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What we learned from Utah State's shootout victory over Air Force

Utah State quarterback Logan Bonner throws a pass during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Washington State, Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021, in Pullman, Wash. Utah State won 26-23.

Utah State quarterback Logan Bonner throws a pass during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Washington State, Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021, in Pullman, Wash. Utah State won 26-23. (Young Kwak, AP Photo)



Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY β€” For the first time since 1978, the Utah State Aggies are 3-0 following their 49-45 victory over Air Force.

While very few would have predicted such a strong start to the season due to their pitiful 1-5 record last year, the Aggies are proving to be a formidable opponent and a potential contender in the Mountain West Conference. Utah State's performance wasn't perfect, but the Aggies did whatever it took to emerge victorious, and there is a lot to gather from their performance.

Andrew Peasley is a capable quarterback and formidable leader

While Logan Bonner had earned himself the QB1 position after the first two weeks and was doing a great job against Air Force, the transfer quarterback was forced to leave the game due to an injury he suffered early in the second half.

Due to his absence, backup quarterback Andrew Peasley assumed the position under center and proved to be a very capable and productive offensive weapon. For the night, Peasley finished 10-of-15 for 195 yards and three touchdowns.

Perhaps his most impressive attributes on display were his versatility and overall athleticism. After replacing Bonner, Peasley was an absolute menace as he continuously scrambled around in and out of the pocket, ran for a few sizable gains and threw a few bombs for 6 points.

All of this was demonstrated on Peasley's second touchdown drive as he was the primary offensive weapon and strung together a few incredible individual plays. Right after the Aggies began the possession, Peasley dropped back to pass but quickly discovered the pocket collapsing and pressure coming. Instead of just throwing the ball away, he tucked it, found an open lane, hurdled a Falcon defender and took it 17-yards to the Air Force 36-yard line.

Just a few plays later, Peasley again dropped back to pass with pressure quickly closing in. Instead of taking a sack, Peasley heaved it down field off his back foot and connected with a wide-open Brandon Bowling for the touchdown and a 34-31 lead.

Even though Air Force would score twice more, Peasley would maintain his composure and calmly lead the Aggies in yet another come-from-behind victory. This included a 72-yard touchdown pass to Deven Thompkins and an impressive two-point conversion which Peasley took upon himself to score.

While it seemed Bonner had clearly earned that starting position, Utah State may want to reassess who takes the snaps under center moving forward as they have two guys with unique individual talents who can get the job done.

The Aggies need to work on their rush defense

Despite the impressive victory and a 3-0 start, The Aggies defense left a lot to be desired protecting against the run. For the game, the Falcons rushed for 437 yards and five touchdowns on 63 attempts. With a 6.9 average, Air Force was more than halfway to a first down each time they ran the football.

It's also important to note that two of the Falcons backs rushed for over 100 yards each. Emmanuel Michel finished the night with 133 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries (12.1 average) while Brad Roberts had 113 yards on 21 carries (5.4 average).

When you boil it down, while the Falcons have some potentially elite rushers, the Aggies were simply losing the battle at the line of scrimmage, missing tackles, and the secondary seemed to be overcommitting which left the field wide open once they had penetrated the initial resistance.

On one play in particular late in the third, Michel took a hand-off from the backfield, side stepped left through a sizable gap, plowed over a defender and then had 45-yards of open field. That cannot happen. Not only was the defensive line completely dominated, but they missed a tackle and then the secondary was caught sleeping.

Moving forward, the Aggies have to lock things down. If it wasn't for the run game, the outcome wouldn't have been anywhere near as close as the Falcons only passed for 182 yards and a touchdown. If Utah State wants to compete with some of the top dogs in the conference, they have to be better defensively.

You can never count the Aggies out

For the first time in school history, the Aggies have won all three of their games this season after trailing by double-digits. Additionally, the Aggies also trailed the Falcons by double-digits more than once in this game as they were down 10-0 early on, 24-13 at half, 31-20 to begin the third and 45-34 with just around 10 minutes to go.

Remarkably, they never quit. It didn't matter the situation, the play they may have just given up or the amount of momentum the Falcons possessed, Utah State never quit.

Notably, the Aggies have been dominant in the fourth quarter all season long as they have outscored their opponents 51-10 collectively. On both sides of the ball Utah State seems to kick it up a notch when it matters most as they not only put more points on the board, but the defense gets stops and even forces turnovers.

Justin Rice has been a Godsend late in games as the senior linebacker has continually forced critical turnovers. In addition to an interception, Rice also forced a fumble on the Falcons final drive as he stripped Haaziq Daniels on a keeper up the middle. This would effectively bring Air Force's final drive to a close and wrap up the game as the Aggies simply ran out the clock.

Utah State will now fully be put to the test as they face the toughest stretch of their schedule, hosting Boise State on Saturday and BYU the following week. If they can remain perfect, the Aggies might not only be a favorite to win their conference, but potentially the best team in the state and could find themselves somewhere amongst the top 25 teams in the country.

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