Amid up-and-down season, Utah State can finish on high note in Potato Bowl – Cache Valley Daily

Utah State Aggies celebrate in the end zone. Photo by Triston Hartfiel

BOISE, ID — After a long, up-and-down season, Utah State ended up with it’s bowl-eligible 6-6 record and its fifth all-time appearance in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. It won’t be among the highly regarded bowls of the season, but for the Aggies it’s a chance to end a generally mediocre season on a high note and catapult the team into an increasingly anticipated 2024 campaign.

Game Details

Kickoff: 1:30 p.m. Mountain Time

Location: Albertsons Stadium (Boise, ID)

KVNU Aggie GameDay with Al Lewis: 11:30 a.m – 1:15 p.m.

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

TV Broadcast: ESPN

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.

Statistical Rank Comparison

Utah State Stat Georgia State
34.1 (24th) Scoring Offense 25.8 (77th)
446.3 (21st) Total Offense 372.5 (73rd)
259.8 (42nd) Passing Offense 200.9 (94th)
186.6 (25th) Rushing Offense 171.6 (50th)
33.8 (115th) Scoring Defense 30.8 (102nd)
415.6 (105th) Total Defense 431.9 (115th)
216.5 (53rd) Passing Defense 287.7 (128th)
199.1 (125th) Rushing Defense 144.8 (51st)
24 (123rd) Turnovers Lost 14 (33rd)
19 (39th) Turnovers Gained 16 (72nd)

Utah State and Georgia State will both be down quite a few key players (SEE FULL INJURY/TRANSFER REPORT BELOW) with 14 players in either side’s two-deep depth chart either injured or opting out of the bowl game. For the Aggies, it’s almost entirely the former, with only one key transfer, safety Devin Dye. For the Panthers it’s essentially only transfers that are causing a shake-up in its depth chart.

It’s hard to argue exactly which side has suffered the worst in terms of attrition. The Aggies have more players out but for the Panthers nearly all of the players out were All-Sun Belt selections this year, including two first team selections, running back Marcus Carroll and offensive tackle Travis Glover. Wide receiver Robert Lewis and linebacker Jontrey Hunter were third-team All-Sun Belt and have also chosen to move on.

Although numerous top-level players for the Panthers will be out, Anderson had little interest in playing the game of analyzing postseason attrition and trying to draw conclusions on how it will impact his opponent.

“I hadn’t got caught up in it a whole lot,” Anderson said. “If you start thinking about, well who’s there and who’s not, who’d they lose, you can always be surprised when a guy steps in and he has a huge day and is bigger or better than what they lost. I just always assume they’re going to play their best.”

Looking at Utah State’s own job of finding guys to step up, there’s plenty of names one could throw out. Anderson mentioned wide receivers Grant Page and Colby Bowman who will see increased snaps with Micah Davis out (and Cooper Jones as the punt returner). Several guys will have to fill in at “Will” linebacker, like Logan Pili.

But perhaps the biggest name is Levi Williams, who will be stepping back into the starting role in place of Cooper Legas. Pressed into service because of injuries to Legas and McCae Hillstead, Williams starred in USU’s win over New Mexico, tallying 351 total yards and five total touchdowns responsible for. With Legas out again due to his shoulder and Anderson playing it safe with Hillstead’s ankle injury, Williams will start once again. It will be his last game as he is foregoing his final season of eligibility to pursue his widely known goal of becoming a Navy SEAL.

“You consider the season, the way it’s gone, to have a guy step in and lead us to a win (at New Mexico) to get here, then to prepare the way Levi has, it’s a great testament to who he is, how he prepares,” Anderson said. “Really I think his teammates, (with) how much trust they have in him. This is something our guys are aware of.”

Williams is no stranger to the Potato Bowl and what was arguably the best game of his career occurred on the blue turf in Boise. Then playing for Wyoming, Williams completed 9 of 11 passes for 127 yards and a touchdown, but more impressively ran for 200 yards and four touchdown.

Williams obviously won’t be the only senior to be making his final appearance on a college football field. Plenty of others, such as fifth or even sixth-year seniors like Hale Motu’apuaka, Michael Anyanwu, Wade Meacham, Wyatt Bowles, not to mention guys that transferred to USU and found homes as highly productive players like Terrell Vaughn and MJ Tafisi. It’ll be these guys’ last chance to add one final win to their tally.

“I haven’t really thought about it too much. I’m just excited to go out there and play with my boys one more time, represent Utah State,” Motu’apuaka said. “I’m just grateful that I’ve been here this whole time and have experienced what I’ve experienced.”

“It’s one last ride. I want to leave it all out on the field, especially for these boys,” Tafisi said.

“Just going to empty the tank for this team. They deserve it. They’ve worked so hard. Lots of adversity this year,” Williams said. “Going out there and trying to get a win is going to be hard. We got a really good Georgia State team coming in. I think we can do it. I think we’re more than capable of winning this game.”

“There are obviously emotions at the end towards when you see the triple zeros. But preparation is still the same,” Vaughn said. “Still want to compete and win.”

This game will determine whether or not the Aggies end the season with a winning record or a losing one. And much like making a bowl game, having a winning record can be used as shorthand for a successful season but a losing record can do the opposite (for example, you’d probably see Anderson in a more favorable light if you were told he had two winning records in three seasons but wouldn’t feel as good if you said two losing seasons in three years).

Anderson said this one game won’t define the team (he said that “getting here is really what defined them”), but there’s obviously a lot of motivation to get that final win.

“I’d love to get to 7-6. It sounds and tastes better than 6-7,” Anderson said, later adding: “I’d love to send these guys out here on a positive note, a memory, something they won’t forget. You always remember the last game you played win or lose. We’d like it to be a positive outcome for them.”

If history regarding Utah State’s attempt to get to 7-6 vs avoiding 6-7 has any say in the Aggies’ success on Saturday, it’s not a good sign. In four previous bowl games in which Utah State entered with six wins, the team is 0-4.

On the other side of the historical argument is the fact that Anderson holds a 5-1 record over the Panthers, all dating back to his time coaching Arkansas State which faced Georgia State on a (mostly) yearly basis in the Sun Belt. A lot has changed in the three years since Anderson was a coach in the SBC, but there are still some things he will draw from his six games against the Panthers.

“What I think I would carry over from our previous history is just the culture to expect, what to expect from kind of how they’re going to approach the game,” Anderson said. “Beyond that there’s a lot of things that are different for both of us at this point. I do know we’re going to have to stop the run, be able to run the ball, and you’re going to be tested physically up front.”

The potential physicality of this game is something of particular interest. An ongoing theme of the season was a game-by-game analysis of whether or not Utah State was big enough or physical enough to match up with its opponents. Will the Aggies be able to win the battle of physicality in the trenches?

Utah State’s offensive and defense lines will be pretty much entirely healthy, including backups. They’ll go win with the only notable injuries being the bumps and bruises that any player has at this point, especially given the brutally physical nature of the position. The same can’t be said of Georgia State. As mentioned above (and detailed below), the Panthers are without two key offensive linemen. Glover, the left tackle who is opting out to prepare for the NFL draft, and Montavious Cunningham, the team’s starting right tackle who entered the transfer portal.

But in comparing Utah State’s offensive line to the Georgia State defensive line, little has changed for either side from the end of the regular season. And that matchup could favor the Panthers who own a decent front seven that ranks 51st in rush defense and and 45th in sacks. This will be a defense that’s tough to crack.

Injury Report

This isn’t a comprehensive list of injuries and players that are opting out of the bowl game, but it does cover all known injuries on the Aggies, plus transfers and bowl opt-outs of players in the two-deep depth chart for either team.

Utah State

  • (QB) Cooper Legas – OUT
  • (WR) Micah Davis – OUT
  • (WR) Kyle Van Leeuwen – OUT
  • (TE) Broc Lane – OUT
  • (LB) Anthony Switzer – OUT
  • (LB) Max Alford – OUT
  • (CB) Avante Dickerson – OUT
  • (S) Omari Okeke – OUT
  • (S) Devin Dye – TRANSFER
  • (P) Stephen Kotsanlee – OUT

Georgia State

  • (RB) Marcus Carroll – TRANSFER
  • (WR) Robert Lewis – TRANSFER
  • (OL) Travis Glover – NFL DRAFT
  • (OL) Montavious Cunningham – TRANSFER
  • (LB) Jontrey Hunter – NFL DRAFT

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