The Mountain West sends yet another team into SEC country come Saturday looking to take down an additional Power 5 team when Utah State takes on fifth-ranked LSU in Baton Rouge. San Jose State shocked college football in Week 4 with a 31-24 win against the Razorbacks in Fayetteville. Can the Aggies (3-1) pull off the upset over the high-flying Tigers (4-0)?
The return of head coach Gary Andersen to the Aggies' sidelines has been like old times in Logan in that the winning ways have continued. Andersen last blew the whistle on the USU sidelines in 2012 leading his team to an 11-2 finish. Former head coach Matt Wells (Texas Tech) continued the party leaving town with an 11-2 mark a year ago. The Aggies came close to knocking off ACC member Wake Forest (38-35) to open the season in Winston-Salem and have rolled against the likes of Stony Brook, San Diego State, and Colorado State since. Utah State takes the field behind a high-scoring offense that is averaging 39 points per game and a tough defense led by All-American linebacker candidate David Woodward.
LSU has given their fan base a lot to cheer about this season with an unbeaten record that includes a 45-38 road win over then- No. 9 Texas. While the victories are nice, the offense has been titillating, lifting the fans onto their feet thanks to an FBS-leading 58 points per game led by senior quarterback Joe Burrow. The Tigers defense has been suspect at times but is still limiting opponents to just 24 points per game. Injuries once again have impacted the defense's performance.
Utah State at LSU
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 5 at 12 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Spread: LSU -27.5
When Utah State Has the Ball
The Aggies' offense is led by one of the more prolific passers in the college game, Jordan Love. Love has thrown for 1,207 yards with six touchdowns completing 65 percent of his attempts. Because of his arm, the junior gunslinger has a tendency to throw into coverage, as he already has five interceptions. An area of concern for the Tigers has been their pass defense. Beyond allowing 224 yards per game, the defensive front is not putting the expected amount of pressure on the opposition with just 11 sacks and only two interceptions.
USU's ground game is a two-headed monster split between Jaylen Warren and Gerold Bright. Warren is seventh in the MWC in rushing yards (335) and tied for third in touchdowns (4). Bright is not far behind carrying the rock 10 more times on the season for 301 yards and two scores. The Aggies are coming off a 240-yard game against Colorado State led by Bright's 179 yards. Despite the injuries up front, LSU is still one of the best in the nation at stopping the run holding teams to 97 rushing yards per game.
If there was an opportune time for the Aggies to come to Baton Rouge, this might be it. Five of LSU's top defenders are likely out for the game: linebacker Michael Divinity Jr. (knee), outside linebacker K'Lavon Chaisson (ankle), defensive end Rashard Lawrence (ankle), defensive end Glen Logan (foot), and safety Todd Harris Jr. (knee – out for season).
When LSU Has the Ball
The Aggies defense will have their hands full taking on senior quarterback Joe Burrow. Burrow is fifth in the nation in total passing yards (1,520) and third in touchdowns (17) despite playing in one fewer game than the current leaders. He is coming off another impressive performance, slicing up Vanderbilt on the road for 398 yards and a school-record six touchdowns. The Aggies will put corners DJ Williams and Cameron Haney on Ja'Marr Chase and Stephen Sullivan. Williams is having a big senior season with 26 tackles and four passes breakups. The injuries for LSU extend to the offense with Burrow and backup Myles Brennan both battered. The receiving corps may be without Justin Jefferson (knee) and will definitely miss Terrace Marshall (foot).
The Tigers' ground game has not been as prolific as desired, but a lot of that can be directed back to the effectiveness of the passing game. The undisputed leader out of the backfield is Clyde Edwards-Helaire. The junior tailback is averaging 5.6 yards per carry and has pounded it into the end zone five times. Against the Commodores, he had his first 100-yard rushing game of the season (106) off 14 carries with a touchdown. The antithesis to Edwards-Helaire is Utah State linebacker David Woodward. The junior has a nose for the ball with 55 total stops, which ranks third in the nation.
Where the Aggies have shined is getting off the field on third and fourth down allowing a conversion rate of 39 and 33 percent respectively. LSU's offense has killed it on third and fourth down with a 54 and 100 percent success rate.
With LSU entering the game short-handed and with No. 10 Florida coming to Death Valley next week, the Tigers may have the look of just wanting to get through this one without any more injuries. This could lead to an opportunity for the Aggies if the Mountain West foe is taken lightly. The Aggies are 8-4 in their last 12 road games putting up 37 points per in those games. USU led at the half and late into the fourth quarter against Wake Forest before the Deacons pulled off a two-yard touchdown pass with 1:08 left. Even with the walking wounded, LSU is a beast of a different stripe.
Prediction: LSU 56, Utah State 27
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.