Missed Chances Cost Utah State Potential Top-25 Victory

Sep 2, 2023, 4:54 PM

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IOWA CITY, Iowa –Despite a career day from QB Cooper Legas, missed opportunities tell the story of a 24-14 season-opening loss for Utah State.

USU dropped to 6-66 all-time against Associated Press Top 25 teams after falling to No. 25 Iowa Hawkeyes on Saturday, September 2.

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

Head coach Blake Anderson’s postgame press conference shows his team isn’t interested in moral victories.

“Keeping it close and beating the spread doesn’t fire me up a lot,” Anderson began. “You’re gonna struggle to beat a bad team today, much less a team of this caliber.”

Making his first season-opening start, Legas (32-0f-48, 213 yards) set career-highs in completions and attempts but Anderson felt some early jitters may have contributed to Iowa’s first-quarter scoring outburst.

“You can tell we were nervous early. I think the key is that the kids settled down and played the defense the way it was expected to be played. We had to reach a point where we were just playing football. When we got to that point, we played well.”

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

Despite the setback, Anderson learned some things about the 2023 Aggies.

“When we calm down and play football, we can do some pretty good things on both sides of the ball. We’re a few plays away from having a really good game.”

Aggies Leave Plays On The Field

‘Unacceptable’ personal foul penalties, missed turnovers opportunities and a lack of offensive execution were some of the factors Anderson attributed the loss to. He repeatedly talked about the need to learn from their mistakes and eliminate unforced errors to compete.

“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.”

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

Self-Inflicted Mistakes

Utah State finished with ten penalties totaling 91 yards in a two-possession game. The Aggies defense prolonged multiple Hawkeye drives with mental mistakes that cost their team in the long term.

“We’ve been coaching that nonstop and it’s still showing up in key situations. Can’t have that,” Anderson said.

Take Advantage of Turnover Chances

Despite getting their hands on a pair of Cade McNamara passes and two loose balls following a fumble, Utah State lost the turnover battle 1:0. It was a familiar tune for an Aggie team that finished 2022 minus-nine in the turnover department.

“We had two missed opportunities for fumbles and missed opportunities for interceptions,” Anderson lamented. “If you can create turnovers in this game, it swings everything differently.”

Hawkeyes Offense Surprises Utah State

“I was expecting a lot more run,” linebacker MJ Tafisi Jr. said of the Hawkeye offense. “I was caught off guard because I was expecting that as obviously, bigger team, bigger guys.”

Utah State limited the Hawkeyes to 88 yards rushing on 36 attempts (2.44 yards per attempt). USU’s downfall on Saturday was 64 yards through the air and a pair of Hawkeye touchdowns before half of the first quarter had elapsed.

Tafisi said of the early defensive breakdowns, “Miscommunication you know? We have new guys on the team and a new coaching staff. We just had a first-game mistake.”

Iowa gained just 145 yards the rest of the way after steam-rolling the Aggies for 139 yards in the first quarter alone. Utah State’s defense kept the game in doubt until the Hawkeyes staged a 10-play, 68-yard touchdown drive to put the game away with 10:17 left.

Tafisi finished with a team-high 12 tackles including three tackles for a loss.

Aggie Depth Report

  • DT Hale Motu’apuaka and TE Broc Lane did not play against Iowa.
  • Sophomore linebacker Max Alford did not return after being injured on the first play from scrimmage. Anderson said Alford suffered a ‘knee injury’. Alford will undergo additional testing this week.
  • Sophomore Gavin Barthiel and redshirt freshman Bronson Olevao Jr. played the majority of the game in Alford’s stead.

RELATED: 2023 Utah State Aggies Football Schedule

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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Missed Chances Cost Utah State Potential Top-25 Victory