Blake Anderson doesn’t know who will start at quarterback Saturday when the Utah State Aggies (3-5, 1-3) take on the San Diego State Aztecs (3-5, 1-3) in something of a desperation game for two teams hoping to become bowl eligible.
“I’ve wanted them to be competitive with each other and they are. And regardless of who the starter is, they are going to have a short leash.” — Utah State coach Blake Anderson on his two QBs
“As of today, there is not (a determined starter),” Anderson said before promising that a decision would be made later this week.
It is understandable that there is anything but quarterback certainty in Logan.
A quick recap:
- Legas was the starter to begin the season after earning the job midway through last year. With him under center the Aggies played Iowa tough on the road and then handily defeated Idaho State in Week 2.
- Early in the Aggies’ loss to Air Force, though, Legas was benched in favor of Hillstead, the true freshman and prized recruit out of Skyridge High. Hillstead sparked the Aggies’ offense in defeat, then had a standout performance as a starter the following week against James Madison.
- Hillstead started at QB another week, this time at UConn, but a concussion forced him out in the third quarter, moving Legas back into the starter’s spot. Legas led the Aggies to victory with a nearly flawless performance.
- With Hillstead in concussion protocol, Legas led the Aggies to a convincing win over Colorado State and then nearly led USU to victory over Fresno State the following week, though interceptions were problematic.
- Hillstead returned against San Jose State as the starting quarterback and struggled, along with the Aggies’ entire team.
Statistically, there isn’t a whole lot separating Hillstead and Legas.
In five games played this season, Legas has thrown for 1,338 yards, 13 touchdowns and six interceptions. He has had two multiinterception games.
Hillstead has played in five games, too (he was the third-string quarterback in the blowout win over Idaho) and has thrown for 890 yards, 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions, with three multiinterception games.
Per Pro Football Focus’ metrics, Hillstead has been the slightly better quarterback overall, with a 70.0 rating compared to a 69.8 rating for Legas. Hillstead has been the better passer (70.2 rating compared to a 67.3 rating for Legas), while Legas has been the better runner (65.1 rating for the senior, compared to a 63.2 rating for the freshman).
Legas has been the better downfield passer, though, per CFB Film Room, ranking third among all Group of Five quarterbacks when throwing the ball 15 yards or more downfield (against FBS competition), with a 51.4% completion rate.
When it comes to wins and losses, Legas has been the better signal caller, leading the Aggies to all three of their wins. Hillstead was great against the Aggies’ best opponent (James Madison), breaking multiple freshman QB records.
Both quarterbacks have had forgettable moments too, Legas against Air Force and at times against Fresno State, and Hillstead against San Jose State, specifically.
All of which is why a decision as to whom to start against the Aztecs has been a difficult one for Anderson.
“We’ve turned the ball over too much and both of them have had issues with that,” Anderson said. “So we dissected a lot of things last week (during the Aggies’ bye) and I was very hard on them.”
Anderson was pleased with how both quarterbacks responded to his criticisms, though, and the QBs split equal practice reps early this week.
“I’m gonna just continue to watch and see how they’re carrying themselves and responding,” Anderson said.
Normally, having more than one quarterback is viewed as disastrous — the old, “if you have two quarterbacks you actually have none,” adage, attributed to the late John Madden.
The Aggies have had success with both Legas and Hillstead this season, though, along with plenty of failures, so Anderson doesn’t see it quite as cut and dried as that.
“There is merit and value to both (Legas and Hillstead),” he said. “At the end of the day, we all three gotta be better. I (as offensive coordinator) have to put them in better positions and we’ve got to stop turning the ball over to have a chance to win. This is about my ownership as well.
“I’ve wanted them to be competitive with each other and they are. And regardless of who the starter is, they are going to have a short leash. If somebody goes out and is careless with the ball, don’t expect them to get a lot of grace. We’ve got to protect the football. ... That’s really where our focus has been. Protect the ball and we give ourselves a chance to win.”
With only four games remaining and USU needing three wins to become bowl eligible, that may be more important than it has ever been. No matter who is in at quarterback.