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How Utah State football used the early season bye week

One-on-one training between coaches and players was the highlight, preparation for San Diego State the priority.

Aggie wide receiver Gerold Bright carries the ball during Friday’s scrimmage at Maverik Stadium in Logan. Jeff Hunter

LOGAN — It isn’t exactly normal to have a bye week in the opening two or three weeks of the college football season.

The earliest Utah State had been awarded a week off over the past five years came four years ago, following a Week 3 loss at Washington.

The last time the Aggies had a bye following Week 2 was eight years ago, following a 54-17 victory over Weber State.

All of which is to say, early season bye weeks are not the norm.

That is what Utah State dealt with this past week — the abnormal — but truth be told, the irregular placement of the bye didn’t make it any less useful and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

“These kids have been at it for a long, long time,” Utah State head coach Gary Andersen said. “Their bodies have been banging around for months. It was a good spot for a bye for us.”

Andersen said that bye weeks are only as useful as you make them, and the Aggies took great care to make the past week as productive as possible.

The priority was preparation for San Diego State, which Utah State faces Saturday night to kick off Mountain West Conference play.

“Our priority was San Diego State,” Andersen said. “Trying to gain as much of an advantage as we could using the two games (of film) we had on them.”

Additionally, the Aggies used the extra time to scout ahead and look at some opponents they play later in the season.

Perhaps the most useful part of the bye, though, was it gave coaches the chance to work one-on-one with players, particularly younger underclassmen who were relegated to the prep or scout team following fall camp.

“We spent some time with the young kids which is great,” said Andersen. “In camp everyone gets reps and then the season starts and the young guys move on to the prep teams. They don’t get as much individual time with the coaches. We took some time to do that, which is great, both for the young kids and for us.

“It was a mixed bag of all three of those things and it was a good week. I thought they handled it well.”

In addition to detailing how the Aggies spent the bye week, Andersen, along with defensive tackle Christopher ’Unga and running back Gerold Bright, addressed a variety of topics.

Andersen:

— On the whether the bye week had a positive impact on the health of the Utah State secondary, specifically injured cornerbacks Cam Haney, Terin Adams and Zahodri Jackson.

“I don’t think so. At this point we will have the guys that we have. We may get one of those guys back. They are working hard to get themselves back on the field. We’ll see how it goes this week in practice.”

— On injury recuperation outside of the defensive backfield.

“We did get healthy at a couple other spots, with guys who are dinged up. They probably wouldn’t have missed a game, but they should feel better.”

— On the prospects of an in-season return for third-string quarterback Andrew Peasley, who was injured against Stony Brook.

“We don’t really talk about those things. I don’t have anything to say about where he is at this point.”

’Unga:

— On the loss of defensive tackle Fua Leilua to a season-ending injury (Leilua suffered an apparent knee injury in the loss to Wake Forest, and announced on Twitter following the game that would be his final game this season).

“That hurt big time when Fua went out. He is a tough kid. He got hurt during the Wake Forest game and he finished the game, no one even knew he was hurt until we hopped on the plane. Even then we thought he was good.”

— On how the defensive line hopes to honor Leilua in his absence.

“When the news came out it hurt us, in depth, because it is good to have experienced players in when you are out. I knew when I was out, Fua could do the job. We are definitely playing for him. Against Stony Brook we all had his number on our arms and we will continue to do so.”

— On the play of the Aggies’ younger D-linemen so far this season.

“They actually have done well. “Hale (Motu’apuaka), Caden (Andersen) and Soni (Ritisoni Fata) have played a significant amount and they did well. I am excited for them. Was a little nervous at first, you never know, but it is great to see them doing well.”

— On his own improved health.

“Knock on wood, but it feels good to be fresh and not have to worry about injuries right now. It has been hard for me the past couple of years, but I feel good.”

Bright:

— On how the run game compares to what the Aggies had a season ago.

“I feel confident in the run the game. I’m not too much into the stats, comparing this year to last year, but as I watch, the run game is pretty much the same. We can be a lot better of course, and that is what we are striving for. I believe we can be better than last year.”

— On fellow running back Jaylen Warren.

“Jaylen is a great young player. He learns, he listens. In the film room I tell him to write notes down, to pay attention and he locks in. When we go out to practice he applies it. It is one thing to have the knowledge in your head, but it is another to apply it. He is doing great with that.”

— On similarities between Warren and former Aggie star Darwin Thompson.

“They are different running backs. To me, they are completely different. I can’t really explain it, but they are completely different.”

— On whether he maintains contact with Thompson, who is currently with the Kansas City Chiefs.

“Yeah, that is my guy. I talked to him yesterday.”