Utah State's defense ranks eighth nationally in points allowed (15.4) and slides into the top 15 of four other major categories.
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BOISE — A Texas State wide receiver ran a nifty stop-and-go route last month at Utah State, and at that moment it appeared as though an improbable string of perfection might come to an end.
This was early November, and the Aggies defense was in peril of seeing its streak of games without allowing a touchdown in the first quarter end at nine. Texas State nickel and dimed its way to the 12-yard line, where on third down its quarterback lofted a pass into the end zone.
"That’s probably the closest we’ve come to giving up a touchdown in the first quarter," said cornerback Will Davis, who intercepted the ball in the end zone.
Toledo coach Matt Campbell called it "astounding" that his team’s opponent in Saturday’s Famous Idaho Potato Bowl has finished off all 12 first quarters — totaling 180 game minutes — without letting the opposition cross the goal line. No other team in the nation can boast such dominance coming out of the lockerroom. The Aggies, who have surrendered two field goals in the first 15 minutes, are outscoring opponents in the first quarter by a staggering 131-6 clip.
"I think that stat shows you enough," Campbell said.
And it’s not as if the champion of the Western Athletic Conference is a one-quarter wonder.
A defensive unit engineered by first-year coordinator Dave Aranda ranks eighth nationally in points allowed (15.4) and slides into the top 15 of four other major categories. Four Aggies defenders were named first team All-WAC, while four others landed on the second team.
An overtime win over Louisiana Tech, in which the Aggies allowed 41 points to the nation’s No. 1 offense, registers as an outlier in a season in which they have held five teams to single-digit scoring.
"Consistency has been a huge thing," said Davis, an NFL prospect who picked off five passes in the regular season. "We were pretty inconsistent last year."
The Aggies ranked No. 68 in scoring defense in 2011, prompting coach Gary Andersen to dismiss his coordinator — himself. A long-time defensive coach who coordinated staunch units at Utah, Andersen decided for the first time in his career to focus his attention on offense, believing that establishing a broader knowledge base would make him a better coach.
Unemployed in the offseason after the staff at Hawai’i was dismissed, Aranda was watching cartoons with his children one morning when Andersen phoned him to discuss an opportunity to head USU’s defense.
The two worked in unison in the spring to implement a scheme, and the unit progressed so fast that Andersen removed himself from defensive matters once the preseason begun.
"It’s been a good fit," Andersen said.
"It’s hard to hire coordinators sometimes, and I’m very happy he’s here and I hope he’s here a long time."
Some of Utah State’s success early in games can be attributed to Aranda’s scheming, in which he predicts which plays and formations an opponent will run after studying their tendencies.
Most offenses — Toledo’s is one — script their first 15 or 20 plays, and Aranda will watch tape of previous games — both theirs and Utah State’s — to forecast what might transpire early on.
"You kind of throw that into a pot and see what comes out," he said.
Toledo, which has scored 85 points in the first quarter, will try to solve a test that has confounded 12 others.
"Anybody stepping on the field against us we take as a challenge," Rockets receiver Bernard Reedy said.
"Not giving up a touchdown in the first quarter, that’s pretty good."
Contact Ryan Autullo at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.
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