Blake Anderson knows the Utah State Aggies’ roster must improve and retain existing talent
The Aggies are a middle-of-the-road Mountain West Conference team for a second consecutive season, fighting desperately for bowl eligibility.
The 2023 college football season isn’t over yet.
At least one week of football remains for Utah State (5-6, 3-4) this coming Friday at New Mexico.
Win that game and the Aggies will improve to 6-6 this season, a good enough record to earn USU a bowl berth, the 11th in 13 seasons for the Utah State program.
The Aggies want to earn that bowl berth. They want to go bowling. That isn’t a secret.
“It’s definitely super important,” safety Devin Dye said. “Just getting another game potentially.”
For Utah State head coach Blake Anderson, it is more than that, though.
A bowl game this season would be a major accomplishment in his eyes, given both the talent hemorrhaged during the offseason — players and coaches — and the schedule the Aggies have played.
“A week from now we could be sitting here talking about what bowl we are going to, which would be great,” Anderson said following the Aggies’ dismal showing on Senior Night against Boise State.
“Nobody starts out the season wanting to be 6-6. But I could have told you to begin the season with our roster and our schedule that 6-6 is a pretty dang good accomplishment. We want to be better and we will. But that (a bowl game) will be a huge step in the right direction for this group.”
As referenced, however, Utah State needs to improve. This season, sure. New Mexico upset Fresno State Saturday night and now looks to be anything but a gimme for the Aggies.
More importantly, though, USU needs to take a step forward for the sake of future campaigns.
After winning the Mountain West Conference championship in 2021 — Anderson’s first year at the helm — the Aggies have regressed considerably, with back-to-back middling seasons.
USU hasn’t been able to build on many, if any, of its successes under Anderson and the Aggies certainly haven’t been able to establish themselves as consistent MW title contenders.
Meanwhile, Boise State continues to contend for MW titles, even in down years, and teams like UNLV have risen dramatically.
Utah State appears to be falling behind.
“We’ve got to close the gap,” Anderson said. “Somehow we’ve got to recruit, we’ve got to develop and get better in those areas (offensive and defensive lines), because we keep having the same conversation. In a game like tonight, where the team is built the way they are, it’s even more visible, unfortunately.”
Anderson noted that the Aggies have been recruiting fervently during the season, primarily in the junior college ranks, though USU does have a few high school commitments at this point, including some potential gems from California, Arizona and Utah.
Moreover, Anderson has had conversations with many current Aggie underclassmen about remaining with the program and the feedback he has received has been largely positive.
“We’ve got to retain this roster,” he said. “We’ve got to retain this roster. We can’t lose nine starters again in the offseason. We can’t. We’re gonna graduate a group, we know that. But we’ve got to retain this roster.
“I think we are taking good steps towards that. I’ve had phenomenal conversations with a lot of guys that indicate they are staying put. I’m hoping that as we get closer towards Dec. 4 (when the NCAA transfer portal opens) you’ll hear more and more guys talking about staying.”
Anderson and company aren’t oblivious. They understand that as currently constructed Utah State is simply not good enough. And hasn’t been for two years now.
“We’ve got to close that gap,” Anderson said. “That physicality gap right now is our biggest issue. We’re good in the back end at times and we can run ourselves open, but we’ve got to protect (the quarterback), we got to be able to move pocket, we’ve got to be able to run the ball and we have to stop the run.
“... This is not a one week or one day fix. This is a grind of fixing it in the offseason through recruiting, nutrition, development and buy in. We’ve got to bridge that physical gap. We’ve got to find good answers in those areas.”
There is hope, though.
Under new athletic director Diana Sabau, Anderson believes the Aggies are moving forward with things like improved nutrition, NIL and more.
As he says it, USU is trying to take care of the off-the-field things that help programs move forward on the field.
“We’re taking every step we can so we don’t have to go through this every year,” Anderson said. “And I’m hoping that we’re able to get through this transition into the offseason with with very little attrition. That will be ideal.”