Utah State football struggled defensively this past season, throughout a second consecutive 6-7 campaign.

Mightily even.

Under defensive coordinator Joe Cauthen, the 2023-24 Aggies ranked among the worst teams at the FBS level in multiple major defensive categories.

Here’s the list.

Total defense

  • Utah State rated No. 117 (out of 134) in total defense. The Aggies surrendered an average of 433 yards per game in 2023, plus a total of 59 touchdowns.

Rushing defense

  • The Aggies came in at No. 126, having allowed 213 yards per game, 31 total touchdowns and an average of 5.06 yards per carry.

Scoring defense

  • USU came in at No. 120 when it was all said and done, thanks to giving up nearly 35 points per game (34.7) and those aforementioned 59 touchdowns.

Turnover margin

  • Utah State came in at No. 99, with a minus five turnover differential.

Third down defense

  • No. 100, as opponents converted 42% of their third down attempts against the Aggies.

First down defense

  • Ranked No. 128 in the country, having allowed 305 first downs over the course of the season.

In fairness, though, it wasn’t all bad.

The Aggies did find success in passing defense, both yards allowed (219.6 per game, No. 60 in the country) and efficiency (No. 61, as opponents complete 58.5% of their attempts).

USU was also fairly good at fourth down defense, ranking No. 48 in the country after opponents converted only 47% of their tries.

There was also red zone defense (No. 43. Utah State gave up only 40 touchdowns in 63 red zone appearances by opponents and allowed points of any kind of 51 of those red zone visits).

Related
Blake Anderson is now the 2nd longest tenured head football coach in the Mountain West
Who’s staying, who’s leaving, who’s incoming for Utah State football? Tracking 2024 decisions

Still, on the whole USU struggled defensively and those struggles limited the Aggies’ success despite the team boasting one of the best offenses in the Mountain West Conference, no matter who suited up at quarterback.

So it isn’t exactly a surprise that Blake Anderson has shaken up his defensive coaching staff this offseason.

In the last two weeks, the Aggies have reportedly added three new defensive coaches, a new defensive coordinator in Nate Dreiling — as reported by ESPN’s Pete Thamel — a new defensive backs coach in Jalen Ortiz — as reported by Football Scoop’s John Brice — and a new defensive line coach in Cedric Douglas — as reported by Football Scoop’s Doug Samuels.

Two of those hires — Dreiling and Ortiz — have been confirmed by the men themselves on social media and elsewhere, while Douglas expressed thanks to the University of Buffalo on Wednesday, stating in a social media post that he is “looking forward to what this new path in this journey is going to bring.”

Cauthen and Tevita Finau — the latter the Aggies’ defensive line coach last season — have both said goodbye to Utah State, in one way or another, as well.

Wrote Finau in a social media post: “USU football. This past season was an experience I’ll never forget. Grateful and forever thankful for it all. Thank you Aggie Family, Coaches and Staff, especially to my sons in the DLine room for an unforgettable season. Family forever.”

Cauthen, meanwhile, in public conversation with USU safety/linebacker Anthony Switzer on social media wrote, “I enjoyed the short time we had, too bad we didn’t get to finish what we started. Don’t loose your edge nor your desire most don’t have both and you do. Always pulling for ya!! Remember, knowledge is Power; don’t let simple minds stray you. Go Eat!”

So what kind of defensive coaches have the Aggies added?

Dreiling is viewed by many as something of a rising star in the business.

Wrote Colin Deaver, Sports Director at KTSM TV in El Paso, Texas: “Tough loss for New Mexico State, Nate Dreiling engineered the best defense in Conference USA in 2023. It’s a well-deserved move for him.”

Said Jason Groves, reporter for the Las Cruces Sun-News: “Nate will be a head coach. Was great to cover. Big loss for NMSU.”

Related
What is Utah State’s quarterback situation?
Utah quarterback Bryson Barnes is transferring to Utah State

And then there was Geoff Grammer with the Albuquerque Journal, who said, “Aggies on Aggies crime here. This one really hurts NMSU. Seems like a really good young DC now on his way to Logan.”

The 33-year old Dreiling, a former Division II All-American linebacker, most recently helped New Mexico State’s defense improve from No. 127 in total defense to No. 29 in a single year (from 2021 to 2022). And though the Aggies’ defense took a step back statistically this past year (to No. 83), NMSU upset Auburn and played for the Conference USA championship, in part due to Dreiling’s defense.

Prior to his time at New Mexico State, Dreiling spent time on Mario Cristobal’s staff at Oregon and was also the defensive run game coordinator and inside linebackers coach at Southeast Missouri State.

Dreiling told The Hutchinson Tribune that he will be officially announced by Utah State on Jan. 22., and that the opportunity to coach at USU is a great one.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Dreiling told John Mesh. “It will be a great opportunity for me and the family. It will be a great opportunity to coach to be able to compete for a title in the Mountain West. I’ll be moving up a conference level from Conference USA. It will be a fun experience. We’re heading up there (to Logan, Utah, with the family) to get things rolling.”

Ortiz, meanwhile, was at Nevada the last two seasons as cornerbacks coach, and was going to join Dreiling at New Mexico State this offseason, before pivoting to Utah State.

Ortiz, like Dreiling, previously worked under Cristobal at Oregon and also at Wyoming under recently retired Craig Bohl.

A linebacker with the UCLA Bruins and Wyoming Cowboys as a player,

As for Douglas, who is expected to coach both the Aggies’ defensive line and serve as run game coordinator, per Football Scoop, he is another up-and-coming coach, having recently participated in the 35 Under 35 Coaches Leadership Institute, a one-day event “designed to identify and train rising leaders in the game of football and the coaching professions.”

Douglas just finished his third season coaching at Buffalo, and before that he coached as Massachusetts as well as under Anderson at Arkansas State.