Logan • Utah State fans had sought some hope Saturday night. They came away with nostalgia, and not the kind they wanted.
Boise State put a 34-23 whipping on Utah State, the Aggies' second double-digit loss in as many weeks.
Any hopes that Utah State would pull off a shocker in the Mountain West standings were extinguished as a once-vaunted defense crumbled before the Broncos' passing attack. Craig Harrison played quarterback, Darell Garretson played quarterback, but neither truly made a difference for an offense that couldn't move the ball much.
Two fourth-quarter scores saved some face for Utah State, which narrowly avoided its worst loss in a few years. Senior cornerback Nevin Lawson, who had one of the scores a 65-yard pick-six was succinct about his feelings after the game.
"I would rather have zero tackles and zero picks with a win," he said.
Boise State quarterback Joe Southwick was picked twice, but was otherwise mostly unencumbered by Utah State's secondary. Throwing for a career-high 335 yards, the senior found open receivers with ease. Pint-sized receiver Shane Williams-Rhodes was especially elusive, finishing with a whopping 150 yards on 13 catches.
The Aggies managed a stop on Boise State's first possession, but the Broncos then put together 61-, 91-, and 89-yard touchdown drives in the first half alone. Utah State also had trouble bottling up the run in the red zone, giving up scores to Boise running back Jay Ajayi, and a scramble by Southwick. The Aggies particularly struggled on third downs, giving up eight conversions on the night.
The 24 first-half points were the most the Aggies had surrendered since facing Hawaii in 2011. It was humbling to watch Ajayi break tackles, or Williams-Rhodes dodge them.
"Defensively we played really well, and then we couldn't get off the field on third down and we didn't tackle very well," Wells said. "I think that's the first time that tackling thing has come up."
An already thin offense struggled again without injured starting quarterback Chuckie Keeton. Harrison, a junior, got the first shot, managing a touchdown drive early in the second quarter. But the Harrison-led offense was mostly miss, as the Aggies struggled to get into scoring position.
The game seemed on the verge of a quick pivot near the end of the half: Wells used his timeouts to force a Boise State punt that Devin Centers blocked. But two passes and a blocked field goal left Utah State empty-handed.
Garretson came in shortly after halftime, but threw two picks deep before getting any points. He was also sacked twice, rounding out a rough day for the offensive line with four sacks surrendered.
"I definitely think as an offensive unit we definitely shot ourselves in the foot," said Travis Reynolds, who finished with a game-high 142 yards. "Every time we got in a rhythm we had a setback, a fumble, or just a miscommunication out there."
The last drive of the game offered some hope going into next week's bout with New Mexico: Garretson helped lead a 14-play, 91-yard drive capped by a four-yard touchdown pass to Travis Van Leeuwen with 20 seconds left in the game. It narrowed the scoring margin, but most of Romney Stadium's sellout crowd had emptied out.
Wells said he couldn't fully evaluate the quarterbacks' performances immediately after the game, and wasn't ready to name next week's starter. Wells also announced that tight end D.J. Tialavea, who did not dress for the game, would have season-ending surgery with a foot fracture Utah State's fourth offensive starter done for the year.