Utah State coach Blake Anderson speaks to players during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Washington State, Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021, in Pullman, Wash. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)
LOGAN—Blake Anderson made a statement in his first game as the head football coach for Utah State. He went into Pac-12 country and came away with a win, surpassing many of the most optimistic expectations of those who watched Aggie football limp to a 1-5 record a season ago. Now, Anderson gets a chance to show what his team can do in front of the home crowd this Friday night.
The Fighting Hawks come into Logan with a 1-0 record after beating Idaho State 35-14 using a balanced offensive attack. Junior running back Otis Weah averaged more than five yards per carry, accounting for 114 of North Dakota’s 204 rushing yards in the game. Quarterback Tommy Schuster completed 14-of-18 passes for 183 yards and a touchdown, with zero interceptions.
This game in Logan is certainly one North Dakota has circled on its calendar. It is the only game against an FBS school and a chance to make a statement—prove themselves against the bigger programs. If North Dakota were to pull off the upset, it wouldn’t be the first FCS to do it this season. A few others have thrown haymakers. Some of them landed.
UC Davis went into Tulsa and won. Eastern Washington beat UNLV in its fancy new NFL stadium. There were a few other close calls as well, but the biggest one of the opening week was Montana, shocking the PAC-12 world by going into Washington and beating the Huskies against the background of Mt. Rainier.
Part of the recent success could be attributed to the FCS teams being a bit more tuned up than their FBS counterparts. The FCS pushed its season back to the spring, which meant teams like North Dakota were playing in the FCS playoffs just five months ago.
Anderson is aware of those other upsets and isn’t overlooking this one. He is cautioning his players to do the same, and called Friday night’s game “a huge challenge.”
“You look across college football, and four or five times this weekend FCS opponents beat Division I schools,” he said. “This one (North Dakota) has a tremendous history anyway.”
Anderson said he had already told his players that the focus should be on the next opponent, and not the one they just beat. He said that in his opinion, North Dakota is “basically a Division I team.”
“There are a lot of reasons to be alert and awake and aware of the opponent coming in,” he said.
He described the Fighting Hawks as a team that plays physical football and won’t be intimidated when it takes Merlin Olsen Field. He pointed out that North Dakota is just as good as many of the FCS teams that have been competing with the bigger football programs, and even beat South Dakota State by a large margin—the same team that just beat Colorado State on the road.
“We have to match and exceed their physical level up front, their energy level, tackle well, be physical. It is going to be a key part of the game.”
One of the biggest question marks still surrounding Utah State is the quarterback situation. Anderson alternated between junior quarterbacks Logan Bonner and Andrew Peasley against Washington State. He said it is still undecided, but made it clear that rotating quarterbacks is not something that will continue all year.
“I’m still evaluating it,” Anderson said. “Both did some really good things. Both made some bone-headed mistakes that could’ve hurt us.”
Anderson said that senior safety Shaq Bond, who was injured against Washington State, was day-to-day. Senior tight end Carson Terrell, he added, was held out of the first game due to medical reasons, but is expected to play Friday night.
“Bumps and bruises on gameday,” he said. “We are fortunate not to come out of it with anything significant. We didn’t lose anybody for the year.”
The game will start at 7 p.m. A win Friday would mark the first 2-0 start for Utah State football since 2012.