When the 2016 season mercifully reached its end, Matt Wells and his staff went in search of answers. Any 3-9 season demands such a reaction. So Utah State uncovered each stone in its program, to see what it could fix and what it could change. The Aggies went through it all, Wells said this week. Through recruiting approach, through program culture, through player development, through how they ran practices.
“You go through dips,” Wells said.
He knows. Two seasons later, the Aggies are ranked No. 14 in the nation at 9-1 and 6-0 in the Mountain West Conference. They’re the highest-scoring team in college football at 51.3 points per outing. Their starters routinely sit out the fourth quarter of games, because the scoreboard says so. As Utah State readies for the road this weekend at 3-7 Colorado State, Wells took an introspective approach this week. He looked back, as he vows his team is always looking forward.
So as Utah State is in the midst of one of the best seasons in program history, Wells conceded this week that his Aggies in recent years were “living off previous teams a little bit.” By that, he meant assuming that because previous seasons might’ve been deemed a success that they’re just supposed to carry over and do so with ease.
It’s why Wells still won’t concede ground. It’s why even though the Aggies are in the driver’s seat for the MWC crown, why they’re in the College Football Playoff rankings (No. 23), they might reminisce on what’s occurred, but not what’s still yet to take place.
“We’re not talking about the schedule,” Wells said. “We’re talking about Colorado State. It’s Round 7. This has got our short-term focus. We’ve been very good all year. There’s no reason to believe that our leaders are going to allow us to do anything else.”
UTAH STATE AT COLORADO STATE
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TV • ATTSN
So yes, while Wells remembers the dips all too well, he knows his players do, too. It might seem hard to stir up some motivation for a team that has been boat-racing opponents each week, but USU won’t have any problem getting up for CSU. The stakes are incredibly high, and the Aggies remember last year’s 27-14 home loss to the Rams. Wells calls last year’s first-half performance embarrassing. They’ve lost their last two trips to Fort Collins, Colo., too. These Aggies are paying attention.
Junior linebacker Tipa Galeai repeated a motto coaches have asked their players to adopt this year:
“Respect all, fear none.”
So far in 2018, the Aggies say they’ve respected plenty, but their opponents have had reason to fear them. The offense set a program record 804 yards in the 62-24 win over San Jose State last weekend. That’s just the latest record this group has upended this season. Sophomore quarterback Jordan Love won his sixth MWC Player of the Week award this year after throwing for a career-high 491 yards.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen him angry or anxious or happy or sad,” junior tight end Dax Raymond said. “He’s just mellow. Perfect.”
The offense might grab the headlines, but Utah State’s defense is having a special season, too. The Aggies are second in college football with 26 forced turnovers in 10 games. It’s a year to remember, so far. And as Wells said, it’s a testament to his leadership group in 2018 that has helped USU stay grounded when confidence might balloon at the thought of rankings and fan chatter. These seniors remember 2016.
“I think it says a lot about how we’ve developed our players,” Wells said, “because obviously a lot of the experts didn’t think we were real good.”
USU’s head coach already knows that come next summer when it’s time for the annual preseason rankings, the Aggies will be near top the list. A returning star quarterback and a bunch of returning starters. That’s talk for later on, though. That was Wells getting in a little jab in at being picked fourth in the Mountain division this year, whereas now, the Aggies are two weeks from standing atop it.
First things first. That’s Round 7 at Colorado State where the Aggies and their head coach vow they have plenty of juice left in the tank. After all, the last hour of the romp over San Jose State, the starters were standing next to Wells, “drinking chicken broth, water and Gatorade.”
“I don’t think we spent a lot of emotion last Saturday,” he said.