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LOGAN -- As new Head Coach Gary Andersen prepares the Aggies for Thursday's game against Utah, things are looking fairly optimistic in Cache Valley.
Utah State, which only won three games last season, hired Andersen to replace Brent Guy, who went 9-38 as the head coach. Since seeing him at his opening press conference, Aggie fans have been feeling good about the new direction the program is headed.
Junior quarterback Diondre Borel will be the focus of the offensive attack this season. As a sophomore, Borel threw for 1,705 yards, ran for 635 yards and accounted for 16 touchdowns.
New offensive coordinator Dave Baldwin has brought the spread offense with him, although its still not certain to what extent it will be run. The offensive line last year wasn't anything to write home about, but returning experience is invaluable and they should be improved as a unit this season.
Running backs Robert Turbin (sophomore) and incoming JUCO transfer Michael Smith (junior) will take the bulk of the carries. Turbin showed signs of promise last season, averaging 4.58 yards a carry. Senior Nnamdi Gwacham and sophomore Stanley Morrison will be Borel's top two targets.
With its new offense, Utah State is hopeful that its offensive production will be comparable to other school's that utilize a version of the spread offense, including WAC foe Nevada, who has traditionally been one of the top offensive teams in the nation with its `Pistol' attack.
Even with seven returning starters, the Utah State defense has a long road ahead of them for the 2009 season. One of the first adjustments Andersen made after being named head coach was to change 15 players' positions. Andersen has also implemented a pressure defense featuring man-to-man coverage, installed by new defensive coordinator Bill Busch.
Senior linebacker Paul Igboeli will be the leader of the defense, while corners Kejon Murphy and James Brindley will be tasked with locking down the secondary.
Andersen's man coverage pressure defense will certainly provide improvement for the Aggies, but depth and inexperience with the new defensive scheme will become a factor.
Special Teams Outlook
Should the Aggies stumble on offense, kicker and punter Peter Caldwell will be called upon. Caldwell led the WAC in field goal percentage, making 10-12 last season (.833).
Utah State has a tough schedule ahead of them, with road games at Utah, BYU and Texas A&M. Seven of the Aggies' opponents went to a bowl game last year.
Four of their first five games are on the road (Utah, Texas A&M, BYU and New Mexico State), with Southern Utah the home game. Don't be quick to jump off the bandwagon early on, because even a good team might struggle through that stretch.
After playing Nevada at home on October 17, the Aggies have four winnable games in a row (Louisiana Tech, at Fresno State, at Hawaii and San Jose State). The season wraps up with a home game against WAC powerhouse Boise State and a road trip against Idaho.
While Utah State will be better than last season, the difficult schedule early on will be tough for the Aggies to overcome. High expectations combined with a difficult schedule could spell disaster for the Aggies, but if they are able to keep their heads high, even after losses, and win one of the big non-conference matchups (Utah, BYU or Texas A&M), the Aggies just might be going bowling for the first time since 1997.