It’s that time of year again: I crack open my trusty laptop which still has Yahoo! as the default search engine and begin the football previews. Up first are the Utah State Aggies, a team faced with significant attrition from last season.
Who: Utah State Aggies (Logan, UT; Mountain West Conference)
Head Coach: Blake Anderson 17-10 (.630) in 2 seasons at Utah State; 51-37 (.580) in 9 overall
What: the first football game of the Iowa Hawkeye season!
When: September 2nd, 2023; 11:00a God’s Time
Where: Kinnick Stadium; Iowa City, IA
Why: Iowa’s gotta have 7 home games
31.2 points allowed: The Utah State defense was bad with a 2022 ranking of 105th in points allowed. It was slightly worse than their total yards allowed (77th) and yards/play (82nd). In trying to discover where they especially struggled, it was...red zone defense.
129th: The Aggies ranking in allowing opponent scores once they got inside the 20. Over 9 out of 10 times, opponents scored. 32 out of the 44 scores (68%) were touchdowns.
35 transfers: Adding insult to injury, Utah State has seen a ton leave Logan off of last year’s squad. The linked article notes that it’s not out of bound with their Mountain West counterparts but is a jarring figure nonetheless.
September 4th, 2021: after a particularly moribund 2020 COVID season where the Aggies won as many Division 1 games as the BHGP staff, they went into Pullman, WA and beat the Cougars After Dark. They went on to go 11-3.
Cooper Legas (#5, QB, Jr, 6’1”, 205 lbs): Despite the rash of transfers, they’re bringing back the guy who started the most games behind center last year in Legas. He’s dual threat-y with a 61% completion percentage and 303 rush yards. The issue is his turnovers, as his 11 touchdowns are nearly matched with 10 interceptions.
The highlight of his young career is a relief performance to notch the 2021 bowl win which had Jimmy Kimmel remarking that Legas wasn’t even allowed in the studio.
One thing I’ll keep an eye on is just how much they feel comfortable with him running. Seven times last year, he had 10+ carries, which is a lot of potential harm’s way for opponent QBs.
Micah Davis (#17, WR, Jr, 5’11”, 185 lbs): The transfer from Iowa Western (previously Air Force) is certainly a choice here, as fellow receiver Terrell Vaughn is the #1 returnee in most receiving categories. However, the reviews from Davis throughout spring remarked on his ability to get behind his man and make long plays. He led the nation in punt return yards last year at IWCC.
The reason that catches my eye is that Iowa was arguably a whisper away from losing their home opener last year as South Dakota State couldn’t connect on a shot down the field. If Iowa’s offense remains stuck in reverse, it might take just one play to break the game open for Utah State and the Georgia product could do via reception, run, or return.
Hale Motu’apuaka (#8, DT, 6th year, 6’1”, 280 lbs): The place where Utah State faced most attrition, even within their defense, is along the line. One holdover - Motu’apuaka - is an impressive tackle who amassed 5 sacks and 35 tackles in 2022.
If you’re looking for football highlights, you’ve come to the wrong place, though. It’s hard to find them for a Group of 5 defensive tackle, despite his statistical prowess. One thing you will find...his fireknife highlights. Check this out from his 2022 world championship-winning routine.
He started doing this since before he was 8.
And we thought Iowa was playing with fire by bringing Brian Ferentz back!!!
A best and worst case in Brian Ferentz’s “Climb to 325”
Best case - 38 points: The most points Iowa’s put up in the first game of a season since 2017 is 38 points against Miami (OH) in 2019. It’s pretty easy to squint and see Iowa’s opener play out similarly with a truly new cast of (more talented) characters on offense but totally bereft of chemistry. Ultimately, they tread water in the first half before some late scores turn it into a laugher.
Worst case - 7 points: See above re: game against South Dakota State. Iowa looks like a team who hasn’t played a single snap together and they have to white knuckle a buy game. We’ve seen it before and we’ll see it again. (and yes, I remember the only time the offense scored was on a five-yard drive for a field goal)
How ready does Iowa come out?
I allude to it a bit above but man, Iowa’s offense is supposed to be upgraded (and likely will be) but currently has, by my count, five expected contributors who have not been 100% available this spring either because of injury or not having transferred yet in: Cade McNamara, Daijon Parker, Rusty Feth, Seth Anderson, and Kaleb Brown. That’s a lot of guys who need to get up to speed in fall camp.
The flipside is one spring recap said of Iowa’s opponent “it’s possible that any offense could look as good as this one has given the defense it’s going against.” We can only hope.
This is a situation where Hayden Fry would look at the opponent and try and lay a 50-burger on them. The difference is 1) Iowa hasn’t scored 50 against a non-conference opponent since 2015 (four conference opponents, though) and 2) Utah State, despite their dismal defense, has given up 50 points to only Alabama under Anderson.
While it seems unlikely Iowa will turn back the clock and rack up points to put the offense well ahead of schedule for the annual target, there’s plenty of opportunity (offensive line, quarterback playmaking) to show improvement over last year’s team and hey, maybe the defense and special teams help out with a score or two.