Utah State (1-2) vs. James Madison (3-0)
Kickoff: Saturday, 6 p.m. MDT.
Venue: Maverik Stadium, Logan.
Radio: Aggie Sports Network.
Series: Utah State and James Madison are meeting for the first time ever. The Aggies have never played a game against a team from the state of Virginia.
Weather: Sunny with no chance of precipitation, with slight winds out of northwest and temperatures in the mid-60s at kickoff.
For James Madison: The Dukes are 3-0 with wins over Bucknell, Virginia and most recently Troy. Since making the transition from the FCS ranks to the FBS level, JMU is 11-3 overall.
What to watch for
There are two main things going forward that could decide the Aggies’ season — starts to games and quarterback play.
In both of USU’s losses this season — at Iowa and Air Force — the Aggies have started slow, particularly on offense. Against the Hawkeyes, USU was outscored 14-0 in the first quarter, before going on to outscore Iowa 14-10 in the final three quarters.
It was even more pronounced against Air Force, with Utah State falling behind 29-0 to start, before going on to outscore the Falcons 21-10.
Said head coach Blake Anderson: “We need to play better early. If you take away the first quarter, we’re 3-0 and one of the best teams in the country. We’ve dug holes every week.”
Utah State didn’t start particularly well against Idaho State either, but a record-breaking second quarter propelled the Aggies to an easy win.
Start well against JMU and Utah State should have every chance to win. Start slow again and the hole dug may be too much to overcome.
In that vein, true freshman quarterback McCae Hillstead is taking over as the Aggies’ signal caller and slow starts could put too much pressure on the unseasoned Hillstead.
While his long-term potential was evident against Air Force, Hillstead has much to do going forward.
“There were honestly things I haven’t really had a chance to give him reps of and really teach him through, considering he’s only been getting about 20% of the reps — at most on a given week maybe about 30% of the reps,” Anderson said. “I think those are things that with reps, he will get better at and things he’ll have better answers for moving forward.”
McCae Hillstead, Utah State quarterback: The true freshman is the man going forward for Utah State after replacing incumbent starter Cooper Legas early in the Aggies’ loss to Air Force. HIllstead was a standout at Skyridge High School and showcased against the Falcons what made him a prized recruit for Utah State.
Said Anderson: “What I saw from McCae was quick decisions, working through progressions, making good decisions on things that he’s had reps of. Now, he missed some things as well — he missed pressures that he should have protected and picked up and read differently.”
“They weren’t just your typical FCS program. They were one of the best in the country every year. While they were doing that they were playing and beating Power Five and Group of Five teams along the way. They are in a hotbed of recruiting. They’ve got a tremendous tradition and they’ve been committed to that program financially for quite a while. That thing has been built for a long time. Being in the South and on the East Coast and in the leagues I’ve been in, we all knew who James Madison was and knew that anybody who played them better be ready.” — Utah State coach Blake Anderson.
“Their head coach is a good offensive coach. They have the ability to spread you out and throw receiver screens and switch routes, etc. They make you play in space. Defensively they really play hard. They really fly around. There are a number of challenges there.” — James Madison coach coach Curt Cignetti.
Utah State: at UConn on Sept. 30.
James Madison: vs. South Alabama on Sept. 30.
Utah State schedule
- Sep. 2 — Iowa 24, Utah State 14.
- Sept. 9 — Utah State 78, Idaho State 28.
- Sept. 16 — Air Force 39, Utah State 21.
- Sept. 23 — vs. James Madison (6 p.m. MDT, KJAZZ).
- Sept. 30 — at UConn (10 a.m. MDT, CBS Sports Network).
- Oct. 7 — vs. Colorado State (6 p.m. MDT).
- Oct. 13 — vs. Fresno State (6 p.m. MDT, CBS Sports Network).
- Oct. 21 — at San Jose State (5 p.m. MDT, CBS Sports Network).
- Nov. 4 — at San Diego State (TBA).
- Nov. 11 — vs. Nevada (1 p.m. MST).
- Nov. 18 — vs. Boise State (5 p.m. MST, CBS Sports Network).
- Nov. 24 — at New Mexico (1:30 p.m. MST, CBS Sports Network).