Logan • If his seat wasn’t hot this time last year, it certainly was getting warmer.
Matt Wells was coming off his worst season as coach of Utah State University’s football team. The Aggies went 3-9 and missed out on a bowl game for the first time since 2010. And plenty wondered if Wells’ time in Logan was nearing its end.
A year later, with USU back in the postseason, Wells is the one providing the heat.
“Are we there? No. Are we closer? Yes. Am I pretty fired up going into this offseason? More than I’ve ever been. Did I have a chip on my shoulder? Absolutely,” Wells said recently, reflecting back on the Aggies’ 2017 campaign. “And if you don’t have a chip on your shoulder, an edge or something that can get you going, you’re dead in this profession.”
Wells certainly found a way to breathe some life into his team this season.
The former USU quarterback who returned to campus as an assistant under Gary Andersen in 2010 knew he had to make some changes after a dismal 2016. He also knew he had the support of his athletics director, John Hartwell, who backed Wells in a letter to fans and alumni promising to use “the sting” of last year to improve. And he had the support of his players.
“We didn’t pay attention to any of that,” all-American cornerback Jalen Davis said. “We know we have a great coach here, so we don’t care about what any outsider says. We’re just worried about what’s going on in this building at Utah State.”
Looking back, Wells wondered if his team had become complacent after a run of bowl games.
“Sometimes when it becomes a routine, and I’ll talk about 2015, you allow staleness to set in, and you allow ‘Yeah, we always do this.’ No. Utah State doesn’t always go to bowl games, and it hasn’t,” Wells said. “I know the history very, very well. To be in six bowl games in the last seven years is a huge deal here.”
So he went about shaking up things in 2017.
“You look at everything,” he said. “We comb through everything, from A to Z in this program.”
Wells changed how his team practiced, with a focus on upping the intensity and competition. Wells brought in some new coaches, including offensive coordinator David Yost, to try to speed up their attack. The Aggies had mixed success this year but improved as the season went on, especially once redshirt freshman quarterback Jordan Love took over the starting job.
For the head coach, the final results were good but not great.
“I don’t want to be 6-6,” he said. “I want to compete for a Mountain West Championship in the last week of November. We didn’t do that this year. We didn’t play well in the stretch in October. We lose the Colorado State game, we give up a lead in the fourth quarter and get beat by Wyoming. We can’t find a way to win at the end of the Air Force game. That still sits bad with me.”
But he also thinks the future looks bright.
The Aggies were only starting four seniors — two on each side of the ball — by the end of the season and should have plenty of experience heading into next year.
And after coaching turnover hurt the Aggies’ recruiting in recent years, Wells tweaked USU’s approach. Instead of having one or two coaches in contact with a recruit, a number of coaches from the staff would have interactions and build relationships with those players. Wells said he was “jacked” about this year’s recruiting class, having already signed a dozen players during this month’s early signing window.
“I am not done with this year,” Wells said, “but I can’t wait to blow into next year.”
UTAH STATE VS. NEW MEXICO STATE
The Arizona Bowl, in Tucson, Ariz.
Kickoff • 3:30 p.m. Friday
TV • CBS Sports Network
Records • USU 6-6, NMSU 6-6
Last meeting • Utah State won 41-7 at home Oct. 20, 2012
About Utah State • Redshirt freshman quarterback Jordan Love has been solid since taking over for Kent Myers as the starter. … Only two Aggies on the current roster, Myers and running back LaJuan Hunt, have enjoyed a bowl victory. … Cornerback Jalen Davis is the ninth player in school history to be named a first-team all-American.
About New Mexico State • Coach Doug Martin has the school playing in just the fourth bowl game in school history. Expect a large NMSU fan base in Tucson. … These Aggies love to throw the ball. Senior quarterback Tyler Rogers passed for more than 3,800 yards and 26 touchdowns. … Wide receiver Jaleel Scott is a big target and Rogers’ favorite option. He had 73 receptions on the year.