by Daniel Olsen
While the Utah State Aggies struggled in 2020, they have a new coach and new expectations in 2021. It’s time to pull out the crystal ball and see just how the upcoming football season will go for USU. With the kickoff being 88 days away, it’s time to start with the preview of the season opener in Pullman, Washington.
Game 1: @ Washington State
The Aggies are facing the Cougars in Pullman for the season opener. It will be the fourth matchup in program history for the two programs. Washington State is 2-1 against the Aggies. They won a doubleheader from 1949-1950 in dominating fashion. However, the Aggies returned the favor with a 34-14 win in a neutral field in 1961. That game was played in Spokane at Joe Albi stadium.
At the time, the Aggies enjoyed one of their best teams in program history with Hall of Fame linebacker Merlin Olsen leading the defense. The Aggies finished that year with a 9-1-1 record and a tenth place finish in the final AP poll. It remains to this day their highest finish in the AP poll in program history.
A tale of two offenses
This year, the Aggies look to have a high flying offense. They have a head coach who prided himself in one of the highest scoring offenses during his time at Arkansas State. The Cougars did have a high octane offense with Mike Leach. However, he left for Starkville to coach the Mississippi State Bulldogs.
With Nick Rolovich, the Cougars had a one win season just like the Aggies in 2020. They only played four games and all against conference teams. The Aggies should make it close like they often do against P5 teams. However, it might not be enough. Rolovich, 0-2 against the Aggies as the coach for Hawaii, might just see his losing streak come to an end. The two teams were slated to play last season in Logan before the schedules were altered due to the pandemic.
Players to watch for
At the quarterback position, Jayden de Laura has the most experience. In four starts, he completed around 60 percent of his passes. However, he was arrested for a DUI earlier this year. He will have to keep the off-the-field drama to a minimum to be the leader for the Cougars. He will have plenty of competition and may lose this starting job.
The Cougars need more scoring as last year was their lowest points-per-game (27) since 2012 (20.4). Four games is a small sample size, and they did play against some tough defenses throughout their season. One of them was the Utah Utes.
With leading wide receivers Renard Bell and Travell Harris returning to the team, the Cougars will look to match their season totals from last season as early as the very first game. They combined for four passing touchdowns last season. Unless the Aggie secondary improves tremendously, that could be matched when the two square off on Labor Day weekend.
Key to the Game
The key to winning this game is to have the defense that will show up. Both offenses should be able to score if both teams execute the game plans of their offensive minded coaches. There are some question marks on both sides.
Expect to see both teams to send most of their touchdowns through the air. Out of 127 FBS teams that played in 2020, the Cougar defense allowed the fourth most passing yards with an average of 307 yards per contest. The Aggies were ranked a little better, but not by much. They allowed 260.7 per contest which was good for number 103 in the nation. If the Aggies can be at least mediocre in that category, they should be able to have a great season if their offense is as advertised.
There are so many new faces on the Aggies that it is hard to predict who will be the stars. Because of the fast, physical, fun team culture, the way the team gels as a unit will determine how successful they can be. Andrew Peasley is expected to be the starting QB. If another quarterback beats him out in fall camp, then perhaps the Aggies can win a surprise game.
You can catch our predictions for the entire season by listening to today’s Big Bluesday episode by clicking one of the links below:
Prediction: Washington State by Seven
Expect a 49-42 shootout. Rolovich and Anderson both like to score. Expect a high score that you’d see in Big 12 country. Until the Aggies beat a Power 5 team, which they haven’t done in seven years, then the jury is still out on when it will happen next. If there was a year, this would be it. The money Game next year is in Tuscaloosa against the mighty Alabama Crimson Tide. The Cougars present a much easier challenge. The Aggies look to be up to the task.
Featured image courtesy Deseret News