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BOISE -- It was a game that Utah State should have won.
That phrase is something that we had not heard for a month and a half. But the demons that have plagued the Utah State program in years past decided to come back on what was supposed to be a day of celebration on the Aggies' first bowl victory since 1993.
The Utah State defense couldn't hold Ohio QB Tyler Tettleton inside the pocket during a late fourth quarter goal-line stand as the Bobcat signal-caller led his team to a 24-23 come-from-behind victory in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
Here are Utah State's "Game Day Grades" for the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl:
Adam Kennedy played a decent game despite not being allowed to throw the ball deep. He completed 11 of 18 passes for 63 yards and a touchdown. Kennedy missed some throws which affected field position for the Aggies down the stretch.
Running Backs/Full Backs: A
50 attempts, 345 total yards, two touchdowns. That absolutely deserves an "A" grade. There was not much more that the running backs could have done to keep their team in the game. Michael Smith had a career day, rushing 12 times for 157 yards and two touchdowns and was the MVP of the game for the Aggies. Robert Turbin had 20 carries for 101 yards as well, marking the first time since 2009 that two Aggie players had over 100 yards rushing apiece. Kerwynn Williams provided a nice spark, rushing nine times for 62 yards.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: B
The receivers had a very limited amount of work sent their way during the bowl game. Stanley Morrison caught four passes for 25 yards, mainly on bubble screen plays. Travis Van Leeuwen had one catch for 26 yards, while Tarren Lloyd had the only touchdown reception of the day for USU on a 3-yard play. The receivers played well despite hardly running downfield during the game on passing routes and inexplicably, WR Matt Austin didn't get a single ball thrown his way.
Offensive Line: A-
The offensive line absolutely dominated the front seven of Ohio, creating spaces for the running backs and keeping the quarterback from being plowed into the turf on a regular basis. The line seemed tired during the fourth quarter as running lanes significantly became narrower. But credit the line for giving Utah State much of their offensive success.
Overall Offense: B
As was the case all season long, the running backs were the heart and soul of the offense. In a pass-happy game, the backs showed that running the football does gain yards and score points. However, it doesn't necessarily win games in the end. The players did everything they could with the cards dealt to them and they ended coming up just short. We may never see another three-headed rushing attack, like the one Utah State had this season, ever again.
Defensive Line: B
The defensive line made life miserable for the Ohio running backs and also quarterback Tyler Tettleton. Tettleton found himself on his backside quite frequently as the defensive line got the push they wanted through the first three-and-a-half quarters. But, late in the fourth quarter, it looked like the line had used all of its energy. That showed with the comeback that Ohio mounted against USU.
The linebacking corps created havoc all-day long against the Bobcats. Bobby Wagner became the all-time leading WAC tackler during the game and Kyle Gallagher punished the quarterback and anyone who came just across the line of scrimmage. Much like the rest of the defense, they were unable to come up with the stops when they needed them.
Defensive Backs: B
The coaching staff must have focused quite a bit on the secondary the past two weeks, because these defensive backs were not the same mistake-prone group that we saw frequently throughout the season. Instead of getting burned deep down the field, the secondary was able to keep their man in front of them and make several big, hard- hitting tackles, despite giving up 220 yards passing. Hopefully, the Aggies can use this as a stepping stone for next season.
Overall Defense: B
This time, the defense could not hold on in the waning moments of the game. However, Ohio spent a lot of time on the field in the fourth quarter which resulted in the entire defensive unit being fatigued. It was a tough finish for the defense considering they had played so well early on.
Special Teams: B-
The special teams' coverage unit did a nice job today containing the Bobcats returners and not letting a big return inhibit the defense. Chuck Jacobs and Chris Harris didn't get the amount of return yards that they wanted, combining for 76 yards on five attempts, an average of only 15.2 yards per return. Josh Thompson missed his only field goal attempt from 39-yards out while connecting on all three of his extra point attempts. Tyler Bennett had five punts for 202 total yards, a 40.4 yards per kick average.
Overall Team: B
The Aggies should have won this game. The performances by the individual units should have been enough collectively to win the game. But, the demons of the early season returned to haunt the Aggies in the fourth quarter once again.
The ultra-conservative play-calling of offensive coordinator Dave Baldwin really hurt the Aggies when it came to ball control and clock management. Utah State has a lot of weapons that were left un-used in favor of running plays up the middle and bubble screen plays to the sideline. In major college football, you have to "play to WIN the game" instead of "trying not to lose it." Baldwin's play-call blunders throughout the season have cost the Aggies wins. On Saturday night, it cost them their first bowl victory in 18 years.
Despite the play-calling, Utah State couldn't score when they needed it and couldn't stop the opposition when it mattered most. Many factors boil down into this last- minute loss. Either way, congratulations to Utah State on a successful season and making it to a bowl game. It is just unfortunate that the season had to end this way.