Utah State cruised to a resounding victory over Tennessee Tech last weekend, winning handily 73-12. Below are the major takeaways from that beatdown as well items to note about the upcoming date with Air Force and the Mountain West Conference.
Three things from the past: USU vs. Tennessee Tech
1. Just keep running
As Daniel Hansen of the Utah Statesman put it, “Summer may almost be over, but Utah State’s offense still had some fireworks to set off.”
The ground game was grooving last Thursday night as the Aggies rushed for seven touchdowns. Morian Walker Jr. only had five carries, but two were touchdowns. Darwin Thompson broke free for a 65-yard scamper and Gerold Bright led the team in carries with 13 touches from the backfield. All told, the run game raced to 320 yards on 42 carries, which is an average of 7.6 yards a carry. News flash: that's not bad.
2. Defense does it
Through the first three weeks of the season, Utah State ranks among the best in the nation when it comes to defense. To be more specific, it is in the top 40 nationally in 18 different statistical categories.
Some of the numbers are impressive — 9.0 tackles for loss per game, 3.0 sacks per game, 177.8 passing yards allowed a game, 142 rushing yards allowed a game. Oh, and nine turnovers with two returned for TDs. News flash: that's not bad, either.
3. As Oprah would say: you get a touchdown! And you get a touchdown …
The Aggies scored 10 touchdowns on Thursday night. Morian Walker got two, but the rest were by different players. All told, nine Aggies entered the end zone of green to display Utah State's depth and multi-dimensional offense. In fact, after fumbling away their first possession and then settling for a field goal on the next trip, the Aggies went on to score on seven of the next eight possessions. The one? Loss of downs after going for it on fourth and 1 from the 1-yard-line.
“We’ve been saying all year that we've got a lot of weapons on this offense," Jordan Love said after the game. "No matter who touches the ball, they've got that big play-maker potential.”
One more side-note stat: It was the first time in program history for Utah State to hit 60 plus in back-to-back games. Spoiler: Don't look for a three-peat this Saturday.
Three things for the future: USU vs. Air Force
1. Coaches at home
Something about the Mountain West calls friends back home. Five coaches are at their alma maters, including the two who square off on Saturday in Logan. Matt Wells has compiled a 34-33 record in his six years in Logan while Troy Calhoun is in his 12th for the Air Force (83-61). The other three coaches back at their old college fields are Fresno State's Jeff Tedford (second year coaching, 11-4 record), Bryan Hasin at Boise State (fifth season, 43-12), and Nick Rolovic at Hawaii (third season, 12-16).
2. Defensive coordinator?
Speaking of coaches, Calhoun hasn’t officially named a defensive coordinator for his squad this year. In late January, the Carolina Panthers yanked away the previous coordinator Steve Russ, who became the linebackers coach for the Panthers. It’s a minor technicality and it’s not like Calhoun needs to name a D-leader, but it’s interesting nonetheless. As of now, the coaching staff roster only lists the position coaches and then Alex Means, a defensive assistant.
The coordinator-less defense isn't as stout as in years past, despite six starters returning. Last year, the Falcons had the worst rushing defense in the nation, allowing opponents an average of 6.0 yards a carry. The Falcons are hoping to reverse the trend in 2018. In Week 1, Air Force faced FCS Stony Brook and only gave up 30 yards on 30 carries. The following week against Florida Atlantic University, the Falcons gave up 54 yards on 29 carries. However, they haven't faced a backfield like Utah State yet, so that will be something worth monitering Saturday night (8:15 tipoff, game broadcast on ESPN).
3. What do we know about Air Force?
It's hard to gauge this Air Force team. In Week 1, Air Force shut out Stony Brook 38-0. The next week, Air Force lost to FAU 33-27. In reality, the loss is probably a better indicator of what type of team the Falcons are. Based on that blemish, quarterback Isaiah Sanders isn’t much of a passing threat for Air Force (8/13, 164 yards, one touchdown, one interception). Usually, the lack of passing is expected for an Air Force team as the run game is what makes the mark. However, Air Force only stomped for 209 yards on the 56 carries in that loss. The option awaits Utah State, but no elite athletes will threaten the Aggie defense. Playmakers and chunk plays aren’t in Air Force’s repertoire this season.
Three things about the Mountain West Conference
1. Pac-12 takeover
Four Mountain West teams went into Pac-12 territory and three Mountain West teams came back with victories over the "greater" conference. Nevada beat Oregon State 37-35; San Diego State beat No. 23 Arizona State 28-21, and Fresno State beat Chip Kelley’s UCLA squad easily, 38-14. It would have been a perfect sweep, but No. 20 Oregon beat San Jose State 35-22. Win of the week has to go to San Diego State for ruining Herm Edward's hot start with the Sun Devils. That win also begs the question of who will take home the crown in the West Division as Hawaii has looked good, Fresno State is always a contender, and San Diego has a big win under its belt.
2. Boise State had its chance to shine11 comments on this story
On the big stage, previous No. 17 Boise State took on No. 24 Oklahoma State and didn’t take the win, which could have paved BSU's way for a Group of Six invite. The Broncos took the first lead, 7-0, but never were close again as they lost 44-21. Special teams set a foreboding tone early on as Boise missed its first field goal attempt, from 27 yards out, and then Oklahoma State blocked two punts to gain great field position. One gave it the ball at the 7-yard line, which resulted in a TD three plays later, and the other blocked punt was immediately picked up for an easy waltz for six.
3. MWC weekend
Only six MWC games are on the agenda for Week 4, with USU and Air Force the only conference game. Objectively, the USU game might be the conference's best matchup as the rest of the slate offers little intrigue (UNLV versus Arkansas State will be worth monitoring as both teams sit at 2-1 while Eastern Michigan versus SDSU is in the same boat). One last tidbit: there are no undefeated teams left in the conference after Boise and Hawaii lost last Saturday.