Key matchups: Utah State defense vs. Fresno State QB Derek Carr

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LOGAN — “In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened.”

Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully uttered these words after Kirk Gibson’s famous walk-off home run to end game one of the 1988 World Series, but perhaps their greatest application is to the 2013 football season at Utah State University.

The Aggies lost their Heisman-candidate quarterback; lost games to in-state rivals BYU and Utah; and lost to Mountain Division foe Boise State. Yet, despite all of that, the odds improbably played in the Aggies’ favor as Utah State finds itself on the verge of playing Fresno State in the Mountain West Championship game.

The Aggies’ No. 1 rated defense will take on the nation’s best passing attack, and Utah State will have to beat a Fresno State team that hasn’t lost at home since Tim DeRutyer took over as head coach of the Bulldogs.


Utah State does have a strong defensive presence on its side, and the Aggies will need it. Utah State is a team that has consistently shut down running attacks. A key common opponent to look at is San Jose State. Both the Aggies and Bulldogs played the Spartans in San Jose; the Aggies held San Jose State to 12 points, while Fresno State allowed 62 points to the Spartans.

So, as Utah State and Fresno State prepare to battle in the inaugural Mountain West Championship game, the key matchup for the championship comes down to the battle between the Aggies’ defense and Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr.

Why this matchup?

Utah State’s defense has been the team’s calling card throughout the course of the year. It has allowed more than 30 points in a game only three times (losses to Boise State, BYU and Utah) and averaged giving up only 16.8 points a game. If the Aggies don’t get the football to Darrell Garretson frequently, it won’t matter how good or bad he is — Fresno State will establish its tempo and control the game.

Fresno State uses a pro-style quarterback in Carr, who has thrown for 4,462 yards and 45 touchdowns. For some quarterbacks, allowing them to run outside the pocket is a sure-fire recipe for failure. For Carr, it is important to get him outside of the pocket and force him to have to make plays with his feet. If Carr gets adequate time in the pocket, it will be game over for the Aggies as Carr has receivers like Davante Adams, who has caught 22 touchdown passes.

In order to stop Carr, it will take a complete defensive performance. Early on, the Aggies should drop linebackers into coverage to try to throw off Fresno’s timing. Then as the game wears on, Utah State would be wise to bring the house to try to further confuse Carr.

Who wins this matchup?

In theory, Craig Thompson and the Mountain West Conference got their wish — the league’s best offense facing the league’s best defense in front of a national television audience. However, Utah State is wishing it was playing Hawaii right about now.

The Aggies’ defense will keep them in every game where they can score points, but Fresno State’s attack is just too good and too consistent to keep down — especially at home.

The Bulldogs will win the game and claim the inaugural Mountain West championship.

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Jon Oglesby


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