The words stuck in Utah State head coach Blake Anderson’s throat.
Following the Aggies’ 35-7 loss at home to Weber State Saturday night in Logan, Anderson was emotional. Choked up. Clearly struggling with feelings of disappointment.
Utah State had just lost its second game of the season — three weeks in — in pretty humiliating fashion, and Anderson hurt. He hurt for his players.
Nine months removed from winning the Mountain West Conference championship, this wasn’t how the year was supposed to go for the Aggies.
This wasn’t where Anderson had hoped his team would be.
“I love ’em,” Anderson said, with the proverbial frog in his throat. “I hurt for ’em.”
At 1-2, Utah State — currently — is one of the worst FBS teams in the country.
ESPN’s updated FPI ranks the Aggies at 115th out of 131 teams. Right now, they are projected to win just four games this season and have just a 14.7% chance of overachieving that and making it to a bowl game.
It gets worse, though.
Utah State has been outscored by a combined 83 points the last two weeks, by opponents in Alabama and Weber State that couldn’t be more different.
The Aggies’ offense, which was dynamic a season ago, ranks 108th in the country. Making things worse, Utah State ranks ahead of only two other teams that have played three games so far — Wyoming and New Mexico State.
The Aggies have scored a total of four touchdowns this year — three of those came in a single quarter against UConn — and have averaged just 4.39 yards per play and 320.3 yards per game.
Things aren’t much, if any, better for Utah State’s defense, which is ranked 111th overall after giving up 12 touchdowns thus far and allowing opponents to average 5.99 yards per play and 441.3 yards per game.
Things are bad in Logan right now. What has happened to the Aggies? What’s gone so wrong?
For one, expectations might have been too high.
Utah State lost 11 starters from its conference title-winning team, and more than 20 players made their Aggie debuts against UConn.
This isn’t the same Utah State team from a year ago — not even close right now — and there have been growing pains because of it.
“We have a lot of new players playing, and I thought there might be some getting-to-know-you pains early,” Anderson said. “We lost some really, really good players, some phenomenal leaders, but I thought we’d be a better football team by Week 3 than we are. This is where we are at.”
The struggles go well beyond new faces, though.
As Anderson put it, “There are a million things we need to work on. We are not a good football team right now. We are floundering, and from the head coach down, we all have to get better.”
Anderson did single out two major areas of concern, and if the Aggies fail to figure them out, this season could go off the rails.
“We are struggling to get consistent play and we are struggling to get leadership,” Anderson said. “We are struggling to find our team. ... Until we find those two things, we are going to be frustrated.
“We are searching for ourselves, we are searching for consistency and we are searching for leadership in every phase of the game. We have not played a good football game, and we are fortunate to have one win under our belt because we could have easily lost to UConn.”
Time is not on Utah State’s side. The Aggies are in a very precarious position, as the immediate future doesn’t appear to be filled with much relief.
Two of Utah State’s next three games are against No. 12 BYU and Air Force. The Cougars’ ranking speaks for itself, and right now the Falcons look like the best team in the MW.
Even lowly UNLV, Utah State’s opponent after this week’s bye, looks much improved and not an easy out.
Relief could be on the way with future games against Colorado State, Wyoming, New Mexico and Hawaii, but given how the Aggies have played so far this season, none of those games are guaranteed to go Utah State’s way.
Optimism remains alive in the locker room. Safety Hunter Reynolds and wide receiver Terrell Vaughn both expressed continued belief in the program and its coaches.
“We are going to have to self-evaluate and see what we can do better as players,” Reynolds said, “and I know the coaches are going to handle what they need to handle. They are a great coaching staff.”
“I think we are a great offense, honestly,” Vaughn added. “We had a lot of key players that left and we need to find new players, but we’ll be fine.”
Anderson is little more grounded in his view.
Time and experience have taught him that the Aggies still have time to turn their season around, but things are just as likely to get worse before they get better.
“We have to self-reflect,” Anderson said. “I’ve been here before and I’ve seen teams respond the right way, galvanize and pull together and start winning games by doing the little things that get you over the hump. I’ve had a team that lost this game (against Weber State) and went on to win a conference title.
“And I’ve had teams that get in this type of game that fracture and fall further apart. When adversity hits, you are going to find out exactly who you are. ... This is not where anybody wanted to be, and now we are going to find out what we are made of. True character shows when things get bad. Lean on Christ and your Savior above and go to work. That is all we can do.”