<strong>LOGAN—</strong> Much fuss has been made about Josh Thompson’s missed field goal attempt Saturday that would have given the USU football team a road win over mighty Wisconsin.
While a lot of that talk is certainly deserved – a kicker that receives a scholarship at an FBS level should be able to make a 37 yard field goal – that is not the only play that had a role in the Aggies falling to the Badgers, 16-14.
“There’s no way, shape or form one play wins or loses a game like that. If the kick goes in, yeah it’s a game-winning kick, but it didn’t win the game alone. I feel the same way about it not going in,” USU head coach Gary Andersen said. “There are a lot of young men that you look at who could have made a game-winning play.”
For an offense that generated only 234 yards of total offense – including a dismal 78 yards through the air – an 11-point halftime deficit may have been too big to overcome without some help. The Aggies provided Wisconsin with the first shot of adrenaline when punter Tyler Bennett connected on a line drive midway through the third quarter.
That punt didn’t allow the coverage team to properly get down the field and cover the kick. The result was an 82-yard punt return from Kenzel Doe and a shot of life for the Badgers.
“The punt return, I can tell you that three of our best defenders were in range and we just didn’t make a play,” Andersen said. “That’s disheartening. It’s a tough one to swallow for those kids and for us. That kid is a good punt returner, but it’s a play that could have been made.”
Things didn’t get any better following the Aggies ensuing possession. From deep in its own territory, USU punted again. This time, Bennett’s punt was shanked and carried a total of 19 yards, setting up Wisconsin in prime scoring position. The Badgers took advantage of that opportunity as well, scoring the go-ahead touchdown.
There is a good chance without both or even one of those special teams miscues, that USU would have walked off the field 3-0 for the first time since 1978 and not even needed a kick from Thompson.
Another aspect of Saturday’s game that is being overlooked is the ineptitude of the offense for much of the night. Other than the Aggies first touchdown, they did not have a long drive for the remainder of the game as Matt Austin’s touchdown reception right before halftime came on a short field, courtesy of a Wisconsin fumble.
USU failed to reach the 200-yard mark in the passing game, and were it not for Chuckie Keeton’s scrambling ability, the Aggies rushing yardage would have been dismal as well. Keeton finished with 75 yards rushing, despite being under constant pressure. Kerwynn Williams, the Aggies’ starting tailback, finished with only 43 yards rushing.
“Chuckie was running for his life, that’s what he was doing. Chuckie is a competitor, he’s tough minded, he’ll continue to play,” Andersen said. “Unless we put him in a steel superhero suit, he’s not going to last the season if we can’t start blocking somebody up front.”
A big part of USU’s offensive struggles, was the inability to convert on third down for the second consecutive game. After picking up only 2-of-13 third down attempts against the Utes, the Aggies were 6-of-19 against the Badgers.
“We’ve been absolutely putrid on third downs for really the last two games,” Andersen said. “We have got to be able to manage the chains and put ourselves in a position to stay out of third and long.”
While there is no doubt that Thompson’s missed field goal was heartbreaking, like Andersen said, there were many game-winning plays to be made in that game. Ultimately, the Aggies came up just short. Now they need to refocus and prepare for their second road game of the season at Colorado State.
“I’m the worst when it comes to thinking about the ‘difficult losses.’ It’s hard for me to get over it. It rips my heart apart to see things like that happen to these kids. For us to be able to get over that, it’s got to be put away. It will be gone but not forgotten,” Andersen said. “We’ll put it in the back of our minds and move on. Is this an important game? It’s a huge game for us. It’s a team that beat us last year. It’s a future conference opponent. It’s on the road and we haven’t won on the road yet this year. Roll those things all up, and this is a big football game.”