Utah State football enters opener against UConn wary of Huskies’ unknowns

Aggies coach Blake Anderson wants to get off to a good start, but acknowledges that the Huskies are truly an unknown, and that’s dangerous.

(Andres Leighton | AP) Utah State wide receiver Brandon Bowling (16) celebrates with teammate Justin McGriff (10) after scoring a touchdown against New Mexico during the first half of an NCAA college football game on Friday, Nov. 26, 2021, in Albuquerque, N.M.

Blake Anderson has the difficult task of taking a successful 2021 season and trying to make 2022 just as good or even better.

The Utah State football team was a surprise to almost everyone last year. In the pandemic shortened 2020 season, the Aggies went 1-5 and ended the campaign mired in controversy. Shortly thereafter, Anderson officially took over the program with little to no expectations.

And then he went and led the Aggies to an 11-3 record in 2021 and a victory in the L.A. Bowl. If that can happen in Logan, why not somewhere else?

So as the Aggies prepare to open the season against a Connecticut team rebuilding amid disarray, Anderson wants them worried.

“If we can go from 1-5 to 11-3, so can anybody else,” Anderson said. “We have to expect the best team we’re going to see all season.”

Jim Mora is the new Huskies coach

Anderson knows what it’s like to be the new kid on the turf. But it’s not every day that new kid is Jim Mora, who coached NFL teams in various capacities before going to UCLA from 2012-2017 and then taking the head coaching job at UConn this season after part of a season as an offensive assistant to interim coach Lou Spanos.

“It’s not every day you face a guy that’s got that kind of track record,” Anderson said. “Just a tremendous amount of respect for his career and what he’s been able to do.”

UConn isn’t expected to give the Aggies any problems. Utah State is heavily favored to win, and it has the roster continuity to back that up.

But UConn’s coaching situation does give Anderson some pause.

“How do you prepare for a team with a new head coach, new coordinators, really no film to go off of? That is a real problem,” Anderson said. “We really don’t know what to expect. We’re just going to have to adjust quickly.”

Last week, Spanos, the Huskies defensive coordinator, took a leave of absence for “personal reasons.” The school gave no further details and did not indicate whether he could return this season.

“A strange situation and it’s gotten stranger,” Anderson said. “But [Mora] is a defensive guy and I have to believe he can step in and get things calmed down and they’ll be ready to play.”

Wide receivers are the standouts of camp

A year ago, Deven Thompkins was the guy, quite literally, making the biggest jumps for the Aggies.

With Thompkins trying to make an NFL roster, it’s his successors at wide receiver who have made the biggest metaphorical leaps in camp.

Gone are Thompkins and Derek Wright, who is now with the Carolina Panthers.

Now the Aggies will be looking to senior Justin McGriff to lead the way.

“You lost so much productivity. There’s such a big void,” Anderson said. “I’ve been really pleased with how that group has attacked the problem. … We’re playing a lot of guys, using a lot of packages. And the veteran in the room, McGriff, has taken ownership of the group.”

McGriff started every game for the Aggies last season. He caught six touchdown passes and amassed 414 receiving yards. He likes the way the receivers have come along during camp, and alluded to the family atmosphere continuing into this year even with new faces around.

“We have that same brotherhood,” McGriff said. “Obviously it’s different guys in the seats, but the brotherhood is going to be the same. The expectation is going hard every day.”

Aggies rolling out in new looks

USU should be hyped enough to start the 2022 season after how last year ended. And its new uniforms are just going to add to that.

The Aggies are going with a mostly all-white look accented by blue trim. It’s the kind of look you’d only want to get dirty on the football field.

Anderson said the colorway for the opening game harkens back to some Utah State days of old.

“Just kind of a throwback to the Merlin Olsen days with the shoulder stripes and pant stripes just kept coming up,” Anderson said, adding that the team wants to have all new uniforms but can’t afford to do that all at once.

“Eventually we’ll have blue to go with it,” he said. “But the whites are staying here and playing at home in a [whiteout game] is pretty cool too to start with a new uniform.”