PROVO — Jordan Love’s junior season has been up and down, to say the least.
A veritable dark horse Heisman Trophy contender — just ask the #10VEforHeisman committee — the native of Bakersfield, California, has thrown for just 1,620 yards and eight touchdowns with nine interceptions this season.
When taking his 231.4 yards per game over a full season into consideration, Love is on pace for 2,776 yards through the air — a mild step back from his superb sophomore season of 3,567 yards and 32 touchdowns with just six picks.
Few have been more disappointed in Love’s lackluster follow-up season than the Aggie QB1 himself.
“Obviously, there are a lot of areas we need to improve on and we’re just lacking on, but it’s there, we just need to go out and execute,” he admitted earlier this week. “Up to this point, I think that everyone on the offense is not really happy with the way we’ve lived up, just because we know we could be better, we can be a lot better than that. All we’ve got to do right now is just look ourselves in the mirror and find a way to fix it.”
That could spell trouble as Love prepares for his third Wagon Wheel rivalry Saturday night against BYU (8 p.m. MDT, ESPN2). But despite his ups and downs, Love still has one upside on his in-state rivals from Utah County.
He’s still never lost to the Cougars (3-4). And that’s something in which the Aggies (4-3) take pride, right up to their new head coach Gary Andersen.
“Those were awesome, absolutely fantastic memories,” said Andersen, who went 1-3 against BYU in his first go-around as Utah State coach. “The players did a great job of executing. It was just fun to be a coach on the sideline and see that take place. Those were big memories. I’m sure those guys still have a special spot for it, just like we all do.”
But for Andersen to add to his legacy against BYU, he’ll need Love to be at his best and the offense — which returned just 2 of 11 starters from last year’s 11-2 squad — to be at their best.
BYU is counting on it.
“He’s really technical, and probably one of the best quarterbacks we’ll face all year,” BYU cornerback Shamon Willis said of Love. “We’re just taking it as a challenge to our DB group, to be on point with our technique and our reads. It’s a good challenge for us.”
Love struggled last weekend in the Aggies’ loss to Air Force, completing just 14 passes for 114 yards and a touchdown against a physical Falcons front seven and a run-heavy offense that limited his involvement in the game.
BYU doesn’t have the rushing attack of Air Force, and its run defense hasn’t lived up to its early billing (before it fell into the bottom tier in the Football Bowl Subdivision). But the Cougars still have Khyiris Tonga, Bracken El-Bakri and a linebacker group that lead all position groups in interceptions.
Still, the group will have its hands full against Love and an explosive offense that has been getting better in what is the first full season of college football for a lot of players.
“They have a very fast offense, and he can get hot really fast,” BYU safety Austin Lee said of Love. “He’s a great quarterback, and we’re going to have to stop him.”
BYU quarterbacks coach Aaron Roderick has enough worries of his own as he tries to decide who will start for BYU this weekend; the Cougars are still vacillating between Baylor Romney, whose first career start resulted in a 28-25 upset win over Boise State, and Jaren Hall, who recently returned to full practice participation after being in concussion protocol.
The final decision will come down to Roderick — though wide receivers coach Fesi Sitake, offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes and head coach Kalani Sitake will all have a voice in the matter. But Roderick has taken notice of the opposing signal caller preparing to face his team.
“We don’t think too much about him,” Roderick said. “But I know he’s a very good player — a very good player.”
How to watch, listen, and stream BYU and Utah State
Coaches: Kalani Sitake (BYU, 23-23) vs. Gary Andersen (Utah State, 60-64)
Kickoff: 8 p.m. MDT
TV: ESPN2 (Jason Benetti, Rod Gilmore, Quint Kessenich)
Radio: KSL 1160 AM / 102.7 FM, BYU Radio 89.1 FM (Greg Wrubell, Riley Nelson, Mitchell Juergens)
Series: BYU leads 48-37-3
Last meeting: Utah State won, 45-20 on Oct. 5, 2018, in Provo