USU offense shines in spring ball, bringing hope for 2023 – Cache Valley Daily

Blake Anderson. Photo by Lorene Hale

LOGAN — While Utah State football faces a crisis on defense with numerous transfers gutting the rotation even late into spring practices, its offense appears primed to carry the torch for the team.

Though the offense certainly faced its share of attrition, losing seven starters including four offensive linemen, two at wide receiver and the running back, the replacements to those starters appear to be stepping in quite nicely. Wide receiver appears to be a potential strength this season whereas it proved to be something of a weakness a year ago. Junior quarterback Cooper Legas, one of the four returning starters, fully believes in this year’s group of pass-catchers, from wide receivers, tight ends, even the running back catching passes out of the backfield.

“This is the best group since I’ve been here,” Legas said. “We have solid two-deep at wideout. Solid three or four at slot. Four really good tight ends. Three, four good running backs. Me and Levi (Williams) can both run the offense really well.”

The wide receivers at the top of the depth chart at the moment are Terrell Vaughn, Otto Tia, Micah Davis and Colby Bowman. Vaughn and Tia are both returners from the 2022 squad with the former being the returning leader in basically every receiving stat (56 receptions for 624 yards and five TDs). Each of these players has had their moments in spring ball. Vaughn showed his potential to be a safety net slot receiver with his seven catches in the first spring scrimmage back on April 8 and he added a couple more receptions on Saturday. Davis continues to display deep-threat potential with a pair of 25-yard touchdown catches to go with the 60-yard touchdown he caught on the April 8 scrimmage. Tia above all has jumped out as a potential breakout candidate. He opened the 11-on-11 portion of the practice with a 35-yard catch-and-run reception, adding to the six receptions for 64 yards he produced in the earlier scrimmage.

At tight end the Aggies return three players — Josh Sterzer, Broc Lane and Parker Buchanan — with two newcomers, Isaiah Alonzo and Will Monney. Health hasn’t been the greatest among these players as only Monney was available for the Spring Showcase on Saturday. Sterzer and Buchanan have been out for extended time with injuries while Lane, who has played during much of spring ball, had an injury in the week leading up to the showcase. But Anderson is rather high on his tight ends and he singled out Monney as one of the positives.

“Will Monney is a dude,” Anderson said. “He’s a senior in high school right now. He graduated early and is a senior in high school and he is the iron man of the group. We’ve had injuries at that position. I’ve been really proud of him.”

With numerous pass-catchers all having good springs, Anderson said he plans on everyone getting involved as much as possible and not limiting his rotation to a small handful of players as it was for much of last season.

“Everybody’s getting involved,” Anderson said. “It’s not going to be one guy. It’s going to be a collective. It’s going to be a bunch of guys, you’re going to see a lot of jersey numbers. Play fast, keep them fresh, spread the ball around. Tight ends and running backs catching the ball, something I know a lot of people have been frustrated with the last two years. If you watched us this spring, we have spread it to everybody. That’s a big part of what I want to do. I want to make (the opposing defense) cover all the grass and all the weapons at a really high rate of speed.”

The quarterbacks have largely had an easy time connecting with these receivers. In the two scrimmages combined, Legas has completed 29 of 44 passes (65.9 percent) for 289 yards and four touchdowns. Levi Williams has completed 20 of 28 passes (71.4 percent) for 311 and four touchdowns. Passing at pretty much every level of the field has been successful, including deep passes the return of which should be a breath of fresh air for the offense.

On the O-line, the Aggies appear to be making good progress on replacing the four departed starters. Three players appear to be on the short list to be starters, Wade Meacham at left guard being the first since he started all 13 games last year at the position. Falepule Alo has the job at center nailed down, being the only Aggie aside from Meacham with a notable number of snaps on the interior offensive line. Cole Motes was a frequent sub at tackle the last two seasons and appears to be the top pick for right tackle job. That’s left two starting spots (left tackle and right guard) almost entirely up for grabs. At the moment there’s no transfers that would be obvious picks to slot in either spot so numerous players have a shot. Wyatt Bowles and Tavo Motu’apuaka seem to have the early lead at right guard with Calvin Knapp, Bryce Radford and Timo Fua all in line to be one of the starting tackles. That isn’t the full extent of the players fighting for the job and some jockeying has already taken place from the start of spring ball until now. And with a potential influx of players through transfers and incoming high school recruits, the jobs are set to become even more competitive.

One of the changes in the offense that has been, and will continue to be, under the microscope is the change in offensive coordinators. Anderson took over the role with the departure of Anthony Tucker, assuming the responsibility alongside his head coaching duties. The early returns appear to be positive and Legas praised new system saying it’s helped having Anderson as the OC.

“It’s awesome having that head guy be the one that’s in charge of the offense, in charge of the quarterbacks because we have to be the leader on the field so having the leader of the whole system be the one to coach us really helps out. Whereas having the OC and the head coach be separate it’s like they’re always having to communicate what’s happening in separate meetings. So no we just all get it figured out as one group so I’ve enjoyed it a lot,” Legas said.

A potential holdup to optimism is the fact that this offense is going up against a USU defense that is currently suffering from attrition, both to the transfer portal and injuries. It’s possible that any offense could look as good as this one has given the defense it’s going against. But that conjecture something that can only be said and not shown, even if it has a logical through line. This offense has shown they are capable of moving the ball and that’s all we can go on right now. And for now there’s hope that this can be a significantly better offense than the one that ranked 104th in points per game last year.

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