by Daniel Olsen
Chalk up another come-from-behind win for the Utah State Aggies. They have trailed at halftime in all four of their wins this season, and the victory over winless UNLV was no exception. How did the Aggies, who were once known as the team that almost beat good teams in the past decade, figure out how to win so many close games? It’s time to look at three key differences of the 2021 team.
1. Transfer Portal
The Aggies picked up several players from the transfer portal that have played very well so far. One of those players is Logan Bonner. He is a quarterback who has a chance to be in the top 10 in most single season passing records for USU. He has thrown 1,533 passing yards for 11 touchdowns so far. Only seven seasons in Aggie history have seen a quarterback throw for over 3,000 yards.
On the defensive end, transfer Justin Rice showed why his experience from Fresno State and Arkansas State is vital to the team. He leads the team with 52 tackles so far.
It is important to bring in new talent, especially after the Aggies only won one game last year. Combining the fresh talent with existing talent like Deven Thompkins has been lightning in a bottle for the Aggies. He is currently one of the top five receivers in the NCAA in total receiving yards.
Coach Anderson has instilled a belief in his players that the Aggies can win in close games. The conditioning and hard work in the offseason have helped them know that it’s really possible.
For half a century, the Aggies did not win their “money game”. The last time they had beaten a P5 team on the road was 1971. That all changed when the Aggies defeated the Washington State Cougars in Pullman.
The Aggies have trailed at halftime in all six of their games this year and managed to come back in four of them. In past years, it might have been the opposite. It’s still early in Anderson’s tenure, and there is still work to be done to catch up to rivals like Boise and BYU in the win column. However, Coach Anderson does have his team ready to play.
3. Adjust to what the Opponent gives you
UNLV came with the goal of ending their losing streak dating back to 2019. To achieve that at Allegiant Stadium, they had more up their sleeve than just a sideline touchdown slot machine. Their goal was to run the ball and stop the run. For most of the game, the Aggies seemed reluctant to adjust. This resulted in many third and long situations on offense when the run didn’t work at first.
Eventually, the Aggies stopped the run and the attention turned to the offense. Despite three missed field goals and an early interception, the Aggies had a chance to go ahead in the final minute with a three point deficit. They drove the ball up the field and finally got a rushing touchdown that had eluded them all game.
The Aggies definitely started slow on offense. Their only spark was on special teams. On the first kickoff return, Savon Scarver tied an NCAA record with his seventh kickoff return for a touchdown. Their first offensive score came early in the second quarter off a catch from none other than Thompkins.
While the fourth quarter matters, the game as a whole is important. The Aggies can’t afford to dig themselves a hole too deep to get out of. That is what happened in both of their losses. With the Boise State loss to Air Force, USU now controls their own destiny. If they win out, then they will win the Mountain Division and play in the MWC Championship Game.
However, that won’t be an easy task. Colorado State is undefeated in conference play so far, and they are next up for the Aggies. The good news is this is Homecoming, so Maverik Stadium should be packed. The game will start on Friday night at 7:30 p.m. MST on CBS Sports Network. It is projected to be a 50/50 game, so hopefully this coin flip of a game turns in favor of the Aggies.
Featured image courtesy Steve Marcus, Las Vegas Sun