Turnovers remain a real issue for Utah State, though things have gotten better
The Aggies were one of the worst teams in the country in 2022 winning the turnover battle. Things have gotten better but...
A season ago, Utah State football was one of the worst teams in the country when it came to the turnover battle.
That isn’t exaggeration.
At the end of the 2022 season, the Aggies ranked No. 120 out of 130 FBS teams in turnover differential at minus-9.
USU was the worst team in the Mountain West Conference — when speaking of turnovers — and forced just 11 interceptions, while giving away 21 picks and also losing fumbles six times.
It was an issue in almost every game during the 6-7 campaign.
Throughout the ensuing offseason, head coach Blake Anderson emphasized the need for ball security, particularly from his quarterbacks. Simply put, the Aggies needed to be better when it came to turnovers or they wouldn’t stand a chance at improving up their mediocre 2022 season.
And they knew it.
Eight games into the 2023 season and things have improved dramatically. Utah State is ranked No. 69 in the country in turnover differential this season, at only minus-1.
The Aggies have forced 16 turnovers — eight fumbles and eight interceptions — and rank in the middle of the MW in differential, thanks to four lost fumbles and 13 interceptions thrown.
Those interceptions remain a serious problem for the Aggies, though, and have come from both McCae Hillstead and Cooper Legas.
Thus far this season, Hillstead has thrown seven picks, while Legas has thrown six. Hillstead has thrown two or more interceptions in each of his last three appearances — against UConn, James Madison and San Jose State — while Legas has thrown two interceptions in each of his last two games — against Colorado State and Fresno State.
Hillstead’s showing against San Jose State was discouraging, as the freshman returned to action after missing multiple games due to concussion protocol and made multiple mistakes.
“I mean, (we) can’t turn the ball over. That’s been our issue,” Anderson said. “That’s really why he (Hillstead) was put out there because we felt like that he wouldn’t. He didn’t have a lot of help today. We did not control the front. They (SJSU) got to him a lot quicker than they should have. ... I don’t feel like he played well. There were mistakes you can’t afford to make.”
Mistakes were why Hillstead got the nod at quarterback over Legas against San Jose State, though. Anderson noted that Legas was surpassed this weekend by Hillstead in large part because the senior quarterback could have thrown as many as five interceptions last week against Fresno State, if not for drops by the Bulldogs.
“The whole goal was to stop turning the ball over,” Anderson said.
That has been the goal the entire season for the Utah State and though the Aggies have made improvements there is clearly a long way to go.
If Utah State is to become bowl eligible this season, those improvements will have to come in the final four games of the season, against San Diego State, Nevada, New Mexico and Boise State.
If not, the Aggies may not be bowling this season, with giveaways largely to blame.