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Utah State offensive line young and inexperienced but off to a ‘good start’

The Aggies’ O-line had a productive season opener, though room exists for improvement

Utah State quarterback Jordan Love looks to throw a pass against Wake Forest during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Winston-Salem, N.C., Friday, Aug. 30, 2019. Wake Forest won 38-35. 
Nell Redmond, AP

LOGAN — Alfred Edwards would have none of it.

Just days ahead of the season opener against Wake Forest, the left tackle refused to entertain the notion that the Utah State offensive line might struggle at times this season.

It didn’t matter that the group had limited amounts of experience individually, and more importantly as a collective unit.

It didn’t matter that Edwards was the only returning starter, nor that two redshirt freshman — Karter Shaw and Andy Koch — would be tasked with holding down the right side of the line.

None of it was of any importance to Edwards.

His unit was prepared and trusted each other, and that was all that mattered.

“We have a lot of trust in each other,” Edwards said. “Even if things go bad, even if mistakes happen, we have the right mentality and have trust and faith in each other.”

His confidence proved well founded, as the Aggies’ O-line was one of the best units on the field in the team’s 38-35 loss to Wake Forest.

The quintet of Edwards, left guard Ty Shaw, center Demytrick Ali’ifua, right guard Karter Shaw and right tackle Andy Koch, along with reserve Heneli Avendano, proved more than capable.

Quarterback Jordan Love was sacked only one time in the game, a setback that went for only a two-yard loss. The time untouched in the pocket enabled Love to throw for 416 yards and three touchdowns.

On the ground, the Aggies lost only four yards total, despite Love, Gerold Bright and Jaylen Warren carrying the ball 31 times between them.

Warren had a career performance behind the Aggies’ O-line and rushed for 141 yards and a touchdown in his Utah State debut, the best debut by a running back in program history.

He averaged 7.4 yards per carry and had runs of 59 and 43 yards, all of which he credited to the men in the trenches.

“(They played) fantastic,” Warren said. “You look at the big plays I had and the hole was wide open. Anyone could have run through that, you know. I give all the credit to them because I couldn’t have done what I did Friday night if not for them.”

Head coach Gary Andersen wasn’t as effusive in his praise of the unit, but he did note their positive play.

“I thought it was a positive,” he said. “They blocked some edge rushers well, and I hope they gain some confidence from that as a crew and individually. Overall, I thought the offensive line played well against a Power Five team that does a lot on defense. There were a lot of moving parts to that (Wake Forest) defense.”

That isn’t to say there is no room for improvement.

Andersen lamented the team’s inability to find success in short yardage running situations, a failing that falls largely on a lack of push from the big fellas up front.

Then there was the last offensive series of the game, during which Love was frequently harassed and forced out of the pocket.

“You don’t want to sit and stare at the negatives, but Jordan was running around on that last series a little bit more than we wanted,” Andersen said. “We had some breaks in the run game, big runs that came out of there, but on the flip side we want to get better at short yardage running situations. We need to continue to decipher and figure out who we are as an offense. We want to continue to pound the ball and hopefully we will learn from that.”

Ultimately, the showing was a step in the right direction and Andersen is firmly of the belief that how the offensive line plays will determine exactly what type of season Utah State football has in 2019.

“We will sit back when this thing is all over in January and how that offensive line played will probably be exactly where we sat as a football team,” he said. “They are young, but we expect them to be very, very good. The sooner they mature and show they can do it, I think we can be special. (Friday night) was a good start. Not good enough to win the game so it wasn’t good enough, but it was a good start.”