LOGAN, Utah — First-half turnovers dug a hole for Wake Forest in its 36-24 loss to Utah State on Saturday night. An absence of any sort of running attack made it impossible to climb out in the end.
The Aggies scored two defensive touchdowns off a pair of turnovers before halftime and held the Demon Deacons to minus 25 yards rushing. It proved to be the right formula to give Utah State (2-1) its first win over an ACC team.
"We're not explosive enough as an offense to come back from that big of a deficit," Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson said. "We got no running game right now. We're just so pass oriented and then we start getting our quarterback killed. Somehow, someway, we got to find a way to run the football."
John Wolford threw for 257 yards and a pair of touchdowns for the Demon Deacons (1-2). But he also tossed two interceptions, completed just 20-of-50 passes and felt constant pressure from the Aggies all night — getting sacked six times.
Darrell Garretson had 121 yards and a touchdown on 11-of-16 passing to pace the Aggies in relief of an injured Chuckie Keeton in the second half. Keeton threw for 166 yards and a touchdown on 20-of-27 passing in the first half.
The senior came up limping after getting hit on an option play near the end of the half. Keeton spent the entire second half on crutches on the sideline.
Utah State coach Matt Wells declined to speculate about Keeton's status.
"I don't know about Chuckie yet - we'll know a little bit more tomorrow," Wells said. "It's the same knee (he injured last season) that's banged up. For precautionary reasons, the doctors said he was done for the night, so here comes Darell."
Wake Forest nearly managed to overcome all of its problems early in the third quarter. Trailing 29-7 at halftime, the Demon Deacons briefly rallied after getting a major offensive spark following a turnover.
Hunter Williams picked off Garretson on his first pass attempt and returned it 32 yards to set up a 3 yard TD pass from Wolford to Isaiah Robinson. Then, after forcing a Utah State punt, Wake Forest put together a 78-yard drive covering seven plays - culminating in a 10-yard grab by E.J. Scott in the back of the end zone to make it 29-21 halfway through the third quarter.
"We started paying attention to the details and little things," Deacons tight end Cam Seringe said. "Coming in, we really ignored some of the key things in our offense that makes it go, which is doing everything little right. Coming out after halftime, we realized we're a better team than this. We didn't want to put that product from Wake Forest out there."
Utah State halted the comeback with its own touchdown drive later in the quarter. Garretson found Ronald Butler for a 42-yard pass to get into Demon Deacon territory, setting up a 5-yard strike to Wyatt Houston two plays later and giving Utah State a 36-21 lead.
"It killed us," Clawson said. "That was the back breaker."
Mike Weaver kicked a 30-yard field goal to cut the lead to 12 with 1:01 left in the third. The Demon Deacons could get no closer. Wake Forest did drive down to the Aggie 38 early in the fourth quarter, but B.J. Larsen sacked Wolford on fourth down to stop the drive.
Both teams stalled on offense in the first quarter. That opened the door for each defense to grab the spotlight.
Wake Forest got on the board first when Josh Banks returned an errant pass from Keeton 70 yards to make it 7-0 midway through the first quarter. Keeton backpedaled to avoid a blitz and let the ball fly right into the waiting arms of Banks as he was about to get sacked.
Utah State returned the favor on the Demon Deacons' next drive. Zach Vigil stepped in front of a pass from Wolford and rumbled 35 yards for his first career touchdown to even the score at 7-7 with 3:03 left in the first quarter.
"We started getting in the quarterback's head and were able to cause some havoc in the backfield," Larsen said. "That is what the Aggie defense is all about - to be able to be put in tough situations and be able to answer the call."
The Aggies finally generated some offensive momentum off a trick play midway through the second quarter. Keeton gave the ball to Ronald Butler and the senior wide receiver connected with a streaking JoJo Natson down the sideline for a 44-yard scoring strike, giving Utah State a 13-7 lead.
USU went up 19-7 a couple of minutes later on its second defensive score. Nick Vigil forced Wolford to fumble on a pass attempt. Devin Centers scooped up the ball a moment later and returned it 47 yards for the score.
A third Wake Forest turnover, this time an interception by Frankie Sutera, helped set up Chuckie Keeton's only touchdown pass. Keeton found Jefferson Court for a 6-yard strike, making it 26-7 with 4:46 left before halftime.
"The defense was flying around and having fun," Vigil said. "That's the thing we talked about all week that we wanted to do was have fun more than anything. Don't worry about what the offense was doing or anything like that. Just worry about taking care of our business and we were able to do so tonight."
Nick Diaz drained a 26-yard field goal on the final play of the half to put the Aggies ahead by three scores at halftime.
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