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Playing Nice: Utah State

Getting ready for Utah State with Alex Eiden of Mountain West Connection.

After a week off, LSU football is back on the field for its last non-conference game of the 2019 season, this time against the Utah State Aggies from the Mountain West.

The Aggies are 3-1 through its first four games and sit right behind No. 16 Boise State in the Mountain division of the MWC. This will only be the third time LSU has played Utah State in football. The Tigers are 2-0, winning 38-17 in 1993 and 31-14 in 2001. Here to better prepare us for Utah State is Alex Eiden, who covers the Aggies for Mountain West Connection. You can follow him at @thesportswizard.

1. Utah State certainly isn’t the biggest name in college football, but the Aggies are a legitimately good program. What kind of challenges does Utah State present for opponents?

Utah State’s got talent at every level and it starts with QB Jordan Love. He’s got great touch and good power. He’s a first-round level NFL prospect with a team-first demeanor to him. Complimenting Love on the offensive side of the ball are running backs Jaylen Warren and Gerold Bright. While Bright has played backup to Warren this year and Darwin Thompson (now on the Kansas City Chiefs) last year, he’s got the talent of a starting back. When it comes to defense, there’s LB David Woodward as the focal point. Woodward was a PFF All-American last season and is one of the nation’s best linebackers that no one knows about. The biggest strength for the Aggies so far this year has been the balance they’ve found between the offense and defense. Last year, they had one of the top offensive units in the country, but the defense was below average. This year the offense has regressed, but the defense has stepped up.

2. Jordan Love might be the best quarterback in the country that nobody’s heard of. Love’s completing 64 percent of his passes and has thrown for 1,200 yards. This is in spite of losing most of his offensive line and receiving corps from last year’s 11-2 squad. There’s been some grumblings that maybe LSU’s defense isn’t as good as they usually are, can Love and company expose this possible weakness?

The problem here for the Aggies is that “below average” defense to LSU is still pretty damn good, comparatively speaking. Utah State needs to be firing on all cylinders and limit mistakes to a bare minimum if they want to hang around in this game. It’s clear by glancing at stats that the USU offense is very good, but it has to be said that they have not faced an SEC-level defense with Love at the helm. No matter how they spin it, the Tigers’ defense is still good if not great. It may be worth mentioning that, while it also may seem like a non-factor...the Aggies avoid playing in Tiger Stadium at night! What can I say, I’m a glass half-full kind of guy.

3. Utah State has a really good offense. The Aggies are sixth in total offense (533 ypg), 19th in scoring (38.5 ppg) and 12th in passing (326 ypg), but despite that Utah State has only scored six touchdowns in 18 red zone trips. Why does the success going from 20 to 20 not translate in the red zone?

Getting the big bodies involved is key here. Caleb Repp, the No. 1 Tight End for the Aggies, just caught his first TD of the season this past weekend. The Aggies don’t have the big tall receiver that can go up and get jump balls, but they’ve got two solid options at Tight End with Repp and Carson Terrell. It’s also been seen that the Aggies run it more inside the 20, which is understandable when they’ve got two starting caliber running backs.

4. What kind of challenge will the Utah State defense provide for this new-look LSU offense?

It’s all about the front seven. The unit is led by Woodward and LB/DE Tipa Galeai, but tackle Devon Anderson has become a viable force on the line as well. They’ve got those three players and many others who keep churning out TWLs while also accumulating nine sacks through the first four contests. LSU ranks right above average in sacks and tackles for loss allowed, so if the Aggies can force themselves into the Tiger backfield, they can give themselves a chance.

5. The match up nobody is talking about: Utah State leads the nation in kickoff returns, but Avery Atkins is about as good a kickoff specialist as you’ll find in the country. Of Atkins 41 kickoffs, 38 have been touchbacks. How will Utah State compensate if return ace Savon Scarver can’t do what he does best?

I appreciate you showing love to special teams! Savon Scarver is the name everyone knows, justifiably so, but there’s another: Devan Thompkins, He’s only returned one punt this season, but he took that one back to the house. Thompkins is a speedster and Utah State fans have seen him burn defenders on a few occasions this season. On all other returns, it’s receiver Jordan Nathan. He doesn’t have the same speed as Thompkins, but he’s a punt return veteran. He’s been the Aggies main man for the last three years, with one return TD under his belt.