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SALT LAKE CITY — After a somewhat surprising 3-0 start to the season, the Utah State Aggies saw their first loss of the 2021 campaign, dropping their conference home opener to Boise State.
While the defense mostly did its part, special teams was just downright pitiful and the offense's inability to convert red zone trips sealed their fate as several of the offensive weapons had significantly off performances.
The defense was good enough but the offensive struggles overshadowed the effort
With the final score being roughly a four-possession game, it might be easy to question whether or not the Aggies defense did enough to give their team a chance to win. The Aggies defense did more than enough to put the team in a good position and gave up fewer total yards than their opponent, despite facing more plays and being on the field for a significantly greater amount of time.
Boise State's offense accrued 435 yards on 81 plays (5.4 average) in 35 minutes of total possession. Comparatively, Utah State's offense recorded 443 yards on 73 plays (6.1 average) in 25 minutes of total possession.
What it came down to is that the offense didn't capitalize on their possessions, especially in the red zone. Overall, Boise State went 5-for-5 on red zone trips while Utah State finished a measly 1-for-4; that's not going to get it done. While it is important to note that the defense allowed a 100% red zone conversion rate, they only allowed 27 points.
If the Aggies would've matched the Broncos in making their trips into the red zone count, like they did in nearly every other statistic, the game would have been a lot closer and the defense wouldn't have seemed outmatched.
Instead, the offense missed field goal attempts, overthrew receivers, stuffed at the line of scrimmage and committed several key turnovers. So don't blame the defense, this loss mostly came down to poor offensive execution.
The special teams made a lot of bad decisions
Building off of the first point, the special teams unit consistently made bad decisions all game long, which not only affected their red zone possessions but produced bad turnovers and put their defense in difficult situations.
To begin, late in the second quarter, return-man Jordan Nathan nearly cost the Aggies a safety as the senior fielded a punt on the 1-yard line. Luckily for him, the refs awarded forward progress, but it easily could have gone the other way. Regardless, the offense was forced to dig themselves out of a hole with very little time remaining in the first half.
The play that sums up how the game went for the Aggies, however, had to be the fake punt attempt on a fourth-and-10 from their own 26-yard line early in the second half. Instead of punting the ball away, as most would do in that situation, the Aggies tried to pull a fast one on the Broncos — and it did not go well.
Before the punter could even reach the line of scrimmage, he was swarmed by several Boise State defenders and turned the ball over on the Utah State 18-yard line. A few plays later, the Broncos cashed in on a short touchdown pass from Hank Bachmeier to Khalil Shakir, making it a three-score game.
Overall, the performance by the special teams had a major impact on the Aggies' overall success and demonstrated that despite being on the field for a small amount of time, their execution can greatly affect the outcome of a game.
The offense couldn't get it done when it mattered and several weapons had an off day
The offense couldn't get it done in the red zone, and finished with only 3 points. Boise State's defense constantly stuffed the line and locked down receivers, but the execution wasn't there when it mattered the most for Utah State. Multiple offensive weapons experienced an off day and were not up to par in the game's plan.
For the first time this season, quarterback Logan Bonner threw the ball below 60% and failed to record a touchdown. While the Boise State defense is arguably the best they've faced all season, Bonner seemed off as he continually overthrew receivers — he even recorded a season high two interceptions.
While the first interception wasn't his fault after it deflected off the hands of his intended target, the second interception was a poor individual decision. Facing third-and-10 from the Broncos' 17-yard line, Bonner decided to go for the end zone even though the pocket had collapsed and he was surrounded by three Boise State defenders. Bonner didn't seem to pay much attention as he threw into an area with four Broncos players nearby and was easily intercepted.
After averaging approximately 150 yards through his first three games, wide receiver Deven Thompkins was held in check against Boise State and recorded only 60 yards on four receptions. It was roughly half the amount of receptions Thompkins has brought down in every other game, and it was clear he was an emphasis for the defense.
With the two offensive leaders struggling to produce, the offense didn't have much chance to come out on top. Both have been a critical part of the Aggies' success up to this point. If Utah State has any hope of rebounding Friday and upsetting the highly-ranked BYU Cougars, they, as well as the rest of the team, will have to be much better.