Aggies aim for first conference road victory of the season at San Jose State – Cache Valley Daily

LOGAN — Utah State fell below .500 again with its loss last week to Fresno State, dropping to 3-4 on the season and 1-2 in Mountain West play. This week, after getting an extra day due to playing the Bulldogs on Friday, the Aggies have a chance to get back to an even win/loss record with a trip to San Jose State, a team sitting at 2-5 overall and is likewise 1-2 in conference play.

Game Details

Kickoff: 5 p.m. Mountain Time

Location: CEFCU Stadium (San Jose, CA)

KVNU Aggie GameDay with Al Lewis: 3:10 – 4:45 p.m.

KVNU Aggie Call with Al Lewis: Immediately after Coach Anderson’s post-game comments

TV Broadcast: CBS Sports Network

Radio Broadcast: KVNU (102.1 FM, 610 AM) in Logan; KVNU (98.3) in Tremonton; KVNU (93.5) in Garden City; KZNS (97.5 FM, 1280 AM) in Salt Lake City; KRPX (102.7 FM) in Green River, Utah; KRPX (100.3 FM) in Moab; KRPX (95.9 FM) in Orangeville; KRPX (95.3 FM) in Price; KVSI (1450 AM/104.5 FM) in Montpelier, Idaho.

Injury Report

  • (QB) McCae Hillstead – Probable

  • (TE) Josh Sterzer – OUT

  • (OL) Cole Motes – Probable

  • (DT) Poukesi Vakauta – Probable

  • (LB) Bronson Olevao – Questionable

  • Players Out For Season – (S) Omari Okeke, (LB) Max Alford, (WR) Kyle Van Leeuwen, (P) Stephen Kotsanlee

Several Aggies are returning or seem likely to return to the lineup. Most notable is quarterback McCae Hillstead. Head coach Blake Anderson said on Monday that the freshman QB hadn’t yet officially cleared protocol. Despite that, it seems very likely Hillstead will be available if Anderson wants to send him out against the Spartans. As for others, Cole Motes missed a couple of weeks but is likely to return this week (he dressed last Friday but did not play). Poukesi Vakauta got in for a few snaps against Fresno State and could see a jump in snaps as he returns to full health.

Statistical Rank Comparison

Utah State Stat San Jose State
37.3 (16th) Scoring Offense 31.4 (48th)
477.9 (15th) Total Offense 391.1 (67th)
305.6 (18th) Passing Offense 242.7 (58th)
172.3 (48th) Rushing Offense 148.4 (71st)
32.9 (114th) Scoring Defense 32.3 (113th)
414.6 (107th) Total Defense 396.3 (92nd)
251.0 (101st) Passing Defense 186.1 (22nd)
163.6 (99th) Rushing Defense 210.1 (127th)
14 (121st) Turnovers Lost 4 (8th)
14 (7th) Turnovers Gained 10 (45th)

USU’s QB Controversy

The much-anticipated return of Hillstead is likely upon us, though whether he’ll jump back into the starting role he earned over Cooper Legas is questionable. Legas has thrown for 954 yards and 10 touchdowns in his last three appearances alone (amounting to about 2.5 games), including at least 360 in each of Legas’ last two games, becoming just the fifth Aggie QB in history to do so. Anderson has been duly impressed by the senior signal-caller, saying Legas “did grow up from some of his earlier issues” but the ultimate decision remains unknown to the outside.

“The decision for me is just what gives us the best chance to be successful moving forward,” Anderson said on Monday. “That’s the ultimate answer is who and what allows us to be the most successful.”

Hillstead has made three major appearances (i.e. aside from blowout snaps taken against Idaho State), including two starts. He completed 57.6 percent of his passes for 712 yards, eight touchdowns and five interceptions. Against James Madison, Hillstead set a freshman record by throwing for 399 yards.

In the past, Anderson has shown a willingness to play multiple quarterbacks in a single game. At Arkansas State in 2020, he split QB snaps between Logan Bonner and Layne Hatcher the entire season, and in 2021 after moving to USU, Anderson split snaps between Bonner and Andrew Peasley the first couple of games before Bonner won the job outright.

It’s very possible both Hillstead and Legas will see some time. Either way, both QBs will see practice snaps with the first team this week. Anderson said that after his decision, the starter would get about 60 percent of practice snaps with the rest going to the backup.

Spartans defense struggling, but have one trick up sleeve

San Jose State ranks among the worst in several defensive categories, most notably in rushing yards allowed per game (127th) and rushing yards allowed per attempt (119th), and are giving up 32.3 points per game. Those totals aren’t just tied to early-season drubbings to Top 25-ranked Power Five programs USC and Oregon State, it’s continued into losses to Air Force and Boise State. The Spartans have yet to hold an FBS team to under 21 points and four of their six FBS opponents have reached at least 35 points.

One thing SJSU has been able to do on defense that’s limited some opponents — namely Toledo, the 18th-ranked scoring offense that the Spartans held to just 21 points on the road — is turnovers. Three times San Jose State has been able to force multiple turnovers in a game, usually to devastating effect. The already mentioned defensive showing against Toledo included three turnovers forced, as did the Spartans’ three points allowed against non-D1 foe Cal Poly.

“They do a good job of creating turnovers. They always have,” Anderson said. “Their front has been dynamic in the last couple years. And they’ve lost some guys like we have to transfer and to graduation. But they still have the ability to get after you.”

The one time turnovers didn’t result in significantly fewer points than SJSU normally allows was at Boise State. The Spartans forced three first-half turnovers, yielding just 14 points in that opening half (for a 27-14 lead), but then didn’t force another turnover the rest of the way and gave up 21 second-half points.

San Jose State offense different from preseason expectations

Spartans quarterback Chevan Cordeiro entered the season as the Mountain West Preseason Offensive Player of the Year. Last year, his first season in San Jose, Cordeiro threw for 3,251 yards and was responsible for 32 touchdowns (23 passing, nine rushing) to just six interceptions. The Spartans were a pass-happy offense and when they did run it involved Cordeiro almost as often as starting running back Kairee Robinson (Cordeiro ran the ball 138 times last year, Robinson 157)

This year, a typical Air Raid offense has had to balance things more between the run and pass, and in what formations and players get featured. Last year wide receiver Elijah Cooks was the main focus of the pass attack, catching 69 passes for 1,076 yards and 10 touchdowns. Cooks and his fellow wideout Justin Lockhart accounted for roughly half of SJSU’s receiving yards by themselves. This year, Cooks is gone and Lockhart has been injured all year. So they’ve had to switch things up.

“We’ve always thought of them as an Air Raid-type team. Purely spread out and slinging the ball,” Anderson said. “But they’re playing with multiple tight ends, a lot of shifts and motions, eye candy and really making the matchups difficult for you. It’s a little bit of a change from what we’ve seen in the past.”

Cordeiro is averaging fewer pass attempts per game (35.6 last year, 31.7 this year) and fewer yards (231.3 this year to 270.9 in 2022) with the running backs getting much more involved. Robinson, the starter, is technically getting fewer carries than last year but backup RB, Quali Conley, has given SJSU a two-headed running back room the team didn’t have last year. The two backs have combined for 823 rushing yards, 333 receiving yards and 15 total touchdowns (10 rushing and one receiving by Robinson, four rushing by Conley). Robinson and Conley have formed a big part of the offense, both in the run game and in the pass attack.

Aggies struggling on offense in road games so far

In previous seasons, Utah State has been a road warrior team. In 2021 the Aggies were an undefeated 7-0 in games away from Merlin Olsen Field, including 6-0 in true road games. This year it’s been much more of a struggle. 

Home/Road Plays Yards Yds/Play Pass Yds Rush Yds TDs
Home Average 78.8 574.5 7.3 340.8 233.8 6.0
Road Average 63.0 349.0 5.5 258.7 90.3 2.7

There is something to be said about the quality of team Utah State has played at home vs those they’ve faced at home. The average defensive rank of USU’s road opponents is 38th in FBS (Iowa 27th, Air Force 3rd, UConn 83rd) while home defenses rank an average of 70th (James Madison 53rd, Colorado State 127th, Fresno State 30th, Idaho State excluded as a non-FBS team). But even USU’s best road performance against UConn — which has a worse defensive rank than two of USU’s home opponents — of 416 total yards is well behind its worst home total of 500 (against James Madison).

Finding a way to reverse this trend will be a major factor in the Aggies finding a way to get back to a .500 record, or even better, as the regular season begins winding down.

Potentially high-scoring game

Aside from its season opener against Iowa, every game Utah State has played in has seen at least 60 points scored between the two teams. In three of the last four, both sides have eclipsed 30 points.

Assuming the Aggies overcome its struggles to move the ball on the road, there’s every likelihood they can score loads of points in this game. San Jose State’s defensive issues are certainly well-documented (see above). Of course, Utah State’s own defensive struggles will be present, likely allowing the Spartans to also put up a lot of points. The Aggies haven’t allowed fewer than 24 points this season and only held FBS teams under 30 points on two occasions.

Source link

Share This Article



Related Articles