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Wade Denniston, USU Athletics

3 keys to Utah State picking up its second win of 2018

By Kyle McDonald, KSL.com Contributor | Posted - Sep 13th, 2018 @ 2:04pm



LOGAN — Utah State is coming off a dominating 60-13 win over New Mexico State in the 2017 bowl rematch.

Following the win on Saturday night in Maverik Stadium, Utah State head coach Matt Wells said that he was "really proud of our players with how they performed Saturday night."

Wells, though, said "there is a lot to clean up — a lot for the players to be very openly critical of themselves and try to hold themselves to a high standard."

He added that there were some communication problems and some lining up issues by the linemen, and the defense didn't get as many three-and-out series as they were hoping.

Wells even said that Utah State played average on offense, despite scoring 60 points and racking up 446 yards of total offense.

But on Thursday night, the Aggies will get the chance to clean those issues up as they host FCS foe Tennessee Tech in a 6 p.m. MDT kickoff at Maverik Stadium.

Here are three keys to the game for the Aggies, who have a 99.5 percent chance of winning, according to ESPN.

Balance on offense

Against New Mexico State, Utah State ran 77 plays, 46 runs and 31 passing attempts. The Aggies had 274 rushing yards and 172 passing yards, which is not bad. It was a much more balanced effort than in the season opener at then-11th-ranked Michigan State, where sophomore quarterback Jordan Love threw for 319 yards and the Aggie rushing attack was stymied for just 25 yards.

Offensive coordinator David Yost should use this game against a lesser opponent to balance the offensive approach and get Love in a rhythm with his receivers. Ron'quavion Tarver is one of the best wideouts in the Mountain West Conference and needs to establish himself.

With the Mountain West Conference opener a week away, Utah State has to find some offensive balance and continuity.

Clean up the penalties

Against New Mexico State, Utah State was flagged 10 times for 91 yards. Against Michigan State, the Aggies had seven penalties called for 49 yards.

Now is the time to work on being disciplined. The Aggies need to make sure linemen understand the count, and make sure offensive players understand the formation correctly. As Wells said, "clean it up and be better today than you were yesterday."

Keep up the defensive pressure

The Utah State defense has been on fire to start the season. The Aggies are eighth in the nation in sacks at 4.0 sacks per game. The program is also ranked second in the nation in forced turnovers with seven — four interceptions and three fumble recoveries.

Two of the four interceptions have been returned for touchdowns. Gaje Ferguson returned an interception 40 yards in the season opener at Michigan State to cut the Spartan lead to just 3 points in the third quarter. And Deante Fortenberry had a 75-yard interception return for a touchdown that made it 40-10 in the third quarter against New Mexico State.

Since the beginning of the 2017 season, Utah State has forced 36 turnovers and has recorded 70 interceptions in its last 64 games. Aggies fans can expect more of the same against an FCS opponent that has coughed up five turnovers on the season, with three interceptions and two fumbles.

Despite it being a short week, Utah State should have no problem with Tennessee Tech on Thursday night. The Aggies have won 11 straight games when facing an FCS opponent and have won five straight non-conference home games. The Aggies are also 8-1 under Matt Wells in games played on a short week.

Kickoff is slated for 6 p.m. MDT at Maverik Stadium in Logan and will be streamed on Facebook Live or can be heard on the Aggie Sports Network (1280 AM or 1280thezone.com).

Kyle McDonald is sports fan who loves the Chicago Cubs. Follow him on Twitter at @kylesportsbias

Kyle McDonald

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Updated: Tuesday September 25, 2018 6:37 pm