Location: Logan, Utah (Maverik Stadium)
Date/Time: Saturday, September 23rd at 5:00 P.M. PST (6:00 Utah Time)
Television: KJZZ 14
Radio: Aggie Sports Network
Streaming: Mountain West Network
Odds: James Madison (-5.5) Provided by DraftKings Sportsbook
Head-to-Head: Utah State and James Madison have never met before. The Dukes are on a six game-winning streak.
Three things to look for:
1. Can Utah State play with a balanced defense?
Last game against Utah State gave up over 300 yards rushing to Air Force. James Madison is not averaging over 300 rushing yards but they do have a quarterback that has thrown for 555 yards and four touchdowns this season. The top receiver for the Dukes, Reggie Brown, has 10 receptions on the year for 194 yards and a touchdown and is averaging 19.4 yards per catch. James Madison is gaining 373.7 yards per game and is averaging 196.7 yards passing and 177 yards rushing. James Madison has scored over 30 points in all but one game against Troy, where the Dukes put up 16 points and managed to win by 2 on the road. The key for Utah State is do not let James Madison get comfortable on offense. Get pressure on Jordan McCloud and stopping running back Kaelon Black early on. The key statistic? Jordan McCloud has yet to throw an interception... that needs to change.
2. Is there a quarterback controversy?
Cooper Legas was benched in the Air Force game early on when the Aggies were down 22-0 after committing two turnovers. Freshman McCae Hillstead passed for 202 yards on 27 attempts (67%) and also threw for three touchdowns in his debut. That matches the number of touchdowns that Cooper Legas has thrown this season, with 3, and is also in contention with Cooper Legas for number of passing yards this season, 384 passing yards. Is pulling Cooper Legas from the game a message sent to Legas to improve quickly? Or is it time for Hillstead to shine? As it turns out McCae Hillsteaed is getting his first start this week and running backs Robbert Briggs and Davon Booth are also expected to play against the Dukes, which could help Hillstead to shine.
3. Can the receivers continue to develop?
Last game was by far the most productive game that the wide receivers unit has had for Utah State. Three receivers caught touchdowns in Micah Davis (84 yards, 1 touchdown), Terrell Vaughn (57 yards, 1 touchdown), and Jalen Royals (52 yards, 1 touchdown). This shows development for two reasons. For one Terrell Vaughn did not have to do everything for this unit. He still went for 57 yards but he had help. This was the second game where three receivers caught a least one touchdown and the progress needs to improve in order for Utah State to have success against a defense that is giving up 285.3 passing yards per game. Utah State needs to be able to take advantage and have the three players mentioned above and others step up in order to be successful offensively.
Utah State is going to be looking to get the bad memories from the last game out. The Aggies are banged up but are getting healthier as they prepare to face James Madison. Utah State seemed to find consistency in their offense with McCae Hillstead under center and against an Air Force defense that can at times be tough, Hillstead passed for three touchdowns.
The good news for Utah State? James Madison does not run the triple option. Utah State has done a decent enough job of stopping the run if the Air Force game is not considered. The concerning thing is that James Madison, other than a game against Virginia, has played some pretty good scoring defense and held Troy to 14 points last weekend.
The key for Utah State to win this game is going to be consistency on offense. Get the ball into third and manageable. Score touchdowns in the red zone. Limit the turnovers. With the newfound success of McCae Hillstead and the receivers group stepping up, Utah State should be able to pull out a hard-fought win over James Madison.
Score Prediction: Utah State: 24; James Madison: 13