LOGAN – On a frigid night in Maverik Stadium, it was Utah State’s defense that stepped up to lead the Aggies to a 36-10 victory over Nevada on Saturday night. Sophomore CB Andre Grayson spearheaded USU’s defensive domination with a sack, two tackles-for-loss, two forced fumbles, and three pass breakups.
“I thought our defense played comfortable,” Grayson said. “Comfortable is probably the best word to describe it. When I look at it, everyone trusted each other. The coaches trusted us. We trusted them, and we executed when we needed to and we had fun with it.”
While USU’s defense prevailed, the Aggie offense struggled for much of the contest, garnering only 56 yards of offense and three first downs in the first quarter.
“You’ve got to give credit to Nevada,” senior RB Gerold Bright said. “Those guys came ready to play. Those guys were physical. They put about six or seven in the box and they were like ‘hey, we dare you to run it.’ You’ve got to commend those guys for coming ready to play and catching us on our toes. We have to get back to the fundamentals and get better.”
With the offense sputtering, USU’s defense and special teams picked up the scoring slack. Junior WR Savon Scarver kicked off the scoring for the Aggies, notching the fifth kickoff return touchdown in his career and claiming the top spot in USU’s record book in the process.
“He has 10 other guys that believe in him and know if they get their block that there’s a really good chance that good things are going to happen,” head coach Gary Anderson said. “He has such a natural skillset to see the field setting up in front of him. He has tremendous speed and unbelievable athletic ability. He’s special at kickoff returns and any time he can catch it, you’d better watch out.”
The defense reached the scoreboard next, as junior LB Justus Te’i led a group of Aggies in pursuit of Nevada’s Toa Taua that ended in a safety to put USU up 9-6 at the end of the first quarter.
Utah State’s prowess on defense and special teams continued through the first half, as the Aggies held Nevada to a mere 10 yards in the second quarter. A 20-yard punt return by junior WR Jordan Nathan set up a 29-yard field goal from senior K Dominik Eberle to put USU up 12-3 with over 10 minutes remaining until halftime.
Junior safety Shaq Bond further squelched any offensive rhythm for Nevada with an interception and 39-yard return to set up USU’s first offensive touchdown of the game. Off the short field, Love found senior TE Caleb Repp over the middle for a 13-yard TD to put Utah State up 19-3. Several possessions later, Eberle tacked on a 32-yard field goal to close out the first half scoring and send USU into the locker rooms up 22-3.
“It was a great defensive effort by the kids,” coach Anderson said. “I thought this defensive staff did a nice job of implementing some new things that we have not shown people to this point this year. But then at the end of the day, it’s about the execution of the young men that are out there.”
Following halftime, the Aggies seemed complacent with running out the clock while the Aggie defense terminated any possible hope of a comeback for the Wolf Pack. Utah State’s offense hardly threatened the scoreboard until Bright broke a 67-yard run for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter to put USU up 29-3.
“I’ve been watching Barry Sanders clips for like two weeks, so when I broke that run I thought ‘what would Barry do? Barry not gonna get caught. Barry gonna score.’ So I was kinda happy,” Bright said. “It was a relief and I was happy that my wideouts and O-line did what they were supposed to do so I could have an open lane to the end zone.”
On the ensuing possession, Meanwhile, junior LB Kevin Meitzenheimer intercepted a pass from Nevada’s Malik Henry to set up a 9-yard TD run by Bright to put the Aggies up 36-3. A 20-yard TD run by Taua close the deficit to 36-10 before USU ran out the clock to end the game.
“Of course, we never shoot to give up a touchdown,” Grayson said, “but I wouldn’t say it was disappointing. That drive, for sure, we can key in on some things we can fix from that. But everything’s a learning process, a learning experience at the end of the day.”
All told, Utah State’s defense forced Nevada into 10 three-and-outs on the game. The Aggies also forced two turnovers, a turnover-on-downs, and registered a safety.
“I would say that the defense overall played really good defense and that was fun to see,” coach Anderson said. “They played with good energy and mojo and had a little swag to them and excitement.”
Junior LB David Woodward continued an excellent string of performances with 11 tackles and two PBUs on the night. Senior DE Tipa Galeai added six tackles and one sack.
The defense’s performance came perfectly timed on a night when USU’s offense struggled to find consistency. Love finished the game with 169 yards on 13-31 passing with one touchdown and one interception. Senior WR Siaosi Mariner led USU with 53 yards on two receptions, while sophomore WR Deven Thompkins had 46 yards on four catches. Bright led all rushers with 126 yards on 15 rushes, with junior RB Jaylen Warren amassing 73 yards on 12 carries.
“We played well enough to win but if we were playing for a Mountain West championship today, I don’t think that would have cut it,” Bright said. “We haven’t played our best game on any side of the ball: offensively, defensively, or on special teams. So, we’ve gotta have a game where we all come together and mesh together and have three different phases play their best game.”
The game kicked off a string of seven games in seven consecutive weeks. With the win, USU moved to 4-2 on the year and 3-0 in Mountain West play. Up next, the Aggies will travel to Colorado Springs to take on Air Force in a pivotal division matchup.
“This is a very, very talented Air Force football team,” coach Anderson said. “This is a big-boy matchup at their place… We’ll go into there expecting to win and I’m sure Air Force will expect to win also. It’s a big-time game.”
Kickoff versus the Falcons is currently set for Saturday at 8:15 pm MST and will be shown on ESPN 2.