LOGAN — If Utah State head coach Gary Andersen has his way, one of the decided strengths of the Aggies come the 2020 season opener against the Washington State Cougars will be the offensive line.
Yes, the offensive line.
There is no question about it, the group met with mixed results in 2019, due largely to a combination of injuries and youth.
ProFootballFocus ranked USU’s O-line 83rd out of 130 FBS teams, while noting that “even though they ranked just 81st as a group in pass-blocking grade, they did a great job of limiting hits on the quarterback. Together, they allowed a sack or hit just 4.1% of the time, which finished as the 25th-lowest percentage in the country.”
The Aggies entered last season with only one returning starter — Alfred Edwards — and of the eight linemen who would go on to start at least one game, six were freshmen or sophomores.
One of their best, Andy Koch, played in just three games before missing the remainder of the season with a knee injury, and the rest battled through a gauntlet that included the likes of national champion LSU, Mountain West Conference champ Boise State and others.
All of it worked together for the good of the group, Andersen contends, and heading into spring camp everyone is back, healthy and raring to go.
“I am really, really proud of the way that young group battled,” Andersen said. “They were a young crew that got thrown into the fire, and that will pay dividends as we continue to grow through this off season.
“We are healthy and they are getting stronger. They are getting more physical. Their mindset is to be great and be together for a long period of time. I am really excited to see this group compete in the spring against our defense and then watch them continue to grow through the summer and then through fall camp.”
Edwards is the headliner of what can now be called an experienced offensive line. The junior played in 12 games last season and started each and every one of them at left tackle.
Then there is Demytrick Ali’fua, the only senior of the unit. Ali’fua started all 13 games at center and played a team-best 901 offensive snaps. He finished the season with 33 knockdowns, per USU, including a career-high 10 against BYU.
Karter Shaw was Utah State’s most highly rated offensive linemen last season, per ProFootballFocus, and he is back after having started all 13 games at right guard and posting a team-best 39 knockdowns.
Other familiar faces include Ty Shaw, who played in every game last year and made nine starts at left guard; Kyler Hack, who started six games at right tackle; and Heneli Avendano, who played in every game in 2019, making four starts.
Koch, meanwhile, is healthy again and is expected to play a key role.
With the return of all of those linemen — all sophomores or juniors save for Ali’fua — plus a few others like Jackson Owens (two games played, 30 snaps taken), Jacob South (nine games played, two started and 210 snaps) and Wade Meacham (one game played, 15 snaps), it is only fair for there to be significant expectations.
“I expect the O-line to be a strength of our team,” Andersen said. “They know about those expectations and are excited about them. They are doing a good job working every day to play at a high level.”