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‘We’ll have to see how they grow’: Inexperience rampant along Utah State defensive line

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Fresno State quarterback Jorge Reyna tries to elude Utah State defensive back Justus Te’i during the first half of a Mountain West Conferencd football game in Fresno, Calif., Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019.

Gary Kazanjian, Associated Press

LOGAN — What a difference a year makes. Heading into spring football camp last season, Utah State’s defensive line was seen as a position of strength, arguably the greatest strength of the football team, outside of quarterback Jordan Love. 

Sure, guys were banged up during spring ball, but the potential of Devon Anderson, Tipa Galeai, Fua Leilua, Dalton Baker, Jacoby Wildman, Justus Te’i, and Christopher ’Unga was tantalizing.

All but one of those linemen — Te’i — is gone heading into spring camp this time around. As a result, the Aggies’ defensive line is riddled with question marks. Who exactly is going to play is one of the more pressing questions, as is how effective they will be.

There are few if any questions surrounding Te’i, though, as the senior defensive end is expected to lead the way for the team’s edge rushers. Te’i started all 13 games last season and finished seventh on the team with 51 tackles, including 1.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss. He also had a team-best three fumble recoveries which ranked first in the Mountain West Conference and sixth in the nation (0.23 per game).

“That crew is being led right now by Justus, as far as defensive linemen go,” Utah State head coach Gary Andersen said. “Expect him to be a really good player for us.”

After Te’i, question marks abound, but the Aggies believe they have solutions. At defensive end those includes UCLA transfer Marcus Moore and JUCO transfer James Hansen.

A three-star recruit out of high school, Moore started working with the team on Feb. 21, and is expected to be a difference maker, after playing in 17 games for the Bruins in 2017 and ‘18.


UCLA’s Marcus Moore, left, and Darnay Holmes, right, tackle Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley (1) during the second half of an NCAA college football game Friday, Nov. 3, 2017, in Salt Lake City. Moore is now preparing to play for Utah State.

Rick Bowmer, Associated Press

“He is ready to go,” said Andersen. “You bring in a transfer and you expect him to be a difference maker and that is what we are expecting from him. I like what he brings to the table.”

Hansen, a transfer from Riverside Community College, is expected to contribute as well, and do so immediately.

“Those two transfer kids were brought in here to play,” said Andersen.

Additionally, Hale Motu’apuaka, Jake Pitcher, Josh Bowcut and Aaron Bredsguard are all in the mix for playing time. 

“Those are kind of the sophomore and senior crew of the defensive ends,” Andersen explained. “We are youthful at the defensive end position, but talented. I’m excited to see what they can make happen, from those seniors down to those freshmen, as far as their mental toughness, their physical toughness and every day they battle. Especially those young kids, cause that’ll create some really fun competition at the defensive end spot.”

The defensive tackle group is not without its questions, either, but Andersen expects the trio of Ritisoni Fata, Caden Andersen and Dean Rice to be the primary contributors. Fata and Andersen combined for 30 tackles and one tackle for loss last season, while Rice redshirted.

“Those are the three guys, the scholarship kids,” he said. “You’ve got two seniors (Fata and Andersen) and another young hungry freshman (Rice). The defensive is in the same scenario as so many of our other groups. It is going to come down to their ability to grow, mature and get that toughness. They need to battle like heck through spring. I like them by number, but we’ll have to see how they grow.”