SALT LAKE CITY — In a game that heavily lacked offense in the first half and had a baseball-like score of 6-5 at halftime, the Utah State Aggies emerged victorious as they upset Pac-12 foe Washington State on their own turf in dramatic fashion.
While the offense had a sluggish start and the defense gave up quite a few explosive plays, there were still a lot of things learned about the Aggies and what their potential may be moving forward.
Devin Thompkins will be most productive receiver
Senior Devin Thompkins is no stranger to the Aggies offense. He finished the shortened 2020 season leading all receivers with 214 yards on 20 receptions (10.7 average). Notably, he also finished second on the team with 296 all-purpose yards and experienced multiple career-highs. Now with a full season ahead of him, Thompkins started the 2021 campaign on the right foot as he made a statement against Washington State.
While one of Thompkins first touches of the game was nearly a 50-yard touchdown pass that was called back due to a penalty, he didn't allow it to affect his production the rest of the night as he torched the Cougars secondary. For the night, Thompkins finished with eight receptions for 94 yards (11.8 average) and one touchdown, and led the game in yards gained through the air.
Thompkins was also a critical part of the game-winning drive. He brought in three of the seven passes, including the touchdown pass, on the drive and was able to draw a pass interference penalty against his defender on the previous play, which set the Aggies up to score.
If Thompkins can keep up this level of production, he'll not only only achieve new career highs, but he'll also be on track for a 1,000+ yard season and would be a shoe-in for an all-conference selection and likely even collect some personal hardware.
Logan Bonner should be QB1
Utah State may have found itself a gem in Logan Bonner as the Arkansas State transfer showed up big time for the Aggies where he led the team on a game-winning drive. While it did take him some time to get his footing, Bonner was also splitting reps with Andrew Peasley, who finished just 6-of-12 for 76 yards.
While Peasley was the one to drop in the nearly 50-yard touchdown pass to Thompkins early on, that play was eventually called back and he was unable to do anything special the rest of the night. Oftentimes, Peasley under threw or overthrew his targets, failing to connect with his receivers.
On one specific play in the third quarter, Peasley well overthrew Derek Wright, who was wide open and didn't have a Cougars defender within several feet of him. Peasley also committed a bad fumble as he tried to avoid a defender, but he neglected the ball and completely exposed it in his throwing hand, which was eventually knocked out and the Aggies lost possession.
While Bonner, on the other hand, did throw an interception, he demonstrated veteran composure and ability to lead the offense during crunch time. Receiving the football with 3:02 left on the clock and trailing 23-18, Bonner proceeded to lead his team down the field for the go-ahead touchdown on a perfect 7-of-7 throwing performance — this included several third-down plays and even a crucial fourth down completion.
In addition to his game-winning touchdown pass to Thompkins and finding Wright for a 2-point-conversion, Bonner finished the game 17-of-24 for 143 yards and a touchdown. With his performance, he should emerge as QB1; and given a full game, he could do serious damage to opposing defenses.
The Aggies' defense needs leadership and consistency
While the defense was fairly solid and did their part in helping the team win on Saturday, one thing that seemed to stand out was a lack of true leadership and consistency from any single player.
As most of the tackles were fairly spread out, it seemed a different Aggies player was in on nearly every tackle. While that's not necessarily a bad thing to have your defense sharing the hits, it seemed that even some of the guys who made big plays would later on go silent. For instance, Patrick Noyer Jr. was the player credited for the safety early on in the game, but throughout the rest of the evening only recorded two more tackles.
In addition to a fairly spread out defensive performance, the Aggies defense also gave up several explosive plays, which allowed the Cougars to lead for most of the night despite running 21 fewer plays than Utah State and five less first downs.
One of those plays included a 64-yard touchdown run by Max Borghi, who easily broke free down the sideline and waltzed into the end zone without an Aggies defender nearby. Additionally, Utah State also committed multiple late-hit penalties, demonstrating a lack of composure and maturity.
As the season presses on, Utah State will want to find a leader among its defense to try and limit those types of mistakes. The Aggies need someone who is going to stand out and consistently perform on a game-by-game basis; someone who can keep the rest of the guys accountable, sniff out explosive plays and help the team maintain their demeanor.
If the Aggies can find someone to fit that mold, the defense will be able to take their game to a whole new level and present a lot more resistance to opposing offenses.