NCAA Football

Utah football: The Aggies are ineligible to play without Calvin Tyler Jr.

Utah football: The Aggies are ineligible to play without Calvin Tyler Jr.

Utah State wouldn’t be bowl eligible if it weren’t for Calvin Tyler Jr.

The senior running back scored the game-winning touchdown Saturday night in the Aggies’ 35-31 win over San Jose State.

“Calvin got it in the end zone when we had to tonight,” Utah head coach Blake Anderson said. “The last touchdown was huge.”

The win made USU six wins this season — the Aggies are 6-5 overall with one game remaining at Boise State — a remarkable accomplishment considering the team started the season 1-4 overall and on its resume lost at home to Weber State.

However, Tyler Jr. did more than score one important touchdown. Against San Jose State alone, he rushed for a career-high 125 yards and three scores.

(Tyler Jr. is the first Aggie since Darwin Thompson and Gerald Bright in 2018 to throw three touchdowns in a game.)

Additionally, most of Utah’s success this season can be traced to Tyler Jr.’s solid performances. The Aggies almost always won when he played well and lost when he didn’t.

The Oregon State transfer has rushed for 100-plus yards in all but one of USU’s wins this year, in wins over UConn, Air Force, Colorado State, Hawaii and San Jose State.

Tyler Jr. has six 100-yard rushers this season — the most 100-yard rushers by USU since Joey DeMartino (7) in 2013 — and is just 22 yards short of 19th with 978 yards . player in program history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season.

And he’s done a lot while battling nagging injuries.

For example, he entered concussion protocol midway through USU’s win over New Mexico, but still managed to play the following week against Hawaii and rushed for 113 yards and a touchdown.

“He’s been knocked around for a while and just keeps showing up,” Anderson said.

It’s that ability to play, and play well, even when it gets in the way, that makes Anderson believe Tyler Jr. can get a look in the NFL.

“I know he has the passion to play at the next level and wants to show that he has that ability,” Anderson said. “Part of it is showing you can play through bumps and bruises. What you can play. Affordability is a big skill set that they want to see, availability and reliability… If you look at the volume of work over the last month, it has shown itself in a big way.”

Utah’s offensive line deserves credit. The running backs are just as good as his O-line, and Tyler Jr. was quick to praise them this year.

Anderson praised that group Saturday night, too.

“The O-line does a great job of freeing people up,” he said. “We are getting better. Not a finished product, but man, we’re getting better every week.”

Still, after the win over the Spartans, Tyler Jr. chose to single out some other unsung players, crediting them with much of his individual success this season.

“I want to do something different right now,” Tyler Jr. said, brushing off praise for his play. “I want to thank guys like John Gentry. He hasn’t played running back this year, but he’s been his most important teammate this year.

“He doesn’t understand, and it’s probably going to be in his head, but he’s been doing everything in practice, working his hardest and motivating me by having the same energy every day, on and off the field. I’m so thankful for guys like him and Jordan Willmore. The same thing. These guys motivate me. They stuck with me and kept my head up.”

Tyler Jr., for his part, has kept the Aggies in the hunt for bowl eligibility, and now that goal is accomplished with a backup game.

“It’s hard to win in this conference … The coaches never gave up on us and this team never gave up on each other,” Tyler Jr. said. “We made mistakes, but you live and learn. This is life. This team showed what kind of team we are. We have the toughness, all the fight is with us now. It’s great (to bowl).”

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