Editor’s note: This is the first in a eight-part series profiling Utah State’s football team by position. Next: Running backs.
There’s no question depth and experience are invaluable commodities when it comes to college football teams, and that’s something Utah State has in droves at the quarterback position.
Not only did the Aggies welcome back their top three signal callers from their record-setting offense from last season, they brought in two highly regarded dual-style quarterbacks as part of their 2019 recruiting class.. This might be the deepest group of QBs in program history, and one that arguably ranks first in the Mountain West as a unit.
“I think it’s good from any conference standpoint, just because (the previous coaching staff) did a really good job of developing that group,” said USU quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford, who is also the team’s offensive coordinator. “And then we’ve asked those guys to not take a backseat, so I don’t want any of those guys to think that they’re never going to play this year. I want them all to prepare to be (an impact) player, and they’re doing that, so I really like the depth of that group.”
It’s no mystery USU’s quarterback room is led by gunslinger Jordan Love, who was recently tabbed the 2019 Mountain West preseason Offensive Player of the Year. With Love in charge of the offense a year ago, the Aggies shattered several single-season school records, including scoring offense (47.5 points per game), total offense (497.5 yards per game) and total points (618) which, coincidentally, was also a MW record.
The physically imposing 6-foot-4, 225-pound junior is motivated to prove last season was not a fluke and that the Aggies can continue to build on their success offensively, despite having to replace nine starters.
“I’m super hungry,” Love said. “I mean, you never want to go out and have a good year, and then come out and let all of your expectations fall short. So our expectations are still a Mountain West championship, and we’re going to do whatever we’ve got to do to get there.”
Love made huge strides from his redshirt freshman to sophomore season, and has developed into a legitimate NFL prospect. The Bakersfield, California, native upped his completion percentage from .549 to .640 from his freshman to sophomore campaign and finished with the same amount of interceptions (six) both seasons, despite attempting 182 more passes as a sophomore. Love threw for 3,567 yards and 32 touchdowns — both single-season Aggie records — in 2018, despite sitting out essentially 12 quarters.
Love, who is very agile for his size, also kept opposing defenses honest with his feet as he rushed for seven more TDs a year ago.
The scary thing for opponents of the Aggies is Love has gotten even better, particularly with his already sound fundamentals and foot work, Sanford asserted.
“He’s doing a really good job within the pocket; he’s generating more ground force on his throws,” Sanford said.
Not only does Love possess the physical tools needed to be an elite quarterback, his intangibles are also top notch, Sanford avowed.
“Jordan’s leadership has improved tremendously and it was already good,” Sanford said. “I think he has commanded the respect of not only the whole offense, but I think the whole team because he’s such a consistent worker, he’s even-kneeled. ... And then all of the national recognition Jordan gets, it doesn’t matter to him, it doesn’t affect him. You know, anything that comes his way, I really do believe in my heart of hearts that he’s so grounded that he’s going to be able to handle it.”
When asked about his personal goals for 2019, the first thing Love mentioned was increasing his completion percentage from a year ago. No. 10, who threw for 300-plus yards seven times last season, is also determined to improve his decision making and cut down on negative plays.
“I want all of my stats to be better than last year,” said Love, who makes throws of 50-plus yards look effortless. “... But stats don’t really mean much to me. I mean, like I’ve said, once the team goals happen, the individual goals kind of fall into place.”
Should Love get injured this season, the Aggies have an experienced and talented backup at their disposal in redshirt sophomore Henry Colombi. The 6-2, 205-pounder completed 33 of 40 passes for 329 yards a year ago, and also rushed for 108 yards on 13 attempts.
Colombi played the entire second half in USU’s 56-17 victory over Hawaii and led the visitors to 28 points in the third quarter. The Hollywood, Florida, native completed 9 of 11 passes in that game and added 34 yards on a trio of carries.
No. 3 is in the midst of his third fall camp at USU and has looked very sharp and comfortable so far.
“You know, I really do think Henry’s played great football,” Sanford said. “This spring he played good football, and so far I really think his game has elevated tremendously since spring ball and into fall camp. He’s been really consistent. Maybe it’s the warm weather and makes him feel like he’s back home in Florida, but the ball in just coming out of his hands so well and so consistently.”
The Aggies also welcomed back freshman Andrew Peasley, who played in three games a year ago to preserve his redshirt season. The LeGrand, Oregon, native is fast and quick, and displayed that ability by rushing for 67 yards in limited action against San Jose State last fall.
Like Love and Colombi, Sanford gushed about Peasley’s abilities.
“Andrew’s upside, it truly is limitless,” Sanford said. “The way he runs the ball, the way he can push it down the field, the competitor that he is, how much he cares about football (is outstanding). He’s an unbelievable student of the game. I love that kid, I love how he’s competing.”
Adding depth at the QB position is a pair of true freshmen in Cooper Legas and Josh Calvin.
Legas was one of Utah’s best three-sport prep athletes in recent memory during his time at Orem High School. Legas quarterbacked the Tigers to back-to-back 4A state titles, plus was a two-time state champion in wrestling and in the javelin during the track & field season.
As a senior at Orem, Legas completed nearly 70 percent of his passes for a whopping 4,338 yards and 48 TDs, vs. 11 interceptions. The 6-2, 210-pounder also amassed 1,077 rushing yards and scored 15 times on the ground.
The 6-3, 190-pound Calvin racked up nearly 4,000 passing yards and tossed 44 touchdowns during his final two years of high school. The native of Bellflower, California, was only picked off nine times during that timespan.
“I think both guys are learning,” Sanford said. “It’s a process, but they’re doing a good job. You know, Cooper has had a really good start and he’s really, really smart. He picks things up really well. Josh has a lot of upside. He’s a work in progress. He’s so underdeveloped. He’s tall, skinny kid much like I was as a freshman in college.”
One of Sanford’s primary goals by the end of fall camp is to have three guys “worthy” of being a starting QB. The former Western Kentucky head coach also wants the Aggie offense to be “just south of cocky and kind of north of confident. That’s kind of where you want to stick as an offense, and I think that’s where they’re at right now.”