After taking season ‘one week at a time,’ Aggies find themselves on verge of title
First-year Aggies coach Blake Anderson did the unthinkable in Logan — he led his team to nine wins and to the Mountain West championship game. Here’s how
Entering the 2021 college football season, expectations for Utah State Aggies and their first-year head coach Blake Anderson were realistic but relatively low.
Aggies on the air
Utah State (9-3)
at SDSU (11-1)
Saturday, 1 p.m.
Coming off a 1-5 season, with many of the members of that squad returning, a leap to conference championship contention or even bowl eligibility seemed like a stretch. But when Anderson took over in Logan, he seemed to take any season-long expectations his team had — whatever they may be — and aimed to shorten them.
The phrases “taking it one day at a time” or “taking it one game at a time” are so often preached by coaches and players that they can go in one ear and out the other. But when Anderson utters those words, he means it.
Anderson made sure those phrases, or the likes thereof, were a point of emphasis for the team.
“It (was) refreshing for them to some degree,” Anderson said of the day-by-day mentality. “It took the pressure off, at least for a part of the season, and (helped us) just focus on being the best we could be every week.”
The Aggies — newcomers and program veterans — bought into the mentality that their new coach was promoting and it showed in their offseason work rate. The team committed to “getting one degree better everyday.”
Anderson saw the team progress throughout the offseason and during training camp as they fully embraced the new emphasized mentality, but how well that work would translate couldn’t be known until the team started playing games.
The coaching staff and players weren’t entirely sure what kind of team they would end up being, but they were focused on getting better one day at a time, trusting in what Anderson was selling them.
“New staff, new philosophy, new everything, so there were a lot of questions and you can’t answer those questions until you get into the season. All you can do is work your butt off (and) we did.” — Utah State QB Logan Bonner
“Before the season started a lot of people had questions, even the guys in the locker room,” quarterback Logan Bonner said. “New staff, new philosophy, new everything, so there were a lot of questions and you can’t answer those questions until you get into the season. All you can do is work your butt off (and) we did.”
But the season eventually came, and a road game with Power Five opponent Washington State was the first opportunity to start answering questions.
Like the season as a whole, expectations against Washington State were fairly low given that it had been a decade since Utah State had beaten a Power Five opponent, but the newly embraced mentality translated onto the field.
Catching nearly everyone off guard, the Aggies came back from a 12-point fourth quarter deficit to beat the Cougars and Anderson became the first Utah State coach in 48 years to win his debut.
The win turned heads, but it remained to be seen if it was a fluke or a sign of things to come.
Anderson and the Aggies kept on winning, though, finishing with a 9-3 record (most wins for any first year coach in the country this year) and its first berth in the Mountain West Conference championship game since 2013.
With the conference title game against San Diego State on the horizon, the Aggies can’t help but credit their success this season to their emphasis on the day-by-day mentality.
“We won the first one and the guys were like, ‘OK, this could really work,’” Bonner said. “We just bought-in even more and day-by-day we got better and better.”
“Yeah we took some lumps in the season, but we learned from them and kept moving. Overall, this season’s been about overcoming adversity and sticking to the plan, day-by-day, one-degree better everyday and (we’d) see what happens.”
Anderson said he never considered that his team would be in this position at the end of the season, but he didn’t seem surprised. He knew how hard the team had worked.
“I felt like it was what this group absolutely needed … and honestly, it’s what we can control,” Anderson said. “Goals are great, but you’ve got to go out and earn it and you can only do that one week at a time.”