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Brad Rock: Can Utah State keep up its furious scoring pace of a year ago? Gary Andersen and Jordan Love have their answers

Utah State head football coach Gary Andersen chats with an official prior to the start of Saturday’s Blue vs. White Spring Game at Maverik Stadium in Logan.
Jeff Hunter, Deseret News

LOGAN — Gary Andersen isn’t about to give away strategy details. The two-time Utah State coach is keeping things vague. At the same time, he does admit to missing key components from last year’s nationally ranked football team. And he’s totally upfront about making use of his Heisman candidate quarterback, Jordan Love.

Andersen has only two starters returning on offense, the other being a lineman. Yet he doesn’t see things changing offensively, even though the team’s top three receivers are gone.

“Much of the offense is a carryover,” Andersen said. “I think the key is to get the guys around Jordan — and the other quarterbacks — that can make plays for them.”

He points out that “75% of the throw game is gone.”

But 100% of the position vacancies will be filled.

“The young men that make plays out here will be the guys that get the opportunity to make those plays (in games),” Andersen said.

If they can catch the ball, Love will get it to them.

Thus the Aggies hope to begin precisely where they left off last year, i.e. surging into the end zone. They beat North Texas 52-13 in the New Mexico Bowl.

If it seems obvious USU would repeat last year’s M.O. consider this: It might not be that easy with the dearth of returning starters. Also, former coach Matt Wells is now ramping things up at Texas Tech, as is former offensive coordinator David Yost.

Still, it would be silly for Andersen not to stick with the plan. In his first stint as USU’s head coach, Andersen had Wells as his QB coach and offensive coordinator. By 2018, it had rounded into one of the country’s better offenses. USU’s spread offense led the nation in scoring drives under one minute. The Aggies were second in scoring, third in margin of victory, fourth in sacks allowed, 11th in total offense, 12th in third-down conversion, 14th in fewest passes intercepted and passing efficiency, 17th in passing offense and 20th in completion percentage.

And first in the hearts of those who can explain why “The Scotsman” is an Aggie fight song.

USU had four 60-point games and five consecutive 40-point outings. Twice it ran up over 700 yards of total offense.

No rational person would walk away from that.

“We expect to be a high-powered offense that’s playing with pace, and we also want to be an offense that can physically run the ball,” Andersen said.

“And defense — we want to be good on defense too,” he said.

In other words, they want to be everything.

All coaches seek balance, but few teams really have it.

Whatever the Aggies did on offense doesn’t mean defense will get shortchanged. Andersen spent 15 of his first 20 professional years coaching that side of the ball. But he hasn’t been a coordinator since taking the USU head coaching job in 2009.

USU was no defensive slouch last year. It led the nation in forced turnovers and interceptions and was second in non-offensive touchdowns. It set school records with six pick-sixes and 10 non-offensive touchdowns.

The Aggies have seven defensive starters back, including three first-team preseason all-conference selections. They also have all-conference return star Savon Scarver.

Could Andersen be plotting to turn USU into primarily a defensive team?

If you ask Love, it’s not a worry. What would they change?

“Nothing,” Love said.

“I mean, we’re in the same setup to be able to put up the same numbers, and we’re the same offense,” Love said. “So we definitely have the same chance to be able to do that.”

So which will it be, great offense or stifling defense?

“I will say both,” Love said. “When the offense is out there y’all say it’s an offensive team. When the defense is out there y’all say it’s a defensive team.”

And if it works out both ways, everybody will say, “Wow.”