1. How did spring practice go for Utah State under new (old) head coach Gary Andersen?
The Aggies spring practice went about as smoothly and predictably as one would assume. The Utah State team defeated the Aggies team, 38-14. As you can imagine, the Utah State team had the more experienced players and overall had a huge advantage. QB Jordan Love looked like his normal self, tossing some good looking deep balls and, when necessary, making plays with his feet. He even helped with a little run blocking. Bringing in an almost entirely new coaching staff is often a difficult transition, but being that this isn’t Andersen’s first time in Logan, it hasn’t felt as rough as it could be. GA knows what the formula for success is with this team, even without David Yost manning the offense anymore: hurry, score, keep hurrying, and score some more.
2. The Aggies had one of the best teams among the G5 conferences last year — how many starters return and what are the expectations with the coaching change?
The team returns nine starters from last year, seven on defense and only two on offense. Although I’d say the offense returns three starters, as running back Gerold Bright is a big playmaker even if he didn’t get many starts, as he ran behind Darwin Thompson. Bright accumulated 888 rushing yards and ten TDs, basically starter-like numbers. Another key returning starter not in those numbers is K Jordan Eberle, who led the conference in almost every kicking statistic last season. He was money on the extra point (75/75) and didn’t miss his first field goal until the sixth game of the year. He went 4/4 in one contest and 6/6 (!) in another. He may be just a kicker, but he’s a very valuable kicker to have.
3. Utah State returns a very good quarterback, but lost a lot on the offensive line and from the receiving corps. What kind of offense can we expect to see?
The moment USU’s bowl game concluded, I immediately began to worry about how this offense would continue to be so dominant without almost the entire offensive line that protected it. Among the challenges this team will face in the off-season, there may not be a bigger or more important one than replenishing the offensive line. Putting a positive spin on it isn’t very easy, but offensive line coach TJ Woods has been looking over many solid offensive lines in his coaching career, including in 2014 at Wisconsin where his lineman helped pave the way for Melvin Gordon’s insane season.
The loss of a veteran presence in Ron’Quavion Tarver hurts the Aggie receiving corps, but there’s a new man on the block ready to take the lead. That man is Savon Scarver. He was a consensus All-American Returner last year. The receiving aspect of his game has yet to be unlocked, and now that he’s looking at being the number one target, we’ll find out quickly if he’s as good a receiver as he is a returner. Speed kills. Another solid option is receiver Jordan Nathan, who had almost 300 receiving yards last year to go with three touchdowns. Aside from these two, we will just have to see who else can step up, like Senior Devin Heckstall, who has quite the frame on him (6-5, 205 pounds). He hasn’t been much of a factor in his previous seasons, but he caught a TD in the spring game, perhaps this year can be somewhat of a breakout for him.
4. What should we know about the defensive side of the ball?
As I stated earlier, the defense returns seven starters. Included in that is linebacker David Woodward, who received All-American honors from a few different outlets. He’s the leader of the defense and the best player on that side of the ball. He can cover, blitz, wrap up, and force turnovers. He can do just about anything you’d want from a linebacker. The defensive line is headlined by defensive end Tipa Galeai, who led the team in sacks with 10.5. He’s a great pass rusher and overall the most talented player on the line. There’s a good chance he can find a way to disrupt almost any play. In the secondary, we have safety Shaq Bond. He’ll have a bit of a redemption story going, as he suffered an ankle injury late last year that took him out of commission for the rest of the season. Before the injury though, Bond was ranging the field. He had a 100-yard pick six vs New Mexico, tied for the longest in conference history. He’s great in pass coverage, deflecting six passes in his eight starts.
5. How are Utah State fans viewing this match-up? Obviously, the Aggies were a top-level G5 program last season, but will they come in thinking upset, or more just trying to get better for the Mountain West schedule?
Utah State fandom has a ton of swagger right now following the success of the football squad last year and the incredible MW co-title/tournament title run in men’s basketball. The Aggies begin the year in Winston-Salem to take on Wake Forest, and I’m not sure USU fans are going to go in to it expecting a loss to be honest. Dave Clawson is doing great things with the Demon Deacons, but the Aggies are feeling dangerous. Now I’m not saying they’re definitely going to win, but the casual fan could definitely see these two teams as being on equal ground. The way this team played against Michigan State in last years opener gives the fandom a huge amount of confidence as well.
That being said, LSU is a whole different beast. They play in the SEC, which is, if I’m not mistaken, NOT the Mountain West. The Bayou Bengals are not to be toyed with, especially at home. If Utah State comes into this game hot, they may get blind-sided. No matter how the year starts for the Aggies, both they and their fans have to take this game one play at a time. Confidence is good, but too much of it will spell out doom in the Valley of Death.