Monday Cooldown – The real test begins for Blake Anderson – Cache Valley Daily

Utah State head coach Blake Anderson visits with an official during a football game against Boise State in Logan on Nov. 18, 2023. Photo by Clint Allen.

LOGAN — You thought clawing his way to a bowl game with this inexperienced, young, rapidly-rebuilt Utah State team was a test for head coach Blake Anderson? Sure, it was quite the test and one Anderson did well to pass. But the real fun for him is just beginning.

The Aggies’ nail-biter win over New Mexico, which made USU Bowl eligible for the third straight year, will keep head coach Blake Anderson in the good graces of (most) Utah State fans through at least the next couple of months. But those next few months will determine whether or not Anderson has what it takes to ever coming close to what he pulled off in year one at USU.

Being bowl eligible is a good bench mark for Anderson to keep reaching with this team, but fans are not going to be content with barely making bowl games for long. Fans expect to be contenders late in the season. There’s not the “championship-or-fire-the-coach” mentality Boise State has (heck, they fired the head coach when the team was still very much in conference title game contention), but being completely out of the equation with several weeks left in the season in back-to-back years hasn’t gone over that well, especially after Anderson gave Aggie fans a giant taste of conference title glory in his first year by winning the Mountain West crown in 2021.

Throughout the 2022 and 2023 seasons, the Aggies have been plagued by poor play in the trenches, something that has bled into several aspects of the game. USU has seen inconsistencies in its run game, struggled to stop the pass rush, struggled to get a pass rush, and too often failed to stop the run.

There are enough stats and trends to back up those observations to fill out a decent-sized pamphlet, complete with charts and graphics. And it’s been discussed in numerous editions of this column throughout the season. That’s not the point here. It’s just that, in 2021, Anderson just seemed to be lucky that he had enough guys left on the roster brought on by the previous coaching staff, combined with some quality transfers at key positions, to build a a title team. But since then, Anderson hasn’t shown the ability to build a consistent winning Utah State team.

Excuses for why Anderson’s Aggies have had all those issues — and consequently have gone 6-6 in back-to-back regular seasons after the 10-3 Mountain West championship season — are plentiful. It’s been blamed on injuries, lack of size, youth, NIL and the transfer portal. All of those issues are very real causes of the Aggies’ struggles, but what makes those excuses a little hard to stomach is that Utah State isn’t the only team to have to deal with those challenges. Every team has injuries. Every so-called “Group of Five” team, including every one of USU’s conference foes, has to battle for athletes with size and athleticism. And every program has been forced to reconcile their old ways of recruiting with the new realities of NIL combined with ever-more rampant transfers.

In other words, it’s hard to feel bad for Anderson when teams like Boise State, Wyoming, Fresno State, UNLV and San Jose State have all managed to rebuild championship-level rosters — two of those schools having accomplished that rebuild within the span of Anderson’s tenure at USU.

As recently as last week, I reviewed Anderson’s statements regarding how he needs to recruit bigger and better along the offensive and defensive line. The answer to the question of “Why hasn’t Anderson recruited bigger already?” is that he has to this point opted to recruit for development and not immediate fit. It’s a debatable strategy given that Anderson wound up filling his two-deep depth chart with guys that need development, but next year is the time for that strategy to pay off.


Anderson had essentially the same rebuild strategy post-2021 as he did post-2022. He brought in guys that he hopes to be able to develop at a lot of different positions. And that young, inexperienced, injury-ridden team (the same excuses littered throughout this year’s post-game pressers) went 6-7. But none of those players stuck around. Had they not raced to the four corners of college football, fans might very well have seen their team among the convoluted crowd of teams at the top of the standings this year having a shot at being in the title game.

In going with essentially the same recruiting strategy, Anderson is making the bet that he’ll be able to hang onto players this time. After the New Mexico game he said there would be conversations with “every one of these guys and just give honest assessments of where we’re at.”

“We’ve already started a lot of those (conversations),” Anderson said, “especially the guys that have the ability to leave if they chose to, like guys did a year ago. And so we’re going to finish up some of those conversations and prepare for recruiting next week when contact period starts.”

There are some players who have publicly voiced their continued commitment to the Aggies. Safety-turned-linebacker Anthony Switzer seems to be all-in on the Aggies, stating in a tweet that “We’re staying put and we’re going to build a great program!”

Running back Rahsul Faison seemed to echo Switzer’s statement in quote tweeting the linebacker’s post. Faison’s post simply had the “shout out” emoji.

Aggie fans shouldn’t expect these kinds of statements from everyone, but it feels like star players are scrutinized and assumed to be gone if they don’t. Regardless, it seems a couple of key Aggies want to return.

The first key recruiting period of the offseason begins in just a few days, and that recruiting will very much include Anderson’s own players. Utah State’s still-very-young NIL collective has been slowly building up, but Anderson has multiple times said it’s now in a place where it’s going to be a major influence. But that’s not going to be something that changes in the near future. If Anderson is going to make things work at Utah State, he must be able to navigate knowing he’ll always be at a disadvantage in location, NIL and facilities.

Utah State getting to a bowl game this year but once again losing so many transfers would just end up being a Pyrrhic Victory. And, to steal from the words from King Pyrrhus, another victory in such a manner and the Aggies “shall be utterly ruined” as a program.

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