Utah State shocked many people under first year head coach Blake Anderson last season, not only getting to the Mountain West championship game last season but also beating San Diego State in the conference championship game. The Aggies also beat Oregon State in the Los Angeles Bowl. The season started with a big win at Washington State and the Aggies would also gain wins over North Dakota and Air Force before dropping two straight to Boise State (27-3) and BYU (34-20) at home. Utah State would then go on a five game winning streak before dropping a very strange game to Wyoming in a 44-17 rout. This was a massive season for Utah State after a disappointing 2020 season and the Aggies will be looking to improve from the Mountain West title season.
Utah State brings back 12 starters including quarterback Logan Bonner. There are seven starters returning on offense and five on defense. The big question is can Utah State build off the big 11 win season from last year and defend their title this Fall? Let’s take a look a what the 2022 Utah State football team looks like.
Reasons for optimism: Bringing back key players such as quarterback Logan Bonner is going to be key for Utah State’s offense this Fall. Bonner, who followed Blake Anderson from Utah State, had 3,228 yards passing last season. He completed 263 of his 430 attempts (61.2%) and threw 36 touchdowns compared to 12 interceptions. He was injured in the bowl game last year but should be back to better strength. In addition to having Bonner, they Aggies also have Wyoming transfer Levi Williams (990 yards passing, nine touchdowns) and Cooper Legas (171 yards passing, two touchdowns), who took over for the injured Bonner in the Los Angeles Bowl.
In terms of receivers the Aggies brought back the top six receivers last year and added Brandon Bowling. This year, Devon Thompkins, Brandon Bowling, and Derek Wright all depart as does star tight end Carson Terrell, but the Aggies do bring back play makers in Justin McGriff, Alabama transfer Xavier Williams, and Maryland transfer Brian Cobbs.
One of the biggest strengths on offense for Utah State might be the offensive line, which helped the Aggies to top 200 yards rushing in the first three games of 2022. Gone is left guard Demytrick Ali’ifua but Utah State does bring back four starters on the line including left tackle Alfred Edwards and right guard Quazzel White. Sophomore Cole Motes also gained a lot of experinece last season subbing in for injuries and should make an impact this year. Utah State could very likely have one of the best offensive lines in the Mountain West this Fall.
Reasons for concern: While Utah State does return running back Oregon State transfer Calvin Tyler Jr, Elelyon Noa is gone, transferring to Boise State, and there isn’t a ton of depth at that position. Tyler rushed for 884 yards and seven touchdowns. Should Tyler suffer from injury this year, that could spell trouble for the Utah State running game. Junior John Gentry rushed for 235 yards on 66 attempts and should provide much needed depth to the group but behind Tyler Jr. and Gentry, there are a lot of unknowns.
One of the other concerns is that Utah State might not be able to find the same type of production from the receivers group as last year with the loss of a couple of major starters. There isn’t as much experience as last year with this group so should injuries start to come, that could spell bad news for Utah State.
Key Stat: During the 2022 season, Utah State produced offense. A lot of offense. The Aggies averaged 446 yards of total offense a game. This included an average of 142 rushing yards per game on an average of 40 attempts, and an average of 303 passing yards per game with an average completion percentage of 60.2% per game. These are areas where Utah State did fairly well in and can continue to improve on. On statistic that Utah State must absolutely find a solution to is red zone offense. Utah State entered the red zone 54 times last season yet only scored on 42 of those attempts, a percentage of 77.8%. Utah State needs to make use of their offense and turn those drives into points this coming Fall.
Wildcard: Calvin Tyler Jr. and John Gentry should be the lead running backs for the Aggies this season. However, if one of those two were to be banged up, they would only have one experienced back to rely on. One of the running backs that could step up and have really contribute to the Aggies this year is freshman Robert Briggs. He was named the Texas District 12-4A-II Utility Player of the Year as a junior in 2020 and rushed for a total of 3,300 yards and scored 43 touchdowns. He also had 1,357 yards receiving and scored 20 touchdowns. He could provide some needed speed to the Aggies running back group which is depleted other than its top two contributors.
Reasons for optimism: Utah State loses defensive tackle Marcus Moore, Nick Heninger, and Jaylin Bannerman. Despite those losses, the Aggies do bring back Texas transfer Byron Vaughns (44 tackles, 4.5 sacks, one forced fumble), junior defensive end Patrick Joyner Jr. (25 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss), and senior defensive tackle Hale Motu’apuaka (26 tackles, 2.5 sacks). The Aggies also add a transfer from Nevada, junior defensive end Daniel Grzesiak, who had 19 tackles, 5.5 sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery last season for the Wolfpack. Despite losing talent on the line, this should still be a strong group for Utah State.
Utah State’s defensive back room, if they can stay healthy, should be a good group with some depth. Michigan transfer Hunter Reynolds plays safety and had 84 total tackles, one sack, a fumble recovery and an interception and three pass deflections. Senior cornerback Michael Anyanwu also returns for Utah State after making 44 tackles during the 2021 season. Utah State does lose safety Shaq Bond (80 tackles, one sack, two forced fumbles, three interceptions), and cornerbacks Cam Lampkin (43 tackles, six pass deflections) and Zahodri Jackson (19 tackles, three pass deflections).
Reasons for concern: Utah State loses Cash Gilliam (39 tackles, one sack, one fumble recovery, one interception), Justin Rice (124 tackles, 1.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, three interceptions), and Kevin Meitzenheimer (30 tackles) which will cost this group as they provided a lot of production. Utah State does return senior AJ Vongphachanh (55 tackles, two sacks, one fumble recovery) and adds Washington transfer MJ Tafisi (20 tackles, one pass deflection) as well as Arkansas State transfer Anthony Switzer (38 tackles, one forced tackle, two pass deflections), however Switzer did tear his ACL during the Spring and is questionable for the Fall. There isn’t a lot of depth at this position this season and there also isn’t a clear leader yet so this is a concern for the Aggies as the linebacker group is the next up should the defensive line be unable to stop a play such as a run.
Key Stat: Last season, the Aggies were able to benefit from a defense that allowed 393 yards per game and 24.4 points per game on their way to an 11-3 season. The important statistic here is to keep the yards per game down despite losing starters. In 2020 when Utah State had just five starters back, they gave up 485 yards per game and 35.1 points per game. The key for Utah State to defend their title is going to be the same mentality as last season: bend don’t break. Utah State may not have for certain leaders in certain groups this year such as linebacker, but they do have the talent to make important defensive stops.
Wildcard: AJ Vongphachanh is already a known impact, but the breakout player for Utah State’s defense could come from the linebacker group. MJ Tafisi comes in as a transfer from Washington and while he has seen playing time, he hasn’t had a lot of impact. That could very likely change this season as the Aggies are in need of experience with this group but Vongphachanh, who just had his best season yet, could have a breakout year making plays for Utah State.
Reasons for optimism: During the 2021 season, kicker Conner Coles made 20 of his 29 attempted field goals (69%) and made a long of 52 yards. Punter Stephen Kotsanlee averaged 42.3 yards per punt. Both Coles and Kotsanlee return this season and should be important in key special team moments and the field position battle.
Reasons for concern: Utah State fell a little bit back on special teams last season and they do lose kick returner/receiver Savon Scarver this season, who tied the NCAA record for career kick sixes (kick return for touchdown) with seven. The Aggies also lose punt returner/receiver Jordan Nathan, so they will need to look for two new returners to help out in the field position battle.
Key stat: Utah State averaged 22.62 yards on kick returns last season and scored twice on 37 kickoffs. On 15 punt returns, Utah State scored no touchdowns and averaged 8.07 yards per return. Utah State needs to improve the punt return number if they want to get their offense moving and change the field position battle. Utah State ranked 24th in punt return defense, as teams returned 15 punts against the Aggies and had an average of 4.33 return yards per punt with no touchdowns. On the other side, Utah State ranked 53rd in kick return defense, allowing 20.45 yards per return and giving up a touchdown off of 38 kick returns. A quick way to once again get a high number of wins this season is going to come from how Utah State controls their field position.
Wildcard: Utah State no longer has their top punt returner or their top kickoff returner. The only other player to return a punt in 2021 for Utah State and returns for the Aggies in 2022 is 6-6 tight end Parker Buchanan, who had one return for -5 yards. The other impactful player for the Aggies will be punter Stephen Kotsanlee, who will play a significant role in changing the field position. It is also possible that Utah State places another one of the receivers at returner or a veteran safety such as Michigan transfer Hunter Reynolds.
2022 Utah State Schedule
Saturday, August 28th: UConn
Saturday, September 3rd: @ Alabama
Saturday, September 10th: Weber State
Saturday, September 24th: UNLV *
Thursday, September 29th: @ BYU
Saturday, October 8th: Air Force *
Saturday, October 15th: @ Colorado State *
Saturday, October 22nd: @ Wyoming *
Saturday, November 5th: New Mexico *
Saturday, November 12th: @ Hawaii *
Saturday, November 19th: San Jose State *
Friday, November 25th: @ Boise State *
BOLD = Home Game
* = Conference Game
Utah State gets off to an early start this season with a week zero game against UConn. Things then get very heated in Tuscaloosa against Alabama. After facing off against the Tide, the Aggies get a break against Weber State then face UNLV. The game against the Rebels should be interesting this year as it was very interesting last season.
After playing UNLV, Utah State must face BYU, Air Force, Colorado State, and Wyoming. This stretch of games is going to be very difficult for the Aggies and to make it even more difficult, Utah State plays three of those teams on the road. The only game within those four that will not be on the road is a home game against Air Force.
The final four games of the season are against New Mexico, Hawaii, San Jose State, and Boise State. New Mexico is slowly starting to improve, especially on defense, and San Jose State will look to be more competitive as well. The Aggies must play at Hawaii and at Boise State. Playing on the road in either of those two places is never easy, and both teams should be better than their 2021 versions, especially Boise State. The Broncos are coming off a 7-5 season but return 17 of their starters and one of the best defenses in the Mountain West. As of recently, the game between Utah State and Boise State has been a major deciding factor for the Mountain Division crown.
Best Case Scenario
Utah State is highly likely to beat Uconn in week 0 and is highly likely to Fall to Alabama. Utah State should also be able to get a win against Weber State. The game against UNLV is not guaranteed but should also be a win for the Aggies and this is where the best case scenario starts for the Aggies.
If the Aggies were facing BYU at home, they might stand a better chance against the Cougars. However, the game is taking place in Provo and BYU has a lot of talent returning this year. That does not shape up well for the Aggies. At this point, the Aggies would be 3-2 heading into their game against Air Force.
In this best case scenario, Utah State returns home and defeats Air Force then goes back on the road and beats Colorado State and Wyoming to put up a record of 6-2. Utah State would then return home and beat New Mexico to go 7-2 and would also defeat Hawaii to improve to 8-2. The Aggies would defeat San Jose State on Senior Day and would then face off against Boise State for a Mountain Division title but Fall short to finish the regular season 9-3 and go to a decent bowl game.
Worst Case Scenario
The worst case scenario begins where the best case scenario started: Utah State is 3-1 and heading to Provo for a game against BYU. This is where the season starts to Fall for the Aggies, in a blow out loss to BYU that was never even close. Beat up and warn out, the Aggies return home and put on a flat performance against Air Force and lose late in the game to the Falcons to make their record 3-3.
The Aggies would then go on to split a pair of games between Colorado State and Wyoming, both on the road, before returning home to play New Mexico with a season record of 4-4. The Aggies get a win against the Lobos to move to 5-4 before their final three games against Hawaii, San Jose State, and Boise State. In this worst case scenario, the Aggies lose on the road to Hawaii before getting a win on Senior Day against San Jose State. Going into the game against Boise State, the Aggies would be 6-5 and out of the running for the Mountain Division. Utah State drops a game to an energized Boise State team that makes the conference championship and the Aggies Fall to 6-6 on the season and play in one of the first bowls of the year.
What’s Going to Happen?
I really think that Utah State will trend towards the best case scenario as they do bring talent back and the coaches return. Going back to the best case scenario, I do think that Utah State is going to be 3-2 going into the conference game against Air Force. The three wins should come against Uconn, Weber State, and UNLV with losses to Alabama and BYU.
From there I do think that the Aggies will drop one to either Colorado State or Wyoming. Both games are on the road but I do think that Utah State avenges the loss to Wyoming last year. On the other hand, Colorado State could beat the Aggies this season after Falling short on the road last season. I do think that Utah State will improve to 4-2 before facing the Rams and Cowboys. After Utah State faces Colorado State and Wyoming, the Aggies should be 5-3.
After going 5-3, Utah State will win their next three games against New Mexico, Hawaii, and San Jose State to improve to 8-3.
Heading into the game against Boise State, the Broncos and Aggies will be playing for high stakes: a spot in the Mountain West Championship game. Utah State drops the final game of the regular season and finishes 8-4. Utah State goes to a middle of the road Mountain West bowl game.