The last time Utah State’s football team took the field, it wasn’t pretty, especially on the offensive side of the ball, as the Aggies were whipped by now-No. 2 LSU, 42-6, on Oct. 5 in Death Valley.
The good news for the Aggies is they had an extra week to regroup and prepare for their return to Mountain West play. USU will host Nevada this Saturday at 8:15 p.m. in a crucial game for both programs.
“I feel like the first thing you have to do after losing is get back to work,” USU linebacker Kevin Meitzenheimer said at Monday’s press conference. “That’s the way you get over the loss. Coming back to work is going to make us better. Being able to have that extra week, getting everybody healthy, the extra film, the extra treatment, it’s going to give us an upper edge on (Nevada).”
Meitzenheimer and head coach Gary Andersen are confident the Aggies are hungry and ready to bounce back from their most lopsided loss since their season opener against Wisconsin in 2017. Meitzenheimer and standout kicker Dominik Eberle raved about how tight-knit this Aggie team is.
“I feel like right now the team is in a good spot,” Eberle said. “We, obviously, were humbled the last time we were out on the field, but we took that as a motivator. ... That is not going to happen again, that is not who we are and we came out and had a really good week of practice. That brotherhood is showing right now. Some people can fold, some people can point a finger, but that didn’t happen at all with us.”
Like its first bye week of the season, USU spent a lot of time working on player development with the underclassmen. Some of those younger Aggies might fill more significant roles, starting this weekend against a 4-2 Nevada squad. One of Andersen’s biggest areas of emphasis over the bye week was finding ways to get the best players on the field, even if it means a change of position.
“We do have some deficiencies where some young guys may need to potentially change positions, but we’ll see how that goes,” Andersen said.
Andersen didn’t specifically address any of the myriad of injuries his squad has been dealing with, but did say slot receiver Taylor Compton is a lot more healthy and “that’s going to help us be a in a good position there as we move forward.” Compton didn’t play against LSU.
Running back Jaylen Warren will likely be healthy enough to play against the Wolf Pack.
The Aggie coaching staff spent the end of last week on the recruiting trail. USU was able to secure a verbal commitment from Northridge High senior wide receiver/defensive end Otto Tia, who announced his decision Monday on Twitter.
“Committed. Like to thank Utah State for being there from the beginning,” Tia posted. “Much love. Beginning of a new chapter.”
Tia, who didn’t start playing football until he was a sophomore, is a fast and physical 6-foot-3, 205-pound receiver and defensive end for the Knights. In nine games this season, Tia has hauled in 34 receptions for 597 yards and a trio of touchdowns, plus has recorded 18 tackles and 3.0 sacks. He has also averaged 27.1 yards on 14 kickoff returns and 18 yards on six punt returns.
Not only is Tia very athletic as a pass catcher, he is a very physical blocker. The native Hawaiian was offered a scholarship by the Aggies in April.
As a junior at Northridge, Tia caught 31 passes for 623 yards and a pair of TDs, and fared well defensively with 28 tackles, 4.0 sacks, five interceptions and two forced fumbles. No. 5 also blocked a field goal and recovered it for a touchdown. According to a story by Ogden Standard-Examiner reporter Patrick Carr, Tia didn’t become a full-time starter until midway through his junior year.
One of USU’s most versatile players so far this season has also been one of the team’s biggest unsung heroes. Former Logan High star Jacoby Wildman has quietly been one of the Aggies’ most productive defensive players, despite coming off the bench in three of the five games.
The senior is tied for first on the squad with 2.0 sacks, is second in tackles for loss (4.5) and ranks third among all Aggie defensive linemen in tackles (17).
“Jacoby’s played all over the place,” Andersen said. “He’s played outside, he’s played inside and he’s played nose guard at times. He’s played in the A gap, he’s played in the B gap and again, on the edges of the defense. He’s so smart that you can allow him to play different positions and handle it mentally, and then physically he can handle the different types of techniques and fundamentals that come with playing the different positions. ... He’s very versatile. He’s very strong-handed. When he lays his hands on you, you’re going to feel them.”
Another Aggie who continues to get the job done game in and game out is junior long snapper Brandon Pada. The second-year starter is a big reason why Eberle has been successful on 9 of 10 field goal attempts this season, and his contributions extend beyond that, Eberle asserted.
“Brandon Pada is one of the most underrated guys that nobody talks about,” Eberle said. “He’s been consistent, he’s always done his job, he gets down on coverage, he forces the returner to make a fair catch. We’ve got him in schemes now where he’s blocking, so he can kind of do everything and he deserves a lot more credit than he sometimes might get.”
USU’s road game against Mountain West rival Air Force next Saturday will be televised by ESPN2 and is scheduled to begin at 8:15 p.m. That means the Aggies will have at least four games in 2019 with an 8:15 p.m. kickoff or later.
MW WEEKLY AWARDS
Colorado State wideout Warren Jackson was selected as the Mountain West Offensive Player of the Week after racking up 214 yards on nine receptions in his team’s 35-21 road triumph over New Mexico. The 6-foot-5 junior, who had two TD catches against the Lobos, did not play against the Aggies earlier this season as he was nursing an injury.
UNLV linebacker Javin White was named the MW Defensive POTW after forcing two turnovers and recording 7.0 tackles, including 2.5 for a loss, in the Rebels’ stunning 34-10 win at SEC opponent Vanderbilt. The senior’s two takeaways resulted in 10 UNLV points.
Nevada kicker Brandon Talton was tabbed the league’s Special Teams POTW after booting a game-winning 40-yard field goal as time expired in his team’s wild 41-38 victory over visiting San Jose State. The freshman also drilled a 25-yard field goal against SJSU and is perfect on his 12 attempts this season.