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Eli Lucero via Associated Press, Pool

A hard schedule or something worse? Thursday might be an indicator of how tough of a season Utah State will have

By Ryan Miller, KSL.com | Posted - Nov. 5, 2020 at 11:19 a.m.



LOGAN — Not much has gone right for Utah State in the first two weeks of the season.

Lopsided losses to Boise State and San Diego State have led to head coach Gary Andersen critiquing his team's physicality and having to answer questions about the Aggies' drive to compete. There's also been frustration in the voices of Shaq Bond and Deven Thompkins as they've tried to explain what has happened.

In short, this wasn't how anyone wanted the season to start after the Mountain West reversed course and declared football would be played this fall. But, at the same time, it's also hasn't been overly surprising.

Sure, the Aggies would have liked to see more positives coming out of the first two weeks — the list of feel-good things about this team is short and includes a Jalyen Warren-led rushing attack in the third quarter against Boise, some opportune defensive stops in the first half against SDSU and, well, not much else — but the results shouldn't have come as a shock.

After two weeks, the Aggies simply know what most predicted before the start of the season: They aren't good enough to compete for a conference title. Outside of that? The jury is still out. How Thursday's game at Nevada (5 p.m., FS1) goes might be a better indicator of how the rest of the shortened and strange season will play out.

"The scoreboard is a reflection of a lot of things as you go through," Andersen said. "The competitiveness of this team as far as effort, want to, preparation, care factor — that's all been there. Our struggles have been what we've talked about many times is it's been a battle within individual matchups that have been tough sledding. That's not competitiveness. That's where we sit and where we are."

The coaching staff believes that with some more games and more friendly matchups, things could turn around. But the slow start might just be because Utah State isn't a good football team.

The Aggies have scored the least amount of points (10.0 points per game) and gained the least amount of yards (209 yards per game) in the conference. That all includes the worst air attack save a run-heavy Air Force squad and a pedestrian rushing attack (ranked No. 9) that really has had only one good quarter

"Obviously this is not the start we wanted offensively," offensive coordinator Brodie Reeder said. "Ultimately it boils down to scoring points."

Which the Aggies haven't done. You could point to the fact that USU has played two of the best three defenses in the league but it's also possible those rankings are due to those teams having gotten to play USU, too. Clarification may come Thursday. Nevada has surrendered points even as it has jumped out to a 2-0 start. The Wolfpack have given up 26.5 points per game in the first two weeks of the season and needed a strong fourth quarter last week to pull away from UNLV, which was picked to be among the worst in the conference.

So Thursday could provide an opportunity for a breakthrough offensively as the Aggies continue to work in a new offensive coordinator, a new quarterback and survive an inexperienced offensive line.

"We have discussed where we are, why we are where we are and what we have to be able to do to move forward and put us in a position to play competitive football," Andersen said. "That has not happened the first two weeks."

As bad as the offense has been, part of that discussion was certainly centered around the other side of the ball as well. The worst scoring defense in the league? That would be Utah State's, giving up 40 points per game. The Aggies also have also given the second-most yards of anyone in the conference.

"We've played two of the top teams in this league and that is always a challenge," co-defensive coordinator Frank Maile said

The problem is Nevada is second in the league in total offense and scoring — so things don't get much easier.

"If we could just get better at what we do and how we do things, I think you're going to like what you see on Thursday," Maile said. "For us, it's always about improving every single week. We have to do a better job as coaches of making sure we simplify that in a short week and getting our guys to continue to play hard, play fast and execute the calls."

The coaches have shouldered plenty of blame for the poor start. Like Maile, Reeder has said it's been his play calls that have kept starting QB Jason Shelley and the offense from thriving. That's the culture Andersen has wanted to build, but there's also a realization the Aggies have struggled because they've been beat at the line of scrimmage and been physically overmatched on some one-on-one matchups. Can some of that be coaching? Sure. But it might be who the Aggies are.

"When you deserve to win football games, that's what happens, you win," Andersen said. "When you don't deserve to win, you lose. And that's what we've done the first two weeks."

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