How Did Utah State Football Turn It Around In One Year?
It’s great to be an Aggie fan
Single win to division champions
Well, here we are, Aggie fans. Utah State is on the verge of a turnaround for the ages.
At the beginning of this year, if you told me USU would beat a P5 opponent on the road, win the Mountain Division and have an opportunity to get double-digit wins for just the fourth time in school history? I would have laughed in your face. It just sounds patently absurd after coming off a 1-5 season where Gary Andersen got fired and much of the team was in open revolt for how the university handled the Frank Maile situation (regardless of whether it was handled appropriately or not).
Yet here we are. I’ll be the first to admit I was skeptical of the Blake Anderson hire, but I was completely dead wrong about him. He’s been great for the program and he has infused new life into it. In one short year, he has made Aggie football fun again. He’s put a heavy emphasis on in-state recruiting (a nod to what made past Aggie teams great) while also casting a net as wide as possible to bolster the program. He’s hired past Aggie players like Chuckie Keeton, Al Lapuaho, and DJ Tialavea to coach and recruit here, and he has also brought in staff members from his Arkansas State days such Kyle Cefalo and Nick Paremski for fresh perspectives on how a program with a good foundation can be made even better.
In terms of the players he has brought in and who he was able to retain? Just unbelievable work. Convincing Deven Thompkins to stay may have been his biggest win here. Thompkins was on his way out, but with Anderson’s efforts to convince him to stay, Thompkins is now a Biletnikoff semi-finalist and he as surpassed the USU single-season receiving record previously set by Kevin Curtis. Thompkins helped make this team’s prolific offense possible. His playmaking ability and the home run threat has opened it up for guys like Derek Wright and Brandon Bowling to feast on opposing secondaries.
In terms of the QB situation? It’s remarkable what balance Anderson has been able to strike. Logan Bonner followed coach Anderson from Arkansas State, but due to an off-season injury, Anderson gave the keys to Andrew Peasley, a patient, and very willing teammate.
Both quarterbacks supported each other and the initial games of this season showed how much trust he has in both of them. Bonner engineered the comeback win against Washington State, and Peasley put the team on his back for the comeback win against Air Force when Bonner got banged up in that game. Starting the season 3-0 was the last thing I envisioned heading into the 2021 season.
Bonner has since seized the starting job and he has thrown for over 3,000 yards with a 32/10 TD-INT ratio. He has tied Jordan Love’s school record for touchdowns thrown in a season and he has a chance to obliterate that record with two games left. After watching Jason Shelley’s horrendous QB play until he was dismissed from the team in 2020, Bonner has been a huge breath of fresh air.
After securing their ninth win of the season, USU is headed to San Diego State for a chance at a league title. It’s just Utah State’s second title game appearance since joining the Mountain West and it’s also the second time doing so with a new head coach at the helm. Despite a few struggles at home this season, USU is a perfect 6-0 on the road, the first time in school history the team has accomplished this feat.
Win or lose against a loaded Aztecs team, this season has been a resounding success. It’s also a testament to how the right coach coupled with a team culture shift can make a bottom-feeder into a contender. To do it in just one season seemed nigh impossible, but Anderson has proven himself a miracle worker.
So glad to be an Aggie.