2018 Mountain West Coach of the Year Matt Wells is off to Texas Tech, and the new head coach is actually an old face in Gary Andersen, who coached Utah State from 2009-2012. Andersen went 4-8 his first two years in Logan before a 7-6 year in 2011 and 11-2 season in 2012 that led to him being hired away to Wisconsin. Now, after stints with the Badgers and at Oregon State, he’s back.
Andersen brings in a couple of interesting names at the coordinator spots. Former Notre Dame OC/Western Kentucky HC Mike Sanford takes over the offense, and former LB coach at in-state rival Utah, Justin Ena, takes control of the defense. Ena has previous coordinating experience at FCS Weber State.
Wells didn’t leave a ton for Andersen to work with, but one key name does return in quarterback Jordan Love (32 touchdowns, just six interceptions, 64% completion rate, 8.6 YPA!), who was one of the most exciting players to watch last year. Last year’s #2 back returns, Gerold Bright. Bright averaged an absurd 6.3 YPA for a backup.
Those are two pretty interesting pieces to start with, but there isn’t much elsewhere on the offense. The top five pass catchers from last year are gone, and just one starter is back on the line, Alfred Edwards, who was a freshman last year.
If you’re looking for upside in the receiving corps, I’d look at guys like junior Savon Scarver, who caught just nine passes last year but averaged 17.3 YPC. Utah grad transfer Siaosi Mariner comes in after racking up 20 starts and over 15 YPC with the Utes.
JUCO transfer Jaylen Warren provides a new #2 at running back, but the line will be a serious concern. Two redshirt freshman are in the starting lineup on the line, and four of the five backups are freshman of some kind. The fifth is a sophomore.
Needless to say, line play will be an issue, as will be finding new playmakers in the pass-catching game, but they have near sure things at quarterback and running back, so there is potential for another great year.
The defense looks, to put it simply, damn solid.
Outside of the secondary, pretty much everybody returns. LB David Woodward is the top returner after an incredible year in 2018 (134 tackles, five sacks, 7.5 TFL, three PBUs, two interceptions). As does End Tipa Galeai (10.5 sacks!, 3.5 TFL, three PBUs, two interceptions, seven QB hurries)
Former Oklahoma State player Fua Leilua returns opposite Galeai, as do the top two in the middle, Christopher ‘Unga and Devon Anderson.
DJ Williams returns at nickel after an awesome year (11 PBUs, four picks). Cameron Haney (seven PBUs) and Ja’Marcus Ingram (six PBUs) will step into bigger roles on the corners.
There is a lot to like about the defense, and even if we see some slight regression to the mean after allowing just 5.0 YPP in the offense-heavy Mountain West, this still should be one of the best Ds in the conference.
Some very obvious holes among pass-catchers and on the line make calling for another 11-win season impossible, but there is a lot to like about this team. The defense looks great, and outside of those two units, the offense does too. The problem is, those are two pretty damn important units.
The schedule looks tough, with games @ Wake and @ LSU in the non-conference, and @ San Diego State and @ Fresno State in conference play. The obvious holes but obvious talent make me feel that this team could be a conference title contender but could also be in danger of missing a bowl. I will say that despite the awesome defense, concern on the line and a tough schedule make the latter seem more likely than the former.
|at Wake Forest
|at San Diego State
|at Air Force
|at Fresno State
|at New Mexico
Average Projected Record: 6.3 wins, 5.7 losses (4.4 wins, 3.6 losses)