Mountain West View: USU Faces Another Rebuild in 2023

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Posted on July 9, 2023




  By Stephen Vilardo, SuperWest Sports

A A year ago, Utah State was coming off an 11-3 season that included a Mountain West title and a blowout win over Oregon State in the LA Bowl.

The glow of the 2021 season will fade in early 2022 with a 1-4 start, which includes a 35-7 loss to Weber State.

I preview Utah State’s upcoming season below and take a look back at last season and examine the offense, defense, and system.

Utah State Aggies Fast Facts


2022 Record: 6-7
Head Coach: Blake Anderson (17-10 at USU)
Offensive Coordinators: Blake Anderson, Kyle Cefalo
Security Coordinator: Joe Cauthen
Home Stadium: Maverick Stadium (25,100), Logan, UT
Topic of the Final Conference: 2021, Mountain West


2022 in Comments

The Aggies rebounded to close the regular season going 5-2 and earn money in the First Responders Bowl, falling to Memphis 38-10.

If the 2021 season was magical, the 2022 season was tough.

Blake Anderson really proved his worth in his second year at Logan turning the season around and keeping the team together when all seemed lost.

The work will also be long. Among the top 5 teams in the Mountain West this season, only one team has all five on the list, and that team is USU.


Offense

TThe offense will replace many pieces of the 2022 edition including Calvin Tyler, who passed for 1,100 yards on the ground last fall.

While Turner may be gone, the Aggies return former center Cooper Legas.

Legas will no longer have a favorite target if receiver Brian Cobbs is gone.

Terrell Vaughn played last season in the slot. They will be ready to participate in the playoffs this season and the Aggies will produce outside.

The quarterback has had at least four receptions in Utah State’s last 10 games. He added 26.5 yards per kick return last season—one more for a touchdown.

Josh Sterzer had a solid start in 2022 and will be back, but look for Broc Lane to do more at the position this season.

Lane only caught six passes in the 2022 season but saw his production increase this fall.

Utah State QB Cooper Legas | Ashley Landis/Associated Press

Legas is fast and will use his legs to move the ball. The QB had double-digit rushing attempts in seven of his 10 games last season.

Most of the losses in the ground game will be taken up by Robert Brooks, who made the second step in 2022.

Brooks should be able to replicate Tyler’s production—if the line can make room for him to work. And that can be a problem.

The line allowed 22 sacks in the last six games of 2022 and the running game could only produce 3.8 yards per carry.

He’s gone from that group with Alfred Edwards, who was an all-conference player and set USU’s record for first place.

In all, a combined 116 starts were lost from last year’s division.

Ralph Frias is coming over from Arizona State and should fill the LT spot, but the line is the biggest question mark for the Aggies heading into the 2023 season.


Security

DEffectively, Utah State struggled in 2022. The Aggies were 11th in the conference allowing nearly 400 yards per game. There were a lot of injuries on this side of the football in 2022 and that brought the Aggies back.

The defense held back 5.6 tackles for loss and 2.2 sacks per game.

Joe Cauthen is now in charge of the defense and even with most of the guys who got the field last time, he will get his job.

Cauthen rejoined Anderson after serving as head coach at Arkansas State from 2014-18.

The middle of the defense can be a strong position. The back three of MJ Tafisi, Max Alford, and Kaleo Neves provide a solid base to work around.

Utah State linebacker MJ Tafisi | KSL games

The team was bolstered by added depth in Gavin Barthiel, Logan Pili, Anthony Switzer, and Omari Okeke.

Tafisi began his career in Washington and was the Aggies’ starter before sitting out the final five games due to injury. He could be a 100 year old man and cause chaos in the background.

The only returning defensive end is Michael Ayanwu. He excelled at cornerback as he had 12 passes defensed this season, along with safety Ike Larson who made the MW second team as a freshman.

Look for another corner to be run by JUCU transfer Jaylen Martin or Al Ashford who comes to Logan via Washington.

Simeon Harris was part of the big move from Boulder when Coach Prime came in and should provide depth at the safety position along with Javar Strong.

A pass defense that allowed 205 yards per game in 2022 should show improvement this season.


Schedule
2023 Utah State Football Schedule

Sept. 2 in Iowa
Sept 9 vs Idaho State
Sept 16 at the Air Force
Sept 23 vs James Madison
Sept 30 in Connecticut
Oct 7 vs Colorado State
Oct 14 vs Fresno State
Oct. 21 at San Jose State
Nov. 4 at San Diego State
Nov 11 vs Nevada
Nov 18 vs Boise State
Nov 25 in New Mexico

The schedule, as we said before, sees the Aggies host Boise State and Fresno State in conference play and visits to San Diego State, San Jose State, and Air Force.

No other team in the Mountain West is scheduled to face all five schools this season.

It makes three more meetings with Nevada, Colorado State, and on the road against New Mexico even more important for the Aggies.

The season begins with a trip to Iowa to play the Hawkeyes.

The Aggies are 1-15 all-time against Big Ten opponents, but the Hawkeyes have been undefeated in 2022. Despite the long schedule, USU might force turnovers to take the lead, and who knows?

Other non-conference games include visits from James Madison and Idaho State and a trip across the country to face UConn. That’s all the games the Aggies can get.

Expect the 2023 season to be just as exciting. In nine seasons as a head coach, Anderson has been in the postseason in eight of them.

Making nine in ten seasons will be a struggle but I expect the Aggies to do something about it. The Aggies proved last season that they can overcome a rocky start and I look for them to be in contention for a bowl when November rolls around.


-More from Stephen Vilardo-

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