It’s fair to say there is a certain level of uncertainly surrounding how the Aggies will perform offensively during the 2019 college football season.
That’s to be expected when you consider Utah State lost nine starters from an offense that broke BYU’s 17-year-old single-season Mountain West record with 618 points. Additionally, the Aggies finished second among all FBS programs in scoring offense (47.5 points per game) a year ago, plus ranked in the top 20 nationally in total offense (11th, 497.4 yards per game), passing offense (17th, 294.2 ypg), completion percentage (20th, .652) and passing efficiency (14th, 154.4).
Two of the biggest questions the Aggies face is how well the offensive line will come together after graduating four starters, and who will emerge at the wide receiver position with the loss of standouts Ron’quavion Tarver, Jalen Greene and Aaren Vaughns.
Fortunately for the Aggies, they have a bona fide NFL prospect at quarterback to help soften the blow of losing so many starters. Jordan Love is back for his redshirt junior season and expectations are sky high after he shattered USU’s single-season records for passing yards (3,567), passing touchdowns (32) and 300-plus-yard passing games (seven) in 2018.
USU has already launched a Heisman Trophy campaign for Love, who racked up gaudy numbers last season despite essentially sitting out 11 full quarters. A week ago, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound signal caller was named the Mountain West preseason Offensive Player of the Year.
So how is Love dealing with the considerable hype?
“Yeah, it’s crazy ... but I enjoy it,” Love said. “It’s just at the end of the day, they way I look at it is it’s just all fun stuff and it’s all on the side. I mean, obviously you’ve got to put the team’s goals on one side, and all of this other fun stuff on the other. It’s good to look at and good to see, but at the end of the day it really doesn’t matter unless you do what you need to do with the team, so that’s the way I look at it.”
For the first time in three seasons, Love will be working with a different offensive coordinator after David Yost joined Matt Wells’ staff at Texas Tech. USU’s new OC is Mike Sanford, who excelled in that role at Boise State and Notre Dame.
Sanford, who was the head coach at Western Kentucky from 2017-18, is also USU’s quarterbacks coach and, according to Aggie head coach Gary Andersen, has developed “a special” relationship with Love. Sanford’s base offense is very similar to the one employed by Yost, making the transition a seamless one for Love.
“Obviously some plays here and there will change, and just the way we read plays, but for the most part (our offense) stayed the same and that’s what’s helped a lot because usually with new coaches coming in you’ve got to learn a whole new offense, a whole new scheme, stuff like that,” Love said. “But it’s made (the transition easy) just knowing that we’re running the same plays.”
The Aggies will have to run those plays with almost an entirely different offensive line. Potential all-conference tackle Alfred Edwards is the lone returning starter, although junior Demytrick Ali’ifua played in a combined 779 snaps his first two seasons.
However, USU has enjoyed considerable success in recruiting offensive linemen the past two years as Andy Koch, Kyler Hack and Wyatt Bowles — all potential starters this season — plus Hunter Hill all had scholarship offers from at least one Power 5 Conference program.
So far, Love likes what he has seen from his teammates in the offensive trenches.
“Just going off the spring, I felt really confident with what this young group has done,” Love said. “I mean, we still haven’t figured out the first five that’s going to be starting, but that’s what the (fall) camp’s for, and we’re going to figure that out. But I feel really confident. I feel like there will be no drop off.”
USU’s offensive linemen will surely benefit from going toe to toe with their counterparts in the defensive trenches during fall camp, which started with the first of 24 practices Thursday.
The Aggies welcomed back three defensive linemen who garnered all-Mountain West honors a year ago in Tipa Galeai (second team), Fua Leilua (honorable mention) and Christopher ’Unga (HM), plus four other guys with considerable experience in Justus Te’i, Devon Anderson, Jacoby Wildman and Dalton Baker. Additionally, David Woodward is one of the best linebackers at the collegiate level.
“I say it all of the time, I feel like we’re going against the best defense we’re going to see all year in practice every day,” Love said. “So, I mean, it’s making both of us better, the offense and the defense, better each day.”
Another thing that helped make Love a better player is his experience at The Manning Passing Academy, which took place from June 27-30 in Thibodaux, Louisiana. No. 10 was one of 35 quarterbacks invited to this academy, which was founded by Archie Manning and his sons, Peyton and Eli.
Love said he learned a lot from Super Bowl winning signal callers Peyton and Eli, especially when it comes to breaking down film.
“We asked (Peyton) questions about how he watches film and one thing that I thought was interesting is he watches every game of that team he’s about to play,” Love said. “(It doesn’t) matter if they’ve played 14 games, he’ll watch every game, all 14, every play (because) he said he doesn’t ever want to be surprised of like a blitz that he hasn’t seen. So I thought that was pretty interesting because a lot of times you watch two or three games just to get the basics on what (opposing defenses are) doing.”
Attending that camp helped further inspire the Bakersfield, California, native to put in the work necessary to evolve into an elite quarterback. Love considers himself a student of the game, which is a big part of his evolution.
“I mean, the main part I think I always need to improve is just knowledge of the game, knowledge of defenses and what teams are doing against us, and that just comes with watching film, going back and watching tape from last year and seeing what defenses did,” Love said. “... And the one thing I’ve tried to focus on is just trying to take away negative plays, like interceptions, just bad passes, bad reads, stuff like that.”
During USU’s Media Day earlier this week, Andersen was asked how Love compares to former Aggie standout quarterback Chuckie Keeton. Andersen, who coached Keeton during his first stint at Utah State, raved about the leadership of both players and said they are the kind of athletes that commanded the respect of their teammates.
On the flip side, Andersen said Keeton and Love went about being effective leaders in different ways.
“Chuckie was very excitable, you know, (and) might do a backflip at any moment if he completed a five-yard hitch,” Andersen said. “Chuckie was very emotional that way, which is much more like me. ... And Jordan just stays even. Now trust me, he gets excited and he loves to make the plays and do the things that he does. But he lives with his own personality, which is fantastic and I don’t want that to change in any way, shape or form. ... I’ve never really seen him have a bad day.”