3 takeaways as Utah State's fall camp winds down

Blake Anderson led Utah State to an 11-3 record, a Mountain West title, and a win over Oregon State in the inaugural Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl before being rewarded with a 2-year contract extension, Thursday, Dec. 24, 2021.

Blake Anderson led Utah State to an 11-3 record, a Mountain West title, and a win over Oregon State in the inaugural Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl before being rewarded with a 2-year contract extension, Thursday, Dec. 24, 2021. (Courtesy: Utah State Athletics)

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Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes

LOGAN β€” We are less than two weeks away from Utah State's opening game at home against Connecticut.

The Aggies have three final fall camp practices this week and then the team will begin game preparation for the Huskies. While there has been no shortage of optimism surrounding the program the past few weeks (read any of the most recent Utah State stories), there are still plenty of things to sort out before kickoff.

Coach Blake Anderson erred on the critical side when speaking about his team after the second and final fall camp scrimmage Saturday.

"The good thing is that we don't play yet, we're not a finished product by any means," Anderson said. "We've still got a lot of work to do.

"I just didn't think we did anything consistent enough to be real excited about today, other than the fact that we don't play for two more weeks."

After two weeks and two scrimmages of fall camp, let's take a look at one thing to be concerned about, one thing not to worry about, and identify one position group that has stepped up in camp.

O-Line's attrition and experience are concerning

At Saturday's scrimmage, starting right tackle Jacob South, along with the significant experience in backup right tackle Cole Motes and backup center Falepule Alo were held out.

All three will be ready for the first game of the season, according to Anderson, but it is disconcerting to see an offensive line that battled attrition all last year have to be pieced together in the final scrimmage before the new season begins.

"The integrity of the O-Line is a critical thing," Anderson said. "When you start making substitutions there, they didn't look the same, so frustrated with that, but it was necessary (on Saturday) to get those guys back and get them healthy.

"I'm hoping that once we settle in that five and we can get good reps with them on a daily basis that will start being a little bit more consistent."

The inexperience of the group is something to look out for, too. The expected starter at right guard, Weylin Lapuaho, is highly lauded by the coaching staff but is a true freshman. Likely to back him up? Redshirt freshman Elia Migao.

During Saturday's scrimmage, true freshmen Teague Anderson (center) and Tavo Motu'apuaka (right guard) were on the second team. With South and Moles out, Wyatt Bowels, who has barely played in his four-year Aggies career, was the starting right tackle.

There were some positives on Saturday β€” the run game was established in stretches and Calvin Tyler Jr. averaged 4.5 yards a carry against the first-team defense. But the rhythm and consistency that was seen when the Aggies offense was clicking last year was noticeably absent.

Sure, having to face a talented and experienced defensive line in practice does not help, either, but early health issues and the glaring youthfulness of the offensive line may validate any concerns surrounding the group.

Don't worry about Bonner

Returning from an ACL injury, Logan Bonner has had limited live-action reps throughout fall camp. It's not like he has anything to prove.

The Aggies' single-season record holder in passing yards (3,628) and touchdowns (36), Bonner has a full-season highlight reel to show what he is capable of under center.

But if there were lingering doubts about his health and ability after an offseason of rehab and recovery, those have been absolved by seeing what he has done in limited reps through the two fall camp scrimmages.

Admittedly, Bonner did not have the most memorable performance in his limited snaps Saturday. He failed to manufacture any touchdown drives; and on one possession, he simply dropped the snap and Hale Motupauka landed on it for the turnover.

But for three plays in a row, Bonner showed all you need to see: He hit Kyle Van Leeuwen on back-to-back plays, once on a slant route and another on a flat route for back-to-back first downs. Then he had perfect touch on a slant route to Brian Cobbs for a 24-yard gain.

The arm strength is there. The timing is on point. The ability remains. Still have concerns? Just watch this hype-up video he tweeted out last week.

Safety depth becoming 'pleasant surprise'

Entering fall camp it was known the starting safeties would be solid.

The hard-hitting graduate transfer Gurvan Hall is a former blue-chip recruit and started plenty of games for Miami, while Hunter Reynolds returns after leading the team in tackles last year.

But the two-deep, which had serious question marks entering August, looks better than expected.

Dominic Tatum, who started alongside Shaq Bond at safety before suffering a gruesome leg injury in the third games of the season against Air Force last year, participated in the second scrimmage on Saturday. Working with the second team, the 6-foot-3, 180-pound redshirt junior looked comfortable playing physical and running full speed.

"He's looking great considering the injury that he had and how significant it was," Anderson said. "It was possible that he wouldn't play football again, and then for him to be ready at this early stage in the year β€” our rehab department and our strength department and Dom himself has done a phenomenal job and he's gained about 10-15 pounds, and I think he looks awesome."

Beating out Reynolds for a starting safety spot is unlikely, but if Tatum stays healthy, he's too talented to stay on the sidelines.

The other bright spot at safety is Logan native Ike Larson, who has had a standout fall camp. The sophomore out of Sky View has been in the mix on every throw that has come his way and even picked off Cooper Legas on Saturday.

"He's been a pleasant surprise," Anderson said. "I thought he showed up some in the spring, there were glimpses. But he's had as good a fall camp as anybody. That, along with getting Dom back, creates some depth back there that we desperately need.

"I can see him very easily working in the rotation where he's playing some significant snaps with the No.1 defense."


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