The Utah State Aggies may be on a three-game winning streak and have an undefeated record in the early stages of their Mountain West Conference schedule. But three of their first four games have been closer than the Aggies have been used to, and one of those came in a loss to Wake Forest, a Power 5 team that is now ranked 22nd in the Associated Press college football poll.
And for a team that has an MWC title in its sights, Utah State’s matchup might be its toughest measuring stick yet. The Aggies on Saturday will face the No. 5 Louisiana State Tigers, who are 4-0 on the season.
“To me, on film, they appear to be where they should be,” Aggies coach Gary Andersen said Monday. “They’re very talented, and they play very well. They have great athletes and are well coached. It will be a tremendous challenge.”
Lately, the Aggies have been showing out. Savon Scarver with a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Linebacker David Woodward forcing a fumble and recovering it for a touchdown of his own. Running back Gerold Bright with his best performance of the season. Quarterback Jordan Love doing Jordan Love things.
And that was just a few days ago in a win over Colorado State.
But there are those on the team that feel Utah State still isn’t anywhere near playing its best football.
“We played well enough to win the game, but we have to do better this upcoming week, and the following weeks after, because it’s only going to get tougher from here on out,” graduate transfer tight end Caleb Repp said. “We just have to pick it up in practice and focus on what we need to execute more in.”
The Aggies may need to be better than their best come Saturday. The Tigers are averaging almost 58 points per game and are 27 of 27 in the red zone. They have the third-ranked offense in the country at 564 total yards per game.
USU is no slouch on the offensive end, either. It ranks ninth in total offense (533 yards per game), mainly buoyed by Love and his 1,207 passing yards and the high production of running backs Jaylen Warren (339 yards) and Bright (305).
LSU coach Ed Orgeron in his weekly press conference for local media said the difficulty in facing Utah State’s offense is its speed.
“Very, very fast,” Orgeron said. “Faster than any team we’ve seen, including Missouri.”
Orgeron said his second-string players will simulate the Aggies offense against his own defense by using what he calls his “warp speed offense.” That means — basically — they’ll play as fast as they possibly can.
Orgeron also complimented Love, highlighted with statistics the offensive prowess he’s shown in his college career, and mentioned the fact he’s only been sacked three times this season.
“He's definitely a first-round pick, I do believe, in the NFL and will play in the NFL for a long time,” Orgeron said of Love. “He's an extremely good quarterback in all areas.”
One of the strengths of LSU’s offense is its receivers, who pick up 15 yards after the catch. Andersen said USU’s secondary defense will need to contain that as much as possible and limit LSU’s space in that part of the field.
“Running to the football and having more than one guy around the football as much as we possibly can, and having those guys be able to keep an eye on the ball and be able to close it down and try to keep them in a phone booth instead of giving them a third of the field to be able to make you miss,” Andersen said. “It’s hard for any position group or any single player to tackle a guy when there’s a bunch of grass out there.”
The Aggies have historically played well against Power 5 teams, but haven’t been able to get over the hump consistently and earn wins. Senior defense back Cameron Haney sees Saturday at LSU as an opportunity to change that trend.
“That’s been our problem, when we play against Power 5 opponents, it’s always, ‘Almost,’ ” Haney said. "We just need to go to practice, look at the blueprint, take it slow, understand what we have to do, and that’s to win the fourth quarter. So, when we go out there to Louisiana, we will definitely have a different game plan, we will definitely have a different attitude and we’ll see what happens.”