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Discipline has become an issue for Utah State. What is the fix?

Adding to an already difficult season, the Aggies have become extremely penalty prone

SHARE Discipline has become an issue for Utah State. What is the fix?
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UNLV defensive back Jerrae Williams (23) tackles Utah State wide receiver Terrell Vaughn (0) during the second half of an NCAA football game Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022, in Logan, Utah.

Eli Lucero, The Herald Journal via Associated Press

At 1-3 overall and 0-1 in Mountain West Conference play, there is a lot that has gone wrong for Utah State this season.

No one involved with the Aggies program is particularly happy about it, as Utah State is far from where it wanted to be at this point in the year and things won’t get any easier with rival BYU up next, followed by divisional games against Air Force and rivals Colorado State and Wyoming.

Frustration has inevitably begun to boil over. Want proof? Look no further than the penalties.

In the season opener against UConn, Utah State had six total penalties. The following week against Alabama, Utah State had six total penalties.

Not great numbers to be sure, but fairly normal in the course of a college football game.

In back-to-back outings against Weber State and UNLV, though, Utah State amassed 22 total penalties, 11 in each loss.

Against UNLV, it was emotional penalties, personal fouls especially, that reared their head, adding up to 98 lost yards for Utah State.

One of the personal fouls, combined with a poor snap on an attempted punt by Stephen Kotsanlee, gifted UNLV the ball at the USU 5-yard line, a drive that inevitably ended in a Rebels’ touchdown.

In what ended up a 10-point loss, the rash of penalties was simply an unacceptable lack of discipline. And it went beyond the players too.

“It was a chippy game going in and we had some guys who didn’t respond well, and honestly we had some staff who didn’t either,” Utah State head coach Blake Anderson said. “That is stuff that I have to get control of. It is frustrating to watch, it doesn’t help our cause and it puts us behind the chains. It puts us in bad situations.”

Some of it can be blamed on inexperience. The Aggies are young this season and when they aren’t, they are still often playing transfers who are experiencing regular college football for the first time themselves.

“We have a lot of young players and players who transferred that never played before and now they are getting opportunities,” senior defensive tackle Hale Motu’apuaka said. “Sometimes it gets chippy. We can’t do that again.”

Against the Rebels specifically, emotions ran hot. The Aggies were hoping to turn their season around, while UNLV wanted to make a statement to open conference play.

“We clearly have to be more disciplined and more composed in an environment like tonight,” Anderson said. “This is how conference games are going to be. It is going to be chippy. It is going to be chaotic.”

Responsibility for discipline within the program ultimately falls on Anderson and he knows it. And has some work to do.

A frustrated Anderson admitted that multiple staffers were out of line Saturday night, jawing with officials when they should have been focused on coaching.

“Staffers need to let me deal with the officials,” Anderson said. “They need to be quiet and coach my guys. We had some guys get fired up tonight and obviously everyone is frustrated and want to bring energy to the sideline, but there is a fine line.

“There were several times tonight when I had to deal with coaches, getting them back to coach their guys and not scream at the officials. I get paid to do that (scream at the officials), they don’t, and that is something that is going to get addressed this week.”

As far as player discipline goes, Anderson isn’t going to change how he runs his program. But some players might soon find themselves with less opportunities going forward if they can’t handle their emotions or the moment.

“It is a challenge every day,” Anderson said. “This is the same approach, the same daily approach that we took all last year that worked for that group. And it is a very similar approach to what I’ve done my entire career in terms of what the daily measures are and how guys are held accountable. We are going to keep doing that. We are not just going to pick up and change everything.

“But also, if guys are repeat offenders, taking things into their own hands and doing things that are out of character, then at some point those guys have to not get that opportunity. We may be in that situation with some guys. I don’t know. We will see if that is where we are at yet.”

Anderson had nothing but praise for the passion and energy his team played with against UNLV. The Aggies showed life, a fire that had appeared to have been snuffed out against Alabama and Weber State.

With how much Utah State is struggling across the board, discipline can’t be an issue going forward. Not if the Aggies hope to rescue their season and avoid missing a bowl game for second time in three seasons, after having qualified for the postseason in eight of the previous campaigns.

If Anderson has his way, it won’t be.

“That is one of the first places where we need to make corrections,” he said. “We have to teach from it.”