By Bobby Curran.
Not much was expected from Utah State this year following last season’s 1-5 slate. Phil Steele had them picked next to last in the Mountain Division of the MWC. But they’ve been a huge surprise, going 5-2 and 3-1 in conference,making the Aggies one of the nation’s top turnaround teams.
First-year HC Blake Anderson has an offense that generates almost twice through the air as it does on the ground. QB Logan Bonner has thrown for 252 ypg, totaling 1,766 yds on a 59% completion rate. He has 13 TDs and 8 INTs. His favorite target is Deven Thompkins, who has 56 catches, 6 TDs and 16.5 ypc. Brandon Bowling has 26 grabs, 3 TDs for 15.7 ypc. Derek Wright also has 22 receptions and 4 TDs for an average of 15.6 per.
The Aggies’ running game features Calvin Tyler, who has 96 attempts for 477 yds for a 5.0 avg. and 4 TDs. QB Bonner is not a threat in the run game, and he’s been sacked 18 times.
Defensively, USU lines up in an even front. ILB Justin Rice is the leading tackler with 62. He also leads with 7.5 TFL and 3 INTs. This team is vulnerable to a power running game, and probably would be considered better against the pass.
A key strength for Utah State is that they are learning how to win. They have prevailed in all four of their one-score games, winning each contest by a total of 13 points.
UH comes off its second win of the season over New Mexico State. Following a poor effort against Nevada in Reno, UH was challenged to accomplish two goals: play fast and be physical. Mission satisfied on both fronts.
The coaches had to find a scheme to maximize QB Brayden Schager’s strengths and minimize his weaknesses. The true freshman’s biggest liability is lack of experience. He doesn’t yet sense pressure that he can’t see. So the staff devised a run-heavy approach that mixed in play action passing and put the young QB in a comfort zone. The plan produced 262 rushing yards and Schager was 25-29 for 219 passing yards.
Dedrick Parson filled in for the injured Dae Dae Hunter with 161 rush yards and another 54 yards receiving. The offensive line seems to improve by the game. And that’s a good thing, because the recipe against USU will be much of the same, on offense anyway.
When UH is on defense, they will benefit by being hyper aggressive. Bonner is a dropback passer who is excellent in a clean pocket. But he doesn’t have great feet, and the Rainbow Warriors need to apply constant pressure. Hawaii has also become increasingly adept at turning teams over. Last week, UH managed a pair of pick sixes, largely due to pressure. If they can win the turnover battle again, UH can come one step closer to bowl eligibility.
No telling whether Hawaii will get Hunter or Cordeiro back, although the chances seem better for Hunter. At this stage of the season, it’s all about next man up. Go Bows!