There’s no question Utah State football fans have fond memories when reflecting back on the 2018 season, one of which the Aggies matched the program record with 11 wins and shattered several school records on the offensive side of the ball.
Under offensive coordinator David Yost, the Aggies played like greased lightning that season as they routinely capped off scoring drives in less than one minute and averaged 47.54 points and 498.6 yards per game.
New USU head coach Blake Anderson admired the pace the Aggies played with during that record-breaking season, and plans on taking it one step further.
“I love Matt Wells to death. But no offense, we’re going to play faster,” Anderson said during Monday’s press conference, his first at the Aggie helm. “... There are some of the Air Raid principles in our offense, but we have continued to progress and move ... in taking it a little bit further. And, as you’ll see, I think you’ll see some similarities (with) the tempo, the run game and especially the spacing and splits that we’ll use will look a little bit unique.”
Anderson is certainly no stranger to explosive offenses. During his seven seasons in charge of Arkansas State’s program, the Red Wolves consistently finished among the national leaders in passing yards. ASU ranked in the 10 top in this category in 2017, 2019 and 2020. The Red Wolves are currently third among FBS programs in passing offense this season (364.4 ypg).
Prior to arriving at Arkansas State, Anderson made a name for himself as an offensive coordinator at a few different Division I programs. In his first of two seasons as North Carolina’s OC, the Tar Heels broke the single-season school record in total offense (485.6 ypg). The native of Hubbard, Texas, was able to accomplish that same feat in his final two seasons at Southern Mississippi. Additionally, in Anderson’s lone season as Louisiana-Lafayette’s offensive coordinator, the Ragin’ Cajuns became the first team in the history of the Sun Belt Conference to rush for more than 3,000 yards.
Indeed, Anderson’s teams have also been able to efficiently run the football throughout his coaching career, and he asserted that mentality will also be evident at Utah State.
Whenever a team plays fast on offense, there’s always the concern their defense will be on the field too long. In order to combat this, Anderson said he will divvy out more scholarships to defensive players. As a result, the defense will be able to substitute more freely. Instituting a strong strength and conditioning program will also be paramount to USU’s success on that side of the ball, Anderson asserted.
“Practice has to be chaos, it has to be brutal, so that on game day everything slows down and they’re not fatigued,” Anderson said. “So, there’s a lot of different steps, but it starts with committing more scholarships on defense (than on offense).”
Anderson already has a head strength & conditioning coach picked out, although that hire won’t be officially announced until a later date. The man who will handle those duties is finishing out this season with another program. Anderson is supremely confident this coach will excel in Logan.
“I can promise you this: I’ve seen the buildings he’s been a part of, I’ve seen the product he’s put on the field (and) we will be tough,” he said. “We will play hard and fast, and we will get to the ball in a bad mood. ... I have more confidence in the guy that’s coming than anybody else in the industry, and he’s done a phenomenal job. And once we announce him and you see his track record, I think you’ll understand why I’m excited about having him.”
Anderson also addressed what Aggie fans can expect from their future defenses. While at Arkansas State, Anderson hired a defensive coordinator that implemented a 4-2-5 base defense, “and we had success with it.” That coordinator left and Anderson brought in someone else who kept the same scheme, but “we had so many injuries in that season that we had to shift to a three-down (linemen) front.”
Both defensive schemes will be utilized at Utah State, Anderson said.
“What I will say is we’re going to be in the sweet spot between the two,” he said. “We can’t just sit in a four-down with today’s offenses, but you are going to be outgaped in a three-down (system) against some of the 12 personnel, 11 personnel (offensive systems). ... So we’re going to be multiple. What we are going to (put a) premium on, though, is speed on defense and aggressiveness on defense ‑‑‑ tackles for loss, sacks, lost-yardage plays are the premium. We’ve got to create turnovers and reduce the explosive plays, but you will see a lot of different mobility structurally in the defense to fit what we’ll see (from opposing offenses).”
In addition to offensive and defensive schemes, Anderson also talked about recruiting and the importance of getting out into the community, among other things, during Monday’s various media and fan forums. The 51-year-old has aspirations of endearing himself to Aggie fans, especially those who reside in Cache Valley.
“The guys that are going to come work with me are going to be guys that understand community, understand the size this place this,” he said. “We’re not in a place with a million (people). We’re in a small town community, very similar to what we were in, in Jonesboro. We’re going to be out and about, we’re going to shake hands, we’re going to be at (local) games, we’re going to be at church, we’re going to be at the restaurants in the community. You’re going to see us, you’re going to know us by face and we’re going to get involved. And we’re going to come out and put a product on the field that makes the people of the valley proud, the alumni of Utah State proud.”
As far as recruiting is concerned, Anderson plans on being versatile in his approach, but it starts with the in-state kids. He also talked about the importance of keeping the Polynesian pipeline going and recruiting returned missionaries or athletes who plan on serving missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“We obviously can’t build our roster solely at home, but we want to get into every (high) school (in Utah), we want to talk to every coach,” Anderson said. “If we can’t get in there physically, we’re going to talk to them over the phone and evaluate every player in the state that potentially could play collegiate football. From there, we’ve got to get into the other states that border (Utah). We’ve got to get into Texas, California and, as I mentioned earlier, we’ve got to get into Kansas junior colleges too.”
Anderson signed a portion of his first recruiting class at the Aggie helm Wednesday, but encouraged fans to be patient during the process. The father of three still needs to figure out what current Aggie players intend to stay and that process is even more complicated than normal because the NCAA announced an eligibility freeze for all fall sport student-athletes a few months ago. This means seniors can come back for another season.
“We’re not going to rush out and sign (kids), but we need to find out exactly what numbers we have and what spots we need to fill,” Anderson said. “So I would (say), don’t get impatient. We’re going to be a little slow in this first class. It’s that second and third and fourth class with a year under your belt, two years, those are the ones that are going to be critical to where we want to be. This needs to be deliberate signees that we truly know fit us.”
Will Anderson pluck players out of the transfer portal? More than likely, but don’t count on that happening Wednesday.
“You cannot be recruiting in today’s (day in age) without at least being involved in the portal in some way, and I think you’ll find that we will have a handful of transfers that are attracted by the staff that I’m putting on the field, the offensive and defensive programs that they come from,” he said.