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Utah State grateful for opportunity to play as truncated season begins

Utah State football coach Gary Andersen in action during spring camp at Maverik Stadium in Logan.

(Rick Parker, USU Athletics)

LOGAN — A four-plus hour bus ride isn't something many people look forward to. But that was exactly what Utah State quarterback Jason Shelley was so eager to get to.

By stepping on a bus to Boise on Friday, it all became real — he was going to actually play a game.

"Going out there to play against Boise — I'm really juiced up over (that). I'm ready to go on the bus ride to Boise, to be honest with you. I can't wait," Shelley said.

No matter who the opponent would have been, though, Saturday's long-awaited season opener (5 p.m., FS1) would have gotten the juices flowing. This was a season that looked to be over before it started. In August, the Mountain West canceled the season, effectively telling the teams to pack up the ball and go on home. The fact that they are even getting a chance to play isn't lost on the coaches or players.

"There was pretty much no chance that it was going to occur, then it flipped on us, which is a great thing," head coach Gary Andersen said. "I'm really happy the kids get to play all over the country, not just at Utah State, not just in the Mountain West. … Opportunity presents itself and they should take advantage of that and I believe that they are."

An opportunity was what Shelley was looking for when he transferred from Utah following last season — and he's earned one with the Aggies. Shelley was named the team's starter on Monday (though Andersen made it clear he was 1A to Andrew Peasley's 1B) and will be the one that will replace Jordan Love under center.

"I went straight to work pretty much and started calling guys to try and get some throws in and kind of made up for some last time with me coming in the middle of July instead of May," Shelley said.

How Shelley will perform wearing Aggie blue is far from the only uncertainty facing Utah State, which is coming off a 7-6 campaign last season.

The offensive line has just one definite starter listed on this week's depth chart — Karter Shaw at right guard — and Andersen said Andy Koch has played three different positions along the offensive line in camp.

The defense is pivoting to a 3-4 base defense this fall after ranking 110th in the nation in rush defense last season. The front seven is untested, but soon will be — Boise's George Holani had 178 yards and two touchdowns on just 16 carries against the Aggies last year.

And how will another former Ute, running back Devonta'e Henry-Cole, play a role in the Utah State backfield, which also features Jaylen Warren and Pailate Makakona?

"Our running back position has been very, very, very competitive," Andersen said. "I think we have as many of four to five running backs that we can put in a game."

Utah State didn't get any favors from the schedule makers to answer some of those questions, either. Boise State ran the conference table last season on its way to a conference championship, and returning starter sophomore QB Hank Bachmeier is back. So, not surprisingly, Boise State was picked to win the Mountain Division, followed by Wyoming, Air Force, Utah State, Colorado State and New Mexico.

But Andersen sees starting the season against the perennial Mountain West power as a good way to gear up for the rest of the year.

"You got to hang in with Boise for four quarters, right?" Andersen said. "It's gonna be a fistfight, and that's the best thing I like about it. We need to learn how to get into those fistfights and be able to deal with it for four quarters."

The Aggies do welcome back three starters in the defensive backfield with safety Shaq Bond, safety Troy Lefeged, and cornerback Andre Grayson. While Shelley will have some experienced guys to throw to in Jordan Nathan and Deven Thompkins, for the most part, the 2020 team is still a mystery. The questions will start to be answered in Boise.

"It's a tremendous challenge," Andersen said, "but it's a challenge that we look forward to as a measuring stick to understand where we've gone and where we've been and where we have to go."


Utah State (0-0) at Boise State (0-0)

Kickoff: Saturday, 5 p.m. MDT

Venue: Albertsons Stadium


Livestream: fuboTV

Radio: KZNS 1280 AM/97.5 FM

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