It’s a testament to our team and who we are and our coaches about not quitting and pointing the finger, but just looking internally and figuring it out ourselves. —USU senior safety Dallin Leavitt
LOGAN — During last week’s game at UNLV, the Aggies headed into halftime somewhat miraculously tied with the Rebels at 28-28, despite falling behind 14-0 in the first quarter and surrendering 300 rushing yards in the first half.
Utah State, which was coming off back-to-back home losses, had also lost two of its best players (senior cornerback Jalen Davis and junior wide receiver Ron’Quavion Tarver) to injury early in the contest, which meant that the Aggie locker room at Sam Boyd Stadium took on the feel of a crossroads.
“It would have been easy to go in the tank there,” USU head coach Matt Wells admitted. “But we didn’t.”
While redshirt freshman quarterback Jordan Love picked up where he left off in the first half of his first career start, the Aggie defense stepped up in the second half. No longer facing dual-threat quarterback Armani Rogers, who was knocked out of the game with a concussion in the second quarter, USU surrendered just 75 yards rushing and zero points in the second half of its 52-28 victory over the Rebels.
“I think that gave us a little mojo, maybe a little bit of confidence that we can come back from behind, because we did it against BYU and we just did it against UNLV,” USU senior safety Dallin Leavitt said of the win that got the Aggies (4-4 overall, 2-2 in the Mountain West) back to .500.
“It’s a testament to our team and who we are and our coaches about not quitting and pointing the finger, but just looking internally and figuring it out ourselves.”
Keeping that momentum going this weekend won’t be easy inasmuch as Boise State (5-2, 3-0) is coming to town for a late-night affair at Maverik Stadium on Saturday. Although the Broncos aren’t quite themselves offensively so far this season, Bryan Harsin’s defense is arguably the best in the conference.
The Broncos are currently first in the Mountain West and 10th nationally in rushing defense (103.3 ypg), and second in the MW in scoring (21.6 ppg) and total defense (312.9 ypg).
“They just have good players (on the front seven),” Wells said of BSU’s run defense. “It’s good coaches, and it’s good players. They fit the run well. It doesn’t matter who they’ve played. They’ve struggled a little bit — they did give up some shots against Virginia — but they haven’t been gashed in the run game.
“It doesn’t matter who they’ve played, they’ve stopped the run.”
Junior defensive tackle David Moa is among the defensive standouts for the Broncos, who also boast a couple of Utahns on the front line in sophomore nose tackle Sonatane Lui (Alta High School) and junior defensive end Durrant Miles (Bingham High School). Led by junior Leighton Vander Esch (three sacks, 74 tackles), BSU’s linebackers corps is also deep and athletic.
On offense, Boise State has another prolific tailback in sophomore Alexander Mattison (109 carries for 503 yards and five touchdowns), while the quarterback situation is rather unique. While veteran junior Brett Rypien is back as the starter, in recent games when the Broncos have gotten around the red zone, Harsin has been plugging in senior Montell Cozart, an extremely athletic graduate transfer from Kansas.
Thus far, Rypien has completed 79 of 128 passes for 822 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions, while Cozart has completed 47 of 71 pass attempts for 559 yards, seven TDs and one interception. But unlike Rypien, Cozart is also a huge running threat and is currently second on the team in rushing behind Mattison with 260 yards and four TDs on 58 rushing attempts.
“They’re playing two QBs probably better than I’ve ever seen somebody play two QBs,” Wells said of the Broncos. “I don’t know how Bryan does it. He’s managed both of them very well.”
For once in its lopsided series with the Broncos, the Aggies head into Saturday’s game with some positive recent history on their side. Despite trailing the all-time series 5-16, Utah State shocked pretty much everyone by clobbering its longtime rival two years ago at Maverik Stadium. Thanks in a large part to eight BSU turnovers, the Aggies beat the 21st-ranked Broncos 52-26.
Boise State did rebound to win last year’s game at Boise, 21-10, although it was one of the USU defense’s better performances of the 2016 season.
“They will absolutely get our best shot — our coaches’ best shot, our players’ best shot, and hopefully they’ll get our fans’ best efforts, too, on Saturday night,” Wells said. “(The Broncos) are on a roll. They’ve won three in a row, and they're very confident.”
Wells would not comment on the status of Davis and Tarver for Saturday’s game, but he did suggest that he might, once again, bring senior quarterback (and former starter) Kent Myers in for a series in the first half. Love, who was named the Mountain West Offensive Player of the Week on Monday, completed 19 of 27 passes for 316 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions against the Rebels. The Bakersfield, California, native also carried the ball eight times for 42 yards and ran for a touchdown in the first start of his collegiate career.