With a trio of Jazz players watching from the north end of his own sideline, Utah State’s Jordan Love had many taking note of the idea that the Aggies may have the best starting QB in the state among FBS schools.
Donovan Mitchell, Royce O’Neale, and Georges Niang donned customized USU jerseys and served as honorary captains on Saturday night as they witnessed a 26/38 for 356 yards and 2 passing touchdowns performance by Love, and the Aggies withstood a never-say-die Air Force team to snap a 3-game losing streak to the Falcons.
The win should have been all but a foregone conclusion in the 3rd quarter after the Aggies took a 35-14 lead with a 11 play, 77 yard drive that resulted in a Darwin Thompson rushing TD (his 6th of the season and 2nd on the day), followed immediately by an Air Force fumble on their own 30 yard line that Love turned into six points on a 30-yard toss to Dax Raymond.
But the next time a service academy team quits a game early will be the first time, and Air Force football certainly embodies that philosophy. Troy Calhoun’s squad hung around and pounded the run game hard (323 rushing yards), bringing the USU lead down to 35-25 with a TD and 2-point conversion with 13 minutes to play in the game.
Then on the ensuing kickoff, things got worse for the Aggie faithful as Savon Scarver fumbled and AFA’s Christopher Musselman rumbled and muscled his way 21-yards into the endzone to cut the gap to just three points, 35-32 USU.
What followed was a three-and-out for Utah State, then a 10-play Air Force drive ended in a punt that gave the Aggies the ball at their own 2o-yard line after the touchback.
As daunting as things had become at Merlin Olsen Field, Gerold Bright was just what the doctor ordered as he took an opening on the right side of the line and sprinted 70-yards down the east sideline, past The Hurd and into the north endzone for a 42-32 USU lead with under seven minutes to go in the game.
Matt Wells’ defense then bent, but ultimately did not break, as they withstood a 12 play drive from AFA that ended on the 13th play as the Aggies stood up a 4th and 1 Air Force rushing attempt for no gain, taking over on downs at their own 16 yard line.
Unable to get a 1st down, however, USU was coaxed into another punt. Hintze continued his stellar night of swinging the leg, though, and pinned the Falcons back on their own 12 yard line with 1:55 left to play.
Forced into a situation where they would need to rely on the passing game, AFA was unable to hold the Utah State defensive front at bay as Tipa Galeai and Adewale Adeoye sacked Falcons QB Isaiah Sanders on 3rd down which led to an incomplete pass on 4th and a home victory for the Aggies, who improved to 3-1 on the season and a 1-0 start to conference play.
While it wasn’t the dominant win Utah State appeared headed for in the 3rd quarter, the Aggies proved that they have learned from last year’s inability to hold together in close games and, thanks in large part to the talents of a now experienced and capable QB in Love, will be a force to reckon with in the Mountain West the rest of the way.
NEXT UP: Utah State BYE, at BYU October 5th