It was everything you could imagine from a championship game: anxiety attacks, struggles, injuries, surprises, letdowns. Especially letdowns. The Utah State Aggies gave Fresno State as much as they could handle, surging late in the game after going down early, and then coming up just short in the final minute of the game. A seven point loss, a heavily concussed second-string freshman quarterback, and heavy hearts were the Aggies' rewards for a bitterly fought battle.
Despite this bleak and utterly disappointed view of the events of yesterday, however, there is certainly a flip side to the coin. The Aggies, who lost more starters to injuries than several other teams combined, started the season with a 3-4 record; fans and experts alike were down on the Aggies chances to have a successful season, several going as far as predicting that the Aggies would not even make it to a bowl game. And yet here they are. The team no one game a chance with Keeton gone- many even dismissed the Aggies as serious conference contenders before the injuries took their toll- took the best team in the conference down to the wire, kept both fan bases on the edge of their seats, and probably caused several heart attacks before the outcome was decided.
The depleted Aggie offense came a single score away from taking the Bulldogs to overtime, and had been moving the ball well towards the end of the game before an interception with one minute left sealed the deal. There was plenty to laud, and plenty to lament, in the Aggies efforts last night. Here's the best and the worst of our boys in blue:
Best: the defense. Despite giving up 460 yards, the Aggies held Fresno St to a season-low 24 points, 11 points below their next lowest offensive output. They sacked star QB Derek Carr multiple times, harried him up and down the field, and held the extremely talented Davante Adams to a single TD reception. They stopped the Dogs on three separate 4th down attempts, including Fresno's final drive, giving the Aggie offense a chance to tie the game. They frequently started with a short field to defend, and time and again turned back the apparently unstoppable Fresno offense. They proved without a doubt that they are among the best defenses in the country, garnering the respect of Carr in the process: "That's the toughest defense I've ever faced," Carr said (AP interview, espn.com).
Worst: the offensive line. A homeschooled, pimple-faced freshman would have a better chance of holding a senior cheerleader's hand than these five men did of holding back the Fresno State pass rush. Darrell Garretson was sacked an embarrassing nine times, including a bone-cracking hit to the head that took him out of the game with a severe concussion. The Aggies only rushed for 51 yards, a season low, and failed multiple times to get key 3rd/4th and short conversions. With such a seasoned, veteran line, the performance was simply unacceptable.
Kudos to a talented, aggressive Fresno State team, who proved that they deserved the title of champion.
Next for Utah State: Poinsettia Bowl, Thursday, December 26th, vs. #14 Northern Illinois Huskies
Next for #25 Fresno State: Las Vegas Bowl, Saturday, December 21st, vs. #20 USC Trojans