Georgia State quarterback Darren Grainger (3) tries to get past Utah State defensive end Ioholani Raass (56) during the second half of the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl NCAA college football game Saturday, Dec. 23, 2023, in Boise, Idaho. Georgia State won 45-22. (AP Photo/Steve Conner)
BOISE, ID — For a second straight season, Utah State will finish with a 6-7 record. It’s also the second straight year the Aggies have lost by 20-plus points in a bowl game. That’s the reality after USU lost 45-22 to Georgia State in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl on Saturday afternoon.
Utah State seemingly had more momentum going into the bowl game, with lots of positive vibes from key players opting back in for the 2024 season and some quality recruits committing to the Aggies. That, and the fact Georgia State entered the game on a five-game losing streak and had lost a lot of star players to the transfer portal or guys opting to focus on preparing for the NFL Draft.
Despite that, the Panthers were clearly the team more ready for this game, flying out to a hot start on offense and quickly adjusting on defense.
Georgia State’s hot start on offense equated to scoring touchdowns on each of its first three drives on offense. USU’s run defense, the bane of the team for most of the year, once again failed to find ways to keep runners bottled up. Georgia State crossed the 200 rushing yard mark early in the second quarter, facilitated by runs of 60, 58 and 32 yards in just those first three scoring drives. The Panthers would finish the game with 386 rushing yards, all accounted for by quarterback Darren Grainger who had 111 yards on the ground and Freddie Brock who, after only rushing the ball six times all year, carried the ball 24 times for a GSU record 276 yards.
Grainger, who was named the game’s MVP, also moved the ball effectively through the air, completing 19 of 22 passes for 257 yards and three touchdowns, bringing his total yards to 368 yards and five overall touchdowns.
“He is truly a dual threat quarterback with a tremendous amount of poise,” Anderson said of Grainger. “I think schematically they do a phenomenal job of utilizing his skill set.”
Another crucial failing of Utah State’s defense (which was also a season-long theme) was an inability to get off the field on third down. Particularly frustrating was the Aggies’ inability to hold the Panthers on third and long situations. Georgia State had eight different situations where it faced 3rd & 9 or longer and converted all of them.
“I don’t know if it’s just third and long. I think in general, just defensively, we’ve struggled all season,” Anderson said. “It’s not a something that we talk about a lot, but clearly it’s obvious we struggle. We struggle to create pass rush without adding extra guys. When you add extra guys, you’re exposed in coverage.”
Utah State’s defense didn’t come out well, but the offense had its moments early on. The Aggies responded to Georgia State’s opening TD by getting seven points of their own, with Levi Williams and Jalen Royals connecting on a 35-yard pass for a score. That touchdown was Royals’ 15th of the year, breaking a tie between him and Tracy Jenkins (14 in 1990).
Even after Georgia State took just five plays to drive 75 yards for a TD on its next drive, Utah State was quick to respond as Davon Booth ran for a 65-yard touchdown, setting a new USU bowl record for longest rushing score.
Unfortunately for the Aggies, they wouldn’t keep up that pace of offense, not even slightly. After their touchdown with four minutes left in the first quarter, Utah State wouldn’t score again until there was just 4:48 left in the game and Georgia State had already racked up 31 unanswered points.
“It was one of our worst offensive outings of the season,” Anderson said. “Just very, very little rhythm or tempo, which are things that we need to be successful.”
It’s a sour conclusion to a frustrating season for Utah State. The Aggies were plagued by easily exploitable weaknesses on both sides of the ball all year. Anderson said this year was “about managing what we had,” given the significant losses to the transfer portal after last year’s bowl game. With this season’s conclusion, and presumably less transfer attrition ahead, it’ll be time for Anderson to try and build on the off-the-field momentum the program gained in the weeks leading up to the game, since on-the-field results were just not in the cards for his team.
“We’ll cut these guys loose for a little bit to enjoy Christmas for their families, and come back, go back to work. That’s all we can do,” Anderson said. “But there’s a lot of things that need to be fixed and things that we can fix.”