(The onside kick) was a big emotional play for them. We had two plays in the first half that extended drives from them, silly penalties that were crucial. ... It was a total team loss, starting with me at the top. —Matt Wells, USU head football
SALT LAKE CITY — Thursday's season opener at Utah felt a whole lot more like Groundhog Day than opening night for the Utah State Aggies.
USU again played well on the road against a big-time opponent, but failed to make the plays to win in a 30-26 defeat.
“We knew it was going to be an exciting game and down to the wire,” head coach Matt Wells said. “They made one more play than we did.”
In a similar story to lost games at Wisconsin, Auburn and BYU in recent years, USU's special teams unit was a weak spot. Utah’s onside kick in the third quarter caught the Aggies off guard and changed the momentum of the game.
Also, Nick Diaz’s missed extra point changed the complexion of the contest from a tie in the fourth quarter to the Aggies searching for a comeback.
Wells was disappointed his team didn’t come away with the victory in his first game as head coach, but noted that the Aggies lost as a team. He said no one play — special teams or otherwise — made the difference.
“(The onside kick) was a big emotional play for them. We had two plays in the first half that extended drives from them, silly penalties that were crucial. We gave up some shots in the middle of the defense that was unlike us, and we had two or three three-and-outs at the end of the third quarter," said Wells. "It was a total team loss, starting with me at the top.”
While there was plenty for USU fans to be frustrated about, there were also positives for Wells to draw from the game. Chuckie Keeton showed exactly why he was receiving Heisman Trophy hype in the preseason. The junior quarterback threw for 314 yards and two touchdowns, and for good measure ran for another 85 yards and a touchdown, eluding sacks and keeping the Aggies alive early in the game.
The only thing that could stop Keeton was a leg cramp that bothered him following a third-quarter touchdown run. That forced him out of a crucial play inside the Utah 5-yard line in the fourth quarter.
“It didn’t slow me down too much ... just the fact that I wasn’t on the field when I wanted to be in the fourth quarter,” Keeton said.
Utah State will try to bounce back at Air Force next week.
“I’m proud of these kids,” Wells said. “They got a lot of fight in them. They are going to win a lot of games.”
Kraig Williams is a 2010 Utah State University graduate and regular Deseret News sports blogger. He can be followed on Twitter @DesNewsKraig.