To say the Aggies struggled offensively a year ago is a bit of an understatement.
After all, Utah State only averaged 15.50 points and 275.8 yards of total offense per game, plus was routinely at an eight-to-10-minute disadvantage in the time of possession department during an abbreviated 2020 college football season.
In order to get back on track offensively in 2021, the Aggies must be more consistent in the trenches. USU is counting on a good mix of veterans --- there are four returning starters --- and newcomers at the offensive line position to help turn the tide this upcoming season.
"(Head) coach (Blake) Anderson always talks about being one degree better every day and that's something that we preach," USU offensive line coach Micah James. "We're a group that has a lot of experience and a lot of young players, so as long as we're always continuing to improve that's the biggest thing. The second thing is we want to be a physical group."
A pair of veteran are certainly capable of providing a physical presence in the offensive trenches for the Aggies in seniors Alfred Edwards and Demytrick Ali'ifua. The 6-foot-7, 320-pound Edwards ranks second on the entire squad with 29 career starts, while the 6-3, 320-pound Ali'ifua has started 23 games for Utah State.
Edwards has started at left tackle for the Aggies ever since he was a redshirt freshman, while Ali'ifua has been a starter at center and left guard. Ali'ifua, who earned honorable mention all-Mountain West honors a year ago, will primarily line up at left guard for his super senior season.
"He's a guy who can play guard and center, he's played tackle here too, so I'm excited about him and (his versatility)," James said.
In addition to Ali'ifua and Edwards, the Aggies welcome back two more returning starters in junior right tackle Jacob South (6-5, 290) and sophomore Falepule Alo, who started four games at center as a true freshman. Ali'ifua was in the starting 11 at center during USU's first two games before moving to left guard.
Alo (6-1, 300) has been banged up during fall camp and won't necessarily be the starter when he returns. Former walk-on Chandler Dolphin (6-3, 290) has been taking snaps at center with the ones throughout fall camp, including both scrimmages. The senior, who will be put on scholarship this season, has garnered the praise of James.
"To have a guy who's worked his butt off for the opportunity to be competing for a starting job, to have the knowledge base to be everywhere he needs to be, to do everything that we've asked him to do, to reward him doesn't seem like a big deal to me," James said of the Alta High product. "He deserves everything that he's gotten. I can't wait to see what he does this season."
Although the Aggies were fortunate enough to return four starters on the O-line, they also had to account for some key loses. Two-year starting guard Karter Shaw transferred to Minnesota and the Aggies lost another offensive lineman to a Power 5 Conference program in Heneli Bloomfield. Bloomfield, who missed all of last season with an injury, landed at Oregon State.
USU also received some bad luck when Andy Koch, who showed a ton of promise before suffering a season-ending injury as a redshirt freshman in 2019, was forced to hang up his cleats after being medically disqualified. Koch made seven starters at either right tackle or left guard in '19 and '20.
Additionally, highly-touted offensive lineman Hunter Hill elected to enter the transfer portal in mid-July. Hill, who chose USU over programs like USC and Washington State, didn't play in any games during his two seasons in Logan. The former Orem High standout recently landed at BYU.
The Aggies were able to help account for these loses by bringing in four offensive linemen that are immediately eligible to play. USU has also recruited this position heavily as part of its class of 2022. Nevertheless, the Aggies still lack some immediate depth in the offensive trenches, which is something head coach Blake Anderson talked about during his press conference on Aug. 5.
The four O-lineman that are immediately eligible to play are transfers Quazzel White (TCU), Maisen Knight (Liberty) and Calvin Knapp (Iowa Western Community College). The Aggies were also able to add former BYU signee Elia Migao within the past two weeks. Migao is a true freshman who had scholarship offers from several Power 5 programs.
"So far as a true freshman, mentally he seems to really pick up things very quickly, which is typically the hardest learning curve for a guy who's coming in as a true freshman," James said of Migao, whose twin brother Enoka (defensive end) is also an Aggie. "He's big, he's strong, he can move. I'm excited to see what he's going to be like. Every day he's getting a little bit better. (Last Wednesday) was his first day in pads. He's not scared, which is on of the most important things, so I'm excited to see what he does toward the end of camp."
White, a 6-3, 310-pound junior, played in 21 games and made five starts in four seasons (one was a redshirt) at TCU. No. 51 has positioned himself to be the starter at right guard when USU squares off against Washington State in the season opener for both teams.
Knight (6-5, 315), a graduate transfer, has been injured during fall camp and is competing with freshman Cole Motes (6-5, 300) to be the backup at right tackle, James said. Knapp, a 6-3, 275-pound sophomore who started his collegiate career as a defensive end, has been taking snaps with the twos at left tackle.
One of USU's most versatile O-linemen is Wade Meacham, who has been taking snaps with the twos at a few different positions. The junior has been the team's backup center while Alo is on the mend. Meacham (6-5, 310) has played in nine career games for the Aggies and is one of the team's vocal leaders, James said, along with Edwards, South and Ali'ifua. White is also starting to take on more of a leadership role, James said.
"Just a general understanding of what we're trying to get done," James said when asked about the biggest strides his group has made so far during fall camp. "The tempo is better, our understanding of the scheme is better and I'm starting to see some leadership (emerge); we're starting to take some jumps in that direction. That's probably the biggest challenge is getting these guys (to take leadership roles), is hey, 'I've got to lead our group and we've got to lead the offense.' And I think we've starting to move in that direction."
Utah State's primary backup at left guard will likely be Jackson Owens, who like Meacham and Knight is a Utah native. The 6-4, 320-pounder sophomore appeared in seven games during his first two seasons as an Aggie. Junior Wyatt Bowles, who has been plagued by injuries during his time in Logan, is the backup at right guard. The former Layton High star (6-5, 295) hasn't played in a game sine he was a true freshman in 2018.
James spoke highly of the collective football IQ of this group when asked about the strengths of the offensive line room.
"I think our football intelligence (as a group) is really high," he said. "... We can make a correction on the sideline and I will see it immediately on the field. I love that piece of it right now. That's probably our biggest strength."
Other O-linemen currently on the roster are freshmen Griffin Hadlock, Jonah Hayes and Addison Harris.