup after two games missed due to a concussion suffered against UConn and didn’t exactly impress. He threw two interceptions and completed just 17 of 29 passes for 160 yards. The freshman did showcase his running ability with 28 yards gained (though he lost 18 on sacks and other TFLs) but overall did not live up to some of his earlier play that helped Hillstead win the job from Cooper Legas.

In the last 2.5 games since Hillstead went out, Legas had stepped in and wowed in ways the senior hadn’t to that point. He threw 204 yards in the second half of the rally over UConn and then eclipsed 360 yards in two straight games (387 vs Colorado State and 363 vs Fresno State) with a TD/INT ratio of 7-4. But Anderson went with the freshman because he felt that was the best option to not turn the ball over too much.

“The one concern, the major concern with Coop, honestly, was turning the ball over. Or throwing the ball into turnover situations. There were three other balls against Fresno (State) the other night that he threw to the defense. They didn’t catch them, but they should’ve been turnovers. And the whole goal with going with McCae is he’s been more decisive in his decision-making. He’s been more accurate just in terms of putting the ball in the right spots.”

Does Anderson regret the decision? He admitted that Hillstead did not keep from putting the ball in harm’s way. Whether it becomes something that opens the door for Legas to come back in depends on how Anderson feels about those throws after film analysis.

“It’s gonna be a lot of reflecting and looking to see how much of it was him, how much of it was the front, how much of it was collective problems,” Anderson said.

Stat Leaders

Utah State players are in bold, San Jose State players in italics.


  • McCae Hillstead – 17/29, 160 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT
  • Chevan Cordeiro – 15/20, 119 yards, 3 TD 


  • Kairee Robinson – 21 att, 102 yards, 1 TD (1 fumble lost)
  • Quali Conley – 15 att, 74 yards, 2 TD
  • Chevan Cordeiro – 10 att, 53 yards (1 fumble lost)
  • Davon Booth – 11 att, 43 yards
  • Rahsul Faison – 6 att, 36 yards, 1 TD


  • Jalen Royals – 4 rec, 60 yards, 1 TD
  • Micah Davis – 4 rec, 57 yards, 1 TD
  • Nick Nash – 1 rec, 29 yards, 1 TD
  • Kairee Robinson – 4 rec, 22 yards, 1 TD

Defense/Special Teams

  • MJ Tafisi – 14 tackles (6 solo), 1 forced fumble
  • Jordan Pollard – 10 tackles (7 solo), 1 INT
  • Ike Larsen – 10 tackles (7 solo), 0.5 TFL
  • Anthony Switzer – 9 tackles (5 solo), 2.0 TFL
  • Tre Smith – 6 tackles (5 solo), 2.5 TFL, 1.0 sacks, 1 QB Hurry
  • Cian Slone – 4 tackles (3 solo), 2.5 TFL, 1.0 sacks

By the Stats

  • Utah State lost to San Jose State for the first time since 2008. The Aggies had been on a 10-game winning streak over the Spartans, including 6-0 since both teams joined the Mountain West in 2013.
  • San Jose State’s 251 rushing yards was just eight yards shy of its season high (259), set last week against New Mexico.
  • USU’s three turnovers are the third time the Aggies have had 3+ turnovers in a game and the second time in three weeks.
  • The Aggies have thrown multiple interceptions in five consecutive games. They have only one game this season in which zero picks were thrown (Idaho State).
  • The two recovered fumbles was the third time this season Utah State has recovered multiple fumbles (Colorado State, James Madison)
  • Jalen Royals caught a touchdown for a fourth consecutive game. He’s caught eight touchdowns in those four games and has 10 overall on the season to go with 707 receiving yards.
  • Royals is on pace to join Deven Thompkins, Kevin Curtis and Aaron Jones as the only Aggies to have 1,000 receiving yards since 2000 (88.3 yards per game, 12-game pace of 1,060)
  • With just 264 yards in this game, it’s the first time the Aggies have failed to surpass 300 yards in a game this season.
  • The 160 passing yards by Utah State was a season-low
  • *Utah State’s defense tied its season-high with 9.0 tackles for loss as it also had 9.0 TFLs against Iowa. USU’s 3.0 sacks were tied for its second-most in a game this year.
  • *Utah State has now been outscored 105-17 (-88) in the first quarter and has outscored its opponents 113-58 (+55) in the second quarter this season.
  • *Utah State has now been tied at the half in each of its last three games. 
  • *MJ Tafisi had 14 tackles for his fourth-straight double-digit tackle game, his fifth this season and the 10th of his career. Tafisi also forced his second fumble of the season and his career. 

*Stat was provided by USU Athletics Media Relations

Mountain West Standings

Standings and results updated though Oct. 21.

Team This Week’s Opponent MW Record Overall Record
#22 Air Force 17-6 W @ Navy 3-0 7-0
UNLV 25-23 W vs Colorado State 3-0 6-1
Wyoming BYE 2-1 5-2
Fresno State BYE 2-1 6-1
Boise State BYE 2-1 3-4
San Jose State 42-21 W vs Utah State 2-2 3-5
Colorado State 25-23 L @ UNLV 1-2 3-4
New Mexico 42-21 W vs Hawaii 1-2 3-4
Nevada 6-0 W @ San Diego State 1-2 1-6
Utah State 42-21 L @ San Jose State 1-3 3-5
San Diego State 6-0 L vs Nevada 1-3 3-5
Hawaii 42-21 L @ New Mexico 0-3 2-6

NEXT UP FOR UTAH STATE — Nov. 4 @ San Diego State (bye this upcoming week)

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