LOGAN — Three weeks into the season and the biggest question facing the Utah State football team is what it will get out of its special teams week to week.
A blocked punt against Utah gave the Aggies the early momentum, but later a missed extra point became the difference between winning in regulation and having to go to overtime. Against Wisconsin the Aggie special teams blocked an extra point, but allowed an 82-yard punt return touchdown and Josh Thompson's potential game-winning 37-yard field goal attempt went wide right in the final seconds.
It would be easy for the team to place the blame only on the kicker for losing the game, but head coach Gary Andersen said the team is beyond that.
"We came up a play short at the end. There's no way, shape or form one play wins or loses a game like that. If the kick goes in, yeah it's a game-winning kick, but it didn't win the game alone," Andersen said. "There are a lot of young men that you look at who could have made a game-winning play. That's my big thing is to tell the team to do your job and worry about yourself."
The miss was Thompson's first field goal attempt of the season after taking the job from freshman Brock Warren. As the primary kicker in 2011, Thompson made 57 of his 58 extra point attempts and six of 10 field goal attempts.
SPECIAL TEAMS CHANGES: Andersen will keep going with the same kickers but will shuffle up some of the other special team players. Defensive starters like Zach Vigil and McKade Brady have been playing nearly every defensive and special team snap, amounting to about 100 plays a game, a number which Andersen thinks is far too many. Moving forward, USU will try to mix in some fresh bodies to give the special teams units an extra boost.
"We'll make it more of a point of emphasis for the coaches and myself and the kids," Andersen said of his special teams. "In turn, I believe we'll win some games on special teams as we go through the season."
CARDI-AGGIE KIDS: Nine of the Aggies' last 10 contests have been decided by one score, and seven of the last nine have had the winning points scored in the final minute of regulation or in overtime. That can be looked at as a negative if you're a fan suffering heart problems, but Andersen has a more positive outlook.
"Eight of our last nine games have gone down to the wire. We've won six of them. This is a tough-minded crew," Andersen said. "All I hear is, 'Oh, another tough loss,' but I guess the way I look at it is, we won six of eight in the last second."
FAST STARTS: While the special teams have been inconsistent, one thing you can count on from Utah State is fantastic defense, especially in the first half. Utah State has yet to allow a first-quarter score and has given up just nine points total — a single second quarter field goal in all three games — in the first half.
The Aggies lost All-WAC linebacker Bobby Wagner to the NFL but have gotten better overall on the defensive side of the ball thanks to an increase in depth.
"There are more kids at each position, and that creates competition. When you create competition to get on the field, kids play at a higher level," Andersen said.
Currently Utah State ranks 15th in the nation with just 13 points allowed per game and has done a particularly great job in the red zone allowing just one touchdown and two field goals in seven defensive red zone stands.