Blame the secondary for the blown coverage. First of all, they're used to it. Second, they're too excited to care. After struggling during the better part of the season, the Aggie defensive backs finally got their act together the past few games. Tonight they proved it as they teamed up with the best front seven in the conference to throttle Wyoming 35-7, earning the right to play in the inaugural MWC Championship game. Like I said, feel free to blame the secondary... except for when they gave up the 60 yard TD throw that kept USU from recording its second straight shutout for the first time in school history, they shut down Wyoming's offense for nearly the entire game.
Previous to Brett Smith's only TD connection of the day, the Aggie defense had stifled the Wyoming offense completely. Smith and co. probably were wondering why the Aggies weren't getting flagged for having an extra man on the field, because it seemed like they were everywhere on every play. Smith had only recorded 82 yards through the air on a dozen completions with no touchdown throws, had been intercepted once, and had been sacked repeatedly. He ended the night with 162 passing yards on 16/29 attempts, one interception one touchdown, and a net of -6 yards on the ground on 10 rushing attempts (including the sacks).
Wyoming running back Shaun Wick also had a rough night, as his 40 rushing yards on 12 carries lifted the Cowboys' rushing stats to a total of 28 yards on the ground on 29 attempts. He voiced his disappointment with the team's effort after the game, "We played against some tough opponents, but I feel like we kind of lost our identity. We lost who we thought we were, you know? We just have to come back and self-evaluate ourselves and find out who we really are, and see what we can do well. We came out here passing-wise, and it was difficult. And running was difficult. But we just had to find something. We can't just stay with one thing and keep going with it and keep getting stopped. We have to explore things" (@mikevorel, Twitter post).
One of the things that Wyoming will have to explore is whether to keep Head Coach Dave Christensen around for another season. Christensen just completed his fifth season with the Cowboys. His overall record is 27-35, with only two seasons over the .500 mark, and one bowl victory (during his first year as coach). Defense has been a consistent struggle during his tenure, despite (or perhaps because of) multiple changes to Wyoming's defensive scheme. Injuries have certainly played a factor, which should not be overlooked. Having three coordinators in a five year span, however, with two leaving by way of a Donald Trump-style dismissal, is indicative of larger problems.
On the other side of the field, the Aggies are feeling a lot of confidence as they close out the regular season. With the performance this afternoon, the Aggie defense cemented its place as one of the best in the country. This team has accomplished so much already, it seems like a given that they perform at a high level, and we should just expect it. But the accolades are still coming, and should be duly noted: they rank 7th in the country in scoring defense, red zone defense and 3rd down conversion defense, 11th in rushing defense, 12th in tackles for loss, 14th in passing efficiency defense, 22nd in first down defense, and 23rd in passing yards allowed. It's harder to find a defensive statistic where they're not nationally ranked than to find them ranked.
Where the Aggies have often struggled in the past is on special teams. Thanks to special teams coach Dave Ungerer, that is no longer a problem. This season, they're ranked 1st in the country in punt return defense, being the only team in the country to force net negative yards on punt returns, 5th in blocked punts, and 8th in kickoff return defense. To highlight the improvement in the area for the Aggies, WR Bruce "JoJo" Natson returned a punt 64 yards for a touchdown with seven minutes left in the first half. The overall performance of the Aggies suggests good things for the future of USU football, even after the departure of heralded coach Gary Andersen.
The Aggies were dominant throughout the game as the the defense and special teams consistently provided excellent field position for the offense. Although they only recorded 310 yards of total offense, it was due more to frequently starting with a short field than a lack of offense. Quarterback Darrell Garretson led the offense with consistency and maturity, completing 20 of 29 attempts for 156 yards and 3 touchdowns. Nine different receivers made catches during the game, showcasing the Aggies depth at the position. Joey DeMartino ran for another 112 yards on 20 carries to pace the game. His consistence and speed kept the Wyoming defense honest, allowing the air attack to flourish.
With the loss, Wyoming's season is finished. They needed a win to secure bowl eligibility. USU now prepares to face Fresno State for the MWC Championship game.