This is a series of four questions that will be important to consider for Utah State’s success this season. Each week of the series will look into a different question, leading to the season opener against Iowa. This weeks question:
#3: Can the Aggies defensive backs step up?
Last season Utah State lost starters in the backfield which contributed to the group struggling, but Ike Larsen stepped up, making 32 tackles and 2 sacks in addition to making four interceptions as did Michael Anyanwu (47 tackles, 11 pass breakups, 1 interception). This year the Aggies lose safeties Hunter Reynolds, Gurvan Hall, Ajani Carter, and Dominic Tatum in addition to losing cornerback Andre Grayson. The Aggies did however add cornerback Al Ashford from Washington and Simeon Harris from Colorado and return cornerback Michael Anyanwu, one of the leaders of the defense last season, and Ike Larsen.
Last season the Aggies ranked 31st in passing yards allowed with 202 yards per game and was tied for 51st in the nation in interceptions per game with 11. The Aggies also scored one pick sick last season. A key stat that is going to be important for this group to step up in is to improve on the third down conversion percentage, which at 41.4% last season ranked 94th in the nation. Utah State was also tied for 69th last season with 18 total turnovers, a number that can be improved upon if leaders in the defensive backfield can step up. The Aggies ranked 105th in the nation with 31.15 points per game last season, which is a number that should also improve with experience in the backfield.
Utah State ranked in the bottom half of the nation in red zone defense as teams had 47 red zone attempts against the Aggies and scored on 44 of those drives (93.6%) which is also a number that may be improved on with experience in the defensive backfield.
So the Aggies defensive success will not only depend on finding success on the defensive line but leaning on experience in the linebacker and especially leaders in the defensive backfield.