Utah State coach Blake Anderson won’t say definitively who will start at quarterback for the Aggies (3-3) Friday night when they host Fresno State (5-1).
Right now, though, he would be surprised to see anyone but Cooper Legas under center when action kicks off at Maverik Stadium at 6 p.m. MDT.
Aggies on the air
Utah State (3-3)
vs. Fresno State (5-1)
Friday, 6 p.m. MDT
TV: CBS Sports Network
Radio: Aggies Sports Network
The Aggies have started both Legas and true freshman McCae Hillstead at QB this season, but after Hillstead was sidelined with a concussion against UConn, the job has been Legas’ and he has led USU to back-to-back wins.
Hillstead, meanwhile, remains day-to-day, Anderson revealed Monday during his weekly press conference, and barring a dramatic turnaround over the next couple of days, he won’t be ready to start against the Bulldogs.
“The biggest concern with McCae right now is that he’s not ready to go,” Anderson said. “Still got symptoms at this point. And with a short week, I think the chances of him being ready this week are very slim. We are going to keep an eye on that, but there would have to be significant changes in the next 24 to 48 hours, which I don’t anticipate.”
Legas, a senior, has been the starter for all three of USU’s wins this season and has continued to improve following his benching against Air Force. Progression that culminated in a career outing against Colorado State on Saturday, when he threw for 387 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions (he also fumbled the ball on a sack).
Still, the former Orem High standout continues to make mistakes, part of the reason he was benched for Hillstead in the first place.
“Coop did a great job of working through some mistakes early,” Anderson said. “Cannot turn the ball over the way he did and expect to win, but he did a great job of making plays as the game progressed. But he cannot turn the ball over and we make no bones about it.
“The turnovers were self inflicted. We leave a ball hanging inside, we push the ball in an area on the field it doesn’t belong. And we hold on to the ball in the pocket on an RPO and create a turnover,” he continued. “So those are the frustrating conversations. But all the things he did outside of that are the things that you’re seeing as he continues to progress. We’re planning on playing with him this week.”
Hillstead, meanwhile, as a true freshman, isn’t experienced enough to return to action without some real practice reps, Anderson said — even if he displayed impressive natural ability in Utah State losses to Air Force and James Madison.
“We’re not gonna put him in harm’s way,” Anderson said. “I’m not going to try to play him without practice reps. I don’t think it’s fair to him or the team, especially for a freshman.”
Anderson has said multiple times during the last couple of weeks that he doesn’t believe injuries should cost players a starting job, and while it clearly won’t be so simple as that with Legas and Hillstead, the Aggies’ head coach doesn’t believe that is a conversation that needs to be had just yet.
Not until Hillstead is genuinely ready to practice and compete for the job again.
“We’ll reevaluate it when the game is over with and see where we are moving into next week,” Anderson said.
Legas, for his part, has made no secret of the fact that he didn’t particularly enjoy being benched, but he hasn’t let it affect him in a negative way.
“I mean, nobody wants to be benched,” he said following USU’s win over rival CSU. “But I’ve prepared the same way since I got here as a freshman. It’s the same every week. I’m preparing as if I’m going to play, whether that means I’m the one starting out the game or the one that is going to come in when the (starter) goes down.”
As for how he is approaching things now, with a tenuous hold on the starting quarterback job, Legas noted that his benching may have freed him up a bit.
“I feel like I’m not gonna screw up my chance again, if I get it,” he said. “What’s the worst that can happen? I get benched. So I can just be confident and go out there and play.”