Utah State Football: Missed chances derail Aggies against Wyoming

Utah State was high in Saturday night’s game against rival Wyoming.

The Aggies had won back-to-back games and all but turned their season around after a rough start to the year.

A win at Laramie against the Cowboys would have given the Aggies a head start in the Mountain West Conference race, and USU would have had a real shot at repeating themselves as conference champions.

However, when the final whistle blew late Saturday night, Utah State’s winning streak was over, culminating in a 28-14 loss to Wyoming.

In truth, the Cowboys dominated most of the night.

Wyoming passed Utah State by a total of 529 yards to 217. Along the way, the Cowboys were nearly three times as effective on the ground as the Aggies (330 rushing yards on 113) and were better at the passing game (199 yards on 104). , better at converting on third down (50% conversion rate vs. 33%) and better at making first down (28 to 13).

Yards per carry, yards per reception, all favored Wyoming.

Defensively, the Cowboys were better at getting to the backfield (11 tackles for losses versus four for USU) and better at getting to the quarterback (six to two).

Wyoming was simply the better team, with better players like running backs Titus Swen (160 rushing yards and three touchdowns) and DQ James (120 rushing yards) and quarterback Andrew Peasley (119 passing yards and 29 rushing yards).

And yet, despite all of this, the state of Utah could have left War Memorial Stadium with a win.

Maybe even should have.

However, that prevented too many missed opportunities, especially in the second half.

“Disappointed with the execution and the result,” said Blake Anderson, Utah State head coach. “I felt like we played a lot better against these guys than we did a year ago. Kept the score low. We put ourselves in a position in the second half to have chances to run down the field and move forward.

“Just couldn’t make enough games to make it. We felt we missed a lot of chances on the field and that’s something we’re frustrated about.”

What were those possibilities?

The list is long and varied and includes:

  • Near the end of the third quarter, safety Gurvan Hall Jr. dropped an interception that hit him in the hands. A catch there would almost certainly have turned into a pick six.
  • Cornerback Xavion Steele had his hand on the ball after a punt by Stephen Kotsanlee at the Wyoming 1-yard line, but couldn’t stop it from getting into the end zone. That touchback was the start of a game-winning touchdown drive for the Cowboys.
  • Wide receiver NyNy Davis had beaten the defense on a deep vertical route but couldn’t catch a shot from real freshman quarterback Bishop Davenport. Get the catch and Davis will most likely dance to the end zone.

The missed opportunities don’t stop there, but these are just some of the lowlights.

Again and again the Aggies were in the right place at the right time, but didn’t execute properly.

“I was really proud of how the guys fought,” Anderson said. “The (game) plan was solid, we just need to execute better. We had some real opportunities to make a game out of it, we just missed them.

“We didn’t protect the quarterback well. Had to keep it cleaner than we did. We struggled with that most of the night… We didn’t make many competitive catches. (Wyoming) did a good job in defence, but we had to fight through some of it and make it easier for (Davenport)… We missed several shots. We had wide open boys that we missed. You simply can’t do that away against a good football team.”

Anderson refused to call the loss a step backwards for the Aggies, even though they are now 3-5 overall and 2-2 in conference play with four games remaining.

In Anderson’s eyes, Utah State was shorthanded, forced to rely on several freshmen for key positions — particularly quarterback and linebacker — and still had chances to win the game.

This is a step in the right direction, or at least a step in the right direction.

“We were just a little off,” Anderson said. “I don’t know if it was a step backwards. We did some really positive things and lost a competitive game away from home to a good football team. A week ago we did games that we had to do and same against the Air Force. We made games when they were presented and took more opportunities than tonight.

“Wyoming deserves credit, but we had multiple opportunities to get down and score. You have to complete a ride and we just couldn’t do that.”

The Aggies are no longer in control of their own destiny in the conference race, and bowl eligibility will be hard to come by with games against New Mexico, Hawaii, San Jose State and Boise State still pending.

Health, or lack thereof, is also a real concern, although Anderson is hoping the upcoming bye week can help, if just a little, on that front.

Still, the loss to Wyoming represents a real missed opportunity, and the Aggies know it.

“We just couldn’t do it on critical downs,” said linebacker AJ Vongphachanh. “It’s tough losing to a good conference opponent like that. We just have to keep our heads up and keep working. From now on we can only control what we can control.”

“They fought hard and played physically but just didn’t play well,” Anderson added. “We avoided the big mistake in terms of the big penalty. Aside from a deep ball that turned into a pickaxe, we didn’t put the ball on the ground. There were a lot of positives, but not enough to win.”


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