Now into week three of the Mountain West season into week three, the Aggies are 0-3 and without a head coach as Gary Andersen and Utah State have parted ways. Frank Maile, who played defense for the Aggies from 2004-2007, has been named the interim head coach and also had a coaching stop at Vanderbilt before returning to Utah State. This week presents a different challenge in the Fresno State Bulldogs.
Fresno State at Utah State
Location: Logan, Utah (Maverik Stadium)
Line: Fresno State (-10)
Date/Time: Saturday, November 14th; 2:30 PM EST.
Head-to-Head: Fresno State is yet another WAC team turned Mountain West that has a history with Utah State. The Aggies are 13-17-1 against Fresno State all time and have won the last three matchups. The largest win of the series is a 56-14 win for Utah State in Fresno in 2015 and most recently the Aggies defeated the Bulldogs on the road in 2019 in a 37-35 thriller. From 2007-20115, Utah State went on a six game losing streak to Fresno State and lost to the Bulldogs in the 2013 Mountain West Championship game, the first year the game was introduced. During the WAC days Fresno State dominated Utah State, going 6-1 but the same cannot be said for the Mountain West era. Utah State is 3-2 (including the championship game in 2013) against Fresno State and haven’t lost to the Bulldogs since the championship game.
Three Things to Watch For
1. Who starts at quarterback?
Coming into the season, one of the biggest questions for this Utah State team was who was going to step up to replace Jordan Love. Three games into the season, that question still remains. Jayson Shelley has not had a lot of help in terms of Utah State getting explosive plays and has struggled himself, failing to reach 100 yards passing in all three games so far. Last week Andrew Peasley came in to the game and completed one pass for five yards. The Fresno State defense hasn’t looked quite as good as the Nevada defense, but Utah State has found no answers on offense so far. The prediction here is that Jayson Shelley will start at quarterback, but there is no question that he is going to need help from the running backs and wide receivers to move the ball down the field consistently, which leads into the second question...
2. Who steps up to help the offense get going?
Jayson Shelley is going to be a key part, but other players need to step up. Against Nevada last week, Shelley was the leading rusher with 34 yards. The Aggies are not going to beat the Bulldogs with a leading rusher that has 34 yards, that is a quick way to become one dimensional and get into consistent punting situations. The leading receiver for Utah State, Deven Thompkins, has 122 yards receiving on 17 receptions and a touchdown. This is one of the players who needs to step up. Taylor Campton, Jordan Nathan and Savon Scarver also need to begin making more plays if Utah State wants to find answers. Last season, even with Jordan Love, the offense really struggled and much of this had to do with the inability to find creativity on offense. Utah State has veterans at wide receiver and needs to find a way to get them more involved. Maybe that means trick plays. Maybe it’s jet sweeps to the receivers. The jet sweeps may spark something in the running game.
Jaylen Warren had a productive game at Boise State and had 27 yards on seven carries against Nevada. Warren could be a key to get the running game going, however he is going to need more than seven carries to do this. Elelyon Noa could also see some more carries, and maybe he should be given more of a chance. Three running backs can present three different styles of running, so if the running backs are struggling to gain yardage, maybe the smart thing to do would be to rotate Noa, Warren, and Devonta’e Henry-Cole on series until one of them is able to find a rhythm. Whatever the Aggies decide to do offensively, the running backs need to get involved as well as the receivers.
3. Can Utah State finally win the time of possession battle?
In three games, something there are a couple of different things that Utah State has not been able to do, such as gaining 300 yards on offense or having a player pass for over 100. One of the biggest problems for the Aggies has been time of possession, and that has been a difference maker. Against San Diego State for example, Utah State was within three points at the start of the second half but wore down quickly because San Diego State was putting together longer drives that winded the Utah State defense. This has been the story for Utah State this year, where they are able to keep games close for a while then they wear down. Against a Fresno State team that has had answers offensively and is playing decent enough defensively, Utah State cannot afford to lose the time of possession battle by over 10 minutes again. Certainly the defense needs to step up and not allow big yardage plays (50 yards or more), however this also falls on the offense. In order for Utah State to stay in this game, they need to move the ball down the field. Punting the ball every drive is not going to cut it and this is going to turn into another long game if Utah State is unable to find balance.
The one thing that Utah State cannot afford to do against Fresno State is get into a shootout. I don’t trust Utah State’s offense enough for that, at least not until they can move the ball more creatively. Last year Utah State was able to compete with Fresno State in a shootout but that seems much more unlikely this year. Jordan Love and Gerold Bright are not with the Aggies to make plays anymore, so it is going to fall to either Jayson Shelley or Andrew Peasley. Something that may spark some creativity is by giving both Shelley and Peasley different series to take over. It has been successfully done before by many other teams and could keep Fresno State on their heals if Utah State is able to use it to their advantage. The problem is that we have no idea of Utah State is going to lean this way or they will continue to stick with one quarterback. If Utah State had shown creativity and success in previous games I might give them a good chance to keep it close against Fresno, but the Aggies no longer have Gary Andersen and have so far struggled to find answers on both sides of the ball. They will keep it close against Fresno State but the Bulldogs will eventually pull away.
Utah State 17, Fresno State 31