Utah State Comes Up Short At Iowa In Season Opener

Sep 2, 2023, 1:39 PM

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IOWA CITY, Iowa – Despite keeping it close into the fourth quarter, Utah State couldn’t find a way to overcome a swarming Hawkeye defense in a 24-14 season opening loss.

The Aggies opened their season in hostile territory as nearly 70,000 Hawkeye fans helped spur the No. 25 Hawkeyes to a win.

Iowa scored two quick touchdowns to take a 14-0 first-quarter lead before Utah State picked up a first down. The Aggie defense found their footing enough to slow the Hawkeyes down but USU’s offense never seemed to get going against a talented defense.

After trailing 17-3 at the break, the Aggies defense shutout the Hawkeyes in the third quarter with Elliot Nimrod adding a field goal to bring USU within 11.

In the fourth, a ten play, 68-yard Iowa touchdown drive put the game out of reach. USU was able to score their first touchdown of the season late in the period when Cooper Legas hit Terrell Vaughn for a 16 yard touchdown to cap a 70 yard drive. It was the longest drive of the day for Utah State.

RELATED: Limiting Turnovers Will Be Key For Aggie Signal-Callers

First Quarter

Things didn’t start well for Utah State as the Hawkeyes returned the opening kick to the Aggie 39-yard line. After linebacker Max Alford left the game following the first play from scrimmage, Iowa’s Cade McNamara hit wideout Seth Anderson for a 36-yard touchdown.

The USU offense opened up their first possession in the spread with four wide receivers but a third down penalty led to a three-and-out and punt.

USU’s defense forced Iowa into a 3rd-&-15 but couldn’t get a stop as a Hawkeyes screen play gained the first down. Iowa drove through the Aggie defense into the red zone before McNamara hit Erick All for a three-yard touchdown.

Iowa held a 14-0 lead with 7:44 left in the first quarter.

Following another three-and-out, Utah State got their first defensive stop of the afternoon. After an Iowa timeout, Anthony Switzer stopped LeShon Williams for no-gain on fourth down.

USU avoided disaster when a pass tipped by Davon Booth slipped through the hands of All-American corner Cooper DeJean. A second interception was negated on the following play when Iowa was caught offside in the final play of the quarter.

The Hawkeyes gained 139 yards compared to just 30 for the Aggies in the quarter.

Second Quarter

Micah Davis made a spectacular catch on the sideline in the Aggies first foray into Iowa territory. Cooper Legas then extended the drive with a short run around the right side as USU mounted a drive for the first time. William Testa’s first field goal got his team on the board, trailing 14-3 with 11:03 left in the half.

Sophomore safety Ike Larsen showed up, deflecting a punt after the Aggie defense forced Iowa into a three-and-out.

On the following drive, Jalen Royals gave his team a first down near midfield by breaking a tackle down the left sideline. Unfortunately for USU, a Royals dropped pass forced Stephen Kotsanlee’s third punt of the day.

Sophomore linebacker Gavin Barthiel forced another Iowa punt when he penetrated the backfield, bringing McNamara down for the first sack of the year. USU took over at their own 23-yard line after a punt.

The first turnover came when Legas underthrew Royals, resulting in an Xavier Nwankpa interception that gave the Hawkeyes the ball at the 50.

Iowa’s drive stalled, forcing a field goal but a ‘leverage’ penalty against Larsen gave Kirk Ferentz’s team another chance before halftime.  USU’s defense came up with a big red zone stop, forcing a field goal as Iowa took a 17-3 lead into the halftime break.

USU was outgained 176 yards to 96 yards in the first half. Legas completed 12-0f-20 passes for 67 yards while Booth led the backfield with 16 yards on five carries. Davis, Royals, and Terrell Vaughn each had three catches in the first half.

RELATED: Utah State Linebackers Ready To Work In 2023

MJ Tafisi Jr. and Switzer led the Aggies with seven first half stops.

Third Quarter

Utah State came out of the halftime locker room looking to get touches for sophomore running back Robert Briggs and senior wideout Terrell Vaughn. After Briggs caught one pass in the opening half, he carried the ball twice to open the half. Legas followed with a long third down completion to Vaughn.

The 39-yard pass play was the longest of the game for USU to that point. Elliot Nimrod finished the drive with a 45-yard field goal that just crawled over the crossbar.

Larsen’s big play ability showed up again when the safety nearly picked off a third down pass, instead forcing Iowa’s second punt.

Showing his athleticism, Legas helped the Aggies into Iowa territory with his legs and his arm on the next drive. Despite five completions to Vaughn on the drive, USU was forced to punt with 6:01 left in the quarter.

McNamara hit Nico Ragaini for a 29-yard gain on third down that kept a drive alive. It was the Hawkeyes second third down conversion in their last eight tries. Later in the drive, an Iowa false start led to another punt as USU took over at their own ten yard line.

Legas and Booth combined to get the Aggies out of the shadow of their own goalposts before they were forced to punt on the final play of the period.

USU outgained Iowa 105 yards to 44 yards in the quarter.

Fourth Quarter

The Hawkeyes got the first big play of the final quarter when Luke Lachey beat Larsen for a 31-yard gain on his sixth catch. Kaleb Johnson finished the drive with Iowa’s third touchdown of the day to take a 24-6 lead with 10:17 left.

With the outcome no longer in doubt, Utah State’s offense began to gain some traction with Rahsul Faison taking over in the backfield. Faison gained 39 yards on the drive, also earning a personal foul penalty from the Hawkeyes as the Aggies drove into the red zone. Legas finished the possession by hitting a wide open Vaughn for Utah State’s first touchdown of the season. Faison corralled the two-point conversion pass to make it 24-14.

Iowa recovered the ensuing onside kickoff to seal the win.

RELATED: 2023 Utah State Aggies Football Schedule

Following Utah State 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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Utah State Comes Up Short At Iowa In Season Opener