Three Thoughts Following Utah State’s Season-Opening Loss

Sep 4, 2023, 5:38 PM | Updated: Sep 5, 2023, 6:41 pm

LOGAN, Utah – Growing pains were obvious as Utah State began the 2023 season with a ten-point loss at No. 25 Iowa.

Untimely penalties and inexperience proved too much for USU to overcome in a 24-14 loss.

RELATED: Missed Chances Cost Utah State Potential Top-25 Victory

Head coach Blake Anderson’s Aggies had their chances on Saturday as they looked to answer some of the questions that have plagued them since the 2022 season ended.

“When we calmed down and did what we were supposed to do,” Anderson said postgame. “We looked effective, efficient, and talented. It just comes down to self-inflicted mistakes. Too many unforced errors.”

Too often Utah State found themselves squandering a third-down opportunity to get off the field due to lack of execution or penalties. Turnover chances presented themselves but a USU team still trying to learn each other’s tendencies couldn’t convert the mistakes into momentum-swinging changes of possession.

Let’s take a deeper look at one area where Utah State’s performance before their home-opener against Idaho State this week.

RELATED: Utah State Comes Up Short At Iowa In Season Opener

Is Terrell Vaughn An Example For JC Transfers?

Vaughn was everywhere on Saturday morning. Targeted 18 times by quarterback Cooper Legas, Vaughn finished with 12 grabs for 93 yards and a touchdown.

After making just two catches in the Aggies first two games last season, the junior college transfer from Ventura Junior College exploded in a loss to the Weber State Wildcats. Vaughn returned a 100-yard kick return for a touchdown and reeled in four catches for 36 yards. Vaughn wouldn’t catch fewer than four balls in a game once the rest of the year.

Anderson hopes that Vaughn’s trajectory can be a roadmap for a USU team looking for production out of several junior college transfers.

“Terrell was a good player early in the year. He was starting to look like a great player late. If we can speed that curve up for some of these guys, that’ll be helpful. It’s a process and we’ll get out of them what we can early.”

Three-Headed Backfield

Despite Utah State’s overall offensive struggles, Aggie fans have reason to believe in a backfield of Robert Briggs, Davon Booth, and Rahsul Faison. Briggs got the start but game flow and field positioning allowed Booth and Faison to get the bulk of the touches.

RELATED: Running Back Depth Could Benefit Utah State

“Our position in the game dictated who got what,” Anderson noted. “All three are going to help us. I like to think we can continue to build on what we did today.”

Finishing with 116 yards combined, Faison led the trio with 59 yards on seven carries. Most of Faison’s work came on the Aggies final two drives. Booth saw extensive time in the backfield, finishing with 33 yards on eight carries.

Despite only carrying twice for seven yards, starter Robert Briggs was looked to in the passing game. USU running backs combined for eight catches for 34 yards with Briggs making three grabs.

“To show some positive results against (Iowa),” Anderson said, “Encourages you that when you play people that look a little bit like us, we can be explosive, efficient, and effective. I think all three of those running backs can do that and bring tremendous value to what we’re trying to do.”

Self-Inflicted Mistakes

Inexperience reared its ugly head repeatedly on Saturday, which wasn’t a surprise for Anderson and his staff.

“Some of the jitters were expected,” Anderson said postgame. “We met with the team before the game and asked how many guys are playing their first division one football game? Then how many guys are playing their first division one game for us? Literally, three-quarters of the room raised their hands.”

RELATED: Anderson Doesn’t Sound Optimistic About Max Alford Injury

Twice Utah State couldn’t capitalize on loose balls on the turf.

Down 14 in the first quarter, linebacker MJ Tafisi Jr. forced a Kaleb Johnson fumble but Johnson was able to recover before USU could find the ball. The Aggies second turnover chance came on the final play of the third quarter.

A Stephen Kotsanlee punt appeared to glance off of an Iowa player leaving USU long-snapper Jacob Garcia with a chance to recover. Rather than the play turning into a momentum swing advantage for USU, the Hawkeyes recovered. They would turn the possession into their third touchdown drive of the day.

These are mistakes that can be cleaned up through experience and repetition. What Anderson termed ‘unacceptable’ were the five personal foul penalties that allowed Iowa to extend drives.

In the second quarter, two personal fouls on one drive allowed the Hawkeyes to extend their advantage. on 1st-&-15 early in the drive, defensive tackle Poukesi Vakauta was flagged for a careless 15-yard penalty after leaping onto a pile late. Later in the drive on 4th-&-5 at the USU 17-yard line, Ike Larsen was called for ‘leverage’ as he leaped over the line to try and block a Hawkeye field goal attempt. Iowa turned the gift first down into a short, 20-yard field goal to extend their advantage to 17-3.

“Whether it’s experience, a lack of discipline, or a lack of attention… We have to play better,” Anderson stressed. “I’m talking about key mistakes, critical situations that extend drives or missed opportunities for turnovers. Those are things we have to capitalize on and avoid.”

Following The Aggies With KSL Sports Zone

Utah State returns to Logan where they will open the home portion of the 2023 season with a matchup against the Idaho State Bengals on Saturday, September 9. Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. (MT). USU is 18-2 all-time against the Bengals.

Utah State football games are found on KSL Sports Zone with Scott Garrard and former Aggie quarterback Kevin White (1988-89) on the call.

KSL Sports coverage of Utah State University Athletics can be found here. 

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Three Thoughts Following Utah State’s Season-Opening Loss