In recent years, Utah State has come close to beating both USC and Auburn but wasn't quite able to secure the victory in either game. This year, the Aggies had yet another opportunity to upset a "big-name" school, the Tennessee Volunteers.
But the Aggies had an uphill battle on their hands from the second they walked into the sea of roaring Tennessee fans in Knoxville. Utah State is used to playing in Romney Stadium in Logan, which holds a little over 25,000 fans. Neyland Stadium holds around 102,000 fans, and the game was a sell-out.
Tennessee fed off the intensity of its fans and came out of the gate throwing haymakers. The Vols rocketed off to a 14-0 lead about seven minutes into the game, and it all went downhill from there. They rolled to a 31-0 lead, after which the Aggies answered with a 37-yard touchdown bomb from Chuckie Keeton to Hunter Sharp. But that was the only bright spot for the Aggies, and the final score ended with Tennessee winning 38-7.
Now, time to issue the report card.
It was by no means a positive game for the Aggies offensively as they struggled to move the ball all night. They converted a mere 3 of 14 third-down attempts, and no matter what they did, the Volunteers seemed to read them like an open book.
Chuckie Keeton completed 18 of 35 passes for only 144 yards, and was pressured the entire game. It seemed that seconds after he snapped the ball, the defense broke through the protection, forcing Keeton to make quick decisions on nearly every play. He threw two interceptions in the game, both of which were poorly placed throws, made under pressure.
Keeton did have a 37-yard touchdown pass to Hunter Sharp early in the fourth quarter, a throw that reassured Aggie fans that Keeton certainly still has the talent. But that was the only bright spot.
Five different Utah State players ran the ball for a combined 100 yards in the game, which wasn't enough to put the Aggies in a good position for third downs.
In total, the Aggies tallied only 244 yards of offense.
The Aggies weren't amazing defensively, but certainly weren't terrible. They were great defending the run game, holding the Volunteers to only 2.8 yards per carry, although Tennessee did nab a pair of rushing touchdowns. In the passing game, the Aggies gave up 273 yards to Justin Worley, including three touchdowns.
Overall, Utah State was fairly strong defensively but was hurt by turnovers by the offense and special teams, which gave Tennessee great field position. As the game went on, Utah State's offense continued to have very short drives, which caused the defense to be on the field most of the game. Like any football team, the more you are on the field, the more tired you get, and such was the case with Utah State. It gave up 383 yards of total offense and let Tennessee score 38 points, but a lot of that was caused by the lack of production by the offense.
Utah State's special teams play wasn't great either.
Early in the game, Tennessee scored a touchdown, and on the ensuing kickoff, kick returner Kennedy Williams coughed up the ball, allowing the Volunteers to recover the fumble. On the very next play, Tennessee scored a touchdown.
Utah State only attempted one field goal in the game, a 47-yarder which Jake Thompson missed slightly left.
Tennessee attempted only two kickoff returns, but the return coverage for Utah State was all over both of them. The Volunteers only gained 18 and 16 yards on the two returns respectively.
You certainly couldn't blame this loss on the coaching, as Tennessee simply looked like the superior football team. There wasn't anything Matt Wells could do to change the talent level between the two teams, but there were a few things that he could've done differently.
With the terrible first half the Aggies had, and the fact that they couldn't find any groove offensively, it didn't make much sense that the Aggies went into the locker room at halftime, still possessing two timeouts. Timeouts are valuable to any sports team, and can be just the thing that could ignite a rally.
With nine minutes left in the game, and Tennessee up 38-7, the Volunteers put in their replacements. On the next Utah State drive, and for the rest of the game, the Aggies left Chuckie Keeton in the game. With the game out of reach, and Keeton with a history of injuries, it didn't seem smart to send him back out on the field with a physical SEC football team. An injury to their potential Heisman candidate would be the last thing that the Aggies would want.
MVP of the Game:
The best player on the field was definitely linebacker A.J. Johnson, who tallied 10 tackles, forced a fumble and snagged an interception.
Utah State luckily does not play in the SEC, and its toughest game remaining on its schedule is against BYU on Oct. 3. Despite this blowout loss, Utah State is a good football team with an elite quarterback. It has a very realistic chance of going undefeated in a weak Mountain West Conference, and will most likely go to a bowl game. It wasn't the Aggies' night, but they will have a great opportunity to polish their game Saturday against Idaho State. Utah State has a bright year ahead of it.
You can follow Mitch Kunzler on Twitter at @MitchKunzler.