Coming off perhaps the best performance of his collegiate career — in the eyes of his head coach especially — Cooper Legas will be the Utah State Aggies’ starting quarterback for the remainder of the 2023 season, barring injury or significant regression.

USU coach Blake Anderson announced the decision Monday, in the wake of the Aggies’ 32-24 double-overtime win over San Diego State Saturday night, a victory Legas was instrumental in.

“I think we can still have a great season this year. I think we can finish with a winning record and go to a bowl game. I think this year will end up being a big success regardless of how we started.” — Utah State QB Cooper Legas

“This will be Coop’s offense to run throughout the remainder of the season,” Anderson said, “assuming that we don’t have any injuries and that he just continues to do what he’s done over the last few weeks.”

Former Aggie starting quarterback McCae Hillstead is expected to miss potentially multiple weeks with an ankle injury suffered against the Aztecs, so quarterback Levi Williams has been elevated to the Aggies’ backup quarterback position.

Notified of the news by Anderson seconds before speaking with the media, Legas was visibly pleased, failing to suppress a smile.

“That’s awesome,” Legas said. “I was planning on running it (USU’s offense) this whole year, and I’ve been ready to do so. It feels good to have it (the starting QB job) back and I’m ready to keep playing well. I’m excited.”

Legas has been playing especially well of late for USU, while splitting time with Hillstead since Utah State’s loss to Air Force in mid-September.

Legas leads the Aggies with 1,505 passing yards, 15 touchdowns and six interceptions.

In Utah State’s thrilling — and potentially season-saving — victory against the Aztecs, Legas was highly effective coming off the bench, completing 11 of 15 passes for 167 yards and two touchdowns.

The latter TD pass, an 18-yard strike to wide receiver Terrell Vaughn, sent the game into double-overtime, where the Aggies wound up winning in thrilling fashion.

“I thought he played his best game,” Anderson said. “I know the numbers weren’t huge. We weren’t extremely explosive (but) part of that was because we were very conservative early in the game, trying to handle (SDSU’s defensive) front a little bit. We opened things up a little as the game progressed and I thought he did a phenomenal job moving out of the pocket when he needed to, using his legs.

“I thought he checked the ball down this game and utilized check downs, something we’ve struggled to do earlier in the season. He threw the ball away in a couple of very critical situations where in (the) past he would have forced the ball.

“I think he’s just grown up a lot,” Anderson continued. “The big plays he’s made we’ve always loved, it’s been the mistakes that we’ve been trying to kind of fight through and you gotta give him a ton of credit of just how he’s continued to work.

“... I could not be more proud of the guy that was put in a situation that was difficult and really handled it perfectly. He’s gotten better, he’s grown up, he’s earned every respect that he deserves from the team and from the fans and from me as well. I am going to give him every opportunity to finish (the season) as the starter.”

Legas had made no secret about the disappointment he felt when benched, a refrain he echoed again Monday, but he noted that Anderson’s decision to go with the true freshman Hillstead over him took some of the pressure off.

Count out this year’s Utah State Aggies if you’d like. You’ll probably end up wrong
In praise of Cooper Legas

“There’s nothing I could do about it,” he said. “Just make the most of every day in my situation. And I mean, I’m just blessed to be alive, blessed to be playing the game of football. So I’ve been positive every day, just having fun because I really do enjoy being here (at Utah State) with all the guys and playing football every day.

“... I don’t know, I feel like I’ve had less stress and there’s been a lot less pressure because in my mind, it’s like what are they gonna do? They’ve already benched me, they can’t really do anything worse than that. So I’ve just been playing free and not really having any worries.”

Anderson’s decision to go with Hillstead over Legas multiple times this season has been the subject of much debate among the Aggies fanbase, with Anderson receiving plenty of criticism. Especially since Legas has been in at quarterback in all four of the team’s wins this season, either as the starter or as a reserve filling in for an injured Hillstead.

Anderson wasn’t oblivious to the complaints.

“It was difficult to make the (QB) change earlier (in the season),” he said. “We knew we were gonna be throwing a freshman out there that wasn’t quite there yet. Didn’t want to make the change in the first place. Despite what a lot of people (think). Those people really don’t understand. I just knew we had to control the forced turnovers. And when Coop takes care of the forced throws and throws it away or checks it down, he is as good as anybody. But we are not good enough as a team to overcome those (mistakes).

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“... We can look back now, and I don’t know, maybe we should have made some changes along the way. I’m just proud of how (Legas) has responded.”

And now, with three games left and the Aggies needing to win at least two more to become bowl eligible, Legas is QB1 with the postseason hopes of Utah State football resting largely on his shoulders.

Through everything, Legas does not lack belief.

“I think we can still have a great season this year,” he said. “I think we can finish with a winning record and go to a bowl game. I think this year will end up being a big success regardless of how we started.”

Utah State QB Cooper Legas looks to hand the ball back to the referee during a game on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023 in Logan, Utah. On Monday, Legas was informed by coach Blake Anderson that he would be the starter moving forward, barring unforeseen circumstances. | Tyler Tate, Associated Press
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