Aggies Hope Increased O-Line, D-Line Depth Shows Up Against UConn

Aug 24, 2022, 9:00 AM
Utah State defensive tackle Hale Motu’apuaka (Courtesy of USU Athletics)
(Courtesy of USU Athletics)

LOGAN, UT – As the 2022 opener approaches, the Utah State Aggies expect added depth on both lines to provide a leg up on last season.

At times, it seemed as though the Aggies were just piecing things together.

“We were really really thin a year ago on both the offensive line and defensive line. We survived and luckily did not have a lot of injuries. We had to operate in a little different fashion during the week of practice to keep bodies healthy.”

Head coach Blake Anderson talked about how the depth in the offensive and defensive lines depth has improved.

“We are in a position now, year two, with what we brought in and what we were able to retain. We have a few more guys that we get throw at the problem. You’ll see more rotating than we did a year ago. And maybe some younger guys that will play and that hopefully will keep us fresher later in the game on the line.”

Offensive Line

The Aggies return four starters from last season led by graduate seniors Alfred Edwards and Chandler Dolphin. Also returning are senior Jacob South and sophomore Cole Motes.

Edwards brings the most experience to the group with his 42 career starts. Dolphin has appeared in 19 games, starting 11; South has started 15 of a possible 24 games in his career and Motes started eight of the nine games he played as a true freshman in 2021.

“A big point of emphasis for us, because we are bringing so many guys back, is to improve on what we did poorly last year,” said Edwards. “We made great strides in the spring and that has carried over into fall camp.”

Anderson recently called this freshman class of offensive lineman ‘the best class I’ve had’.

“We hit on all cylinders on those guys.”

One of those freshman Anderson spoke of is Bingham High graduate Weylin Lapuaho, who is listed as the starter at right guard ahead of the Aggies opener. You have to go back to 2005 for the last time a true freshman (Derek Hoke) started along the offensive line in a season opener.

“He’s right there in the mix to be starting right guard for us already. And to me that just talks about the quality that we’re able to get in terms of athletic ability in young O-linemen.”

The Aggies also return three letter-winners from last season in seniors Wyatt Bowles and Wade Meacham and junior Calvin Knapp. The trio has appeared in a combined 40 games.

Utah State added seven newcomers to the offensive line in junior transfer Nikita Iuferov (Petrozavodsk, Russia/Attestat O Srednow/San Mateo JC), sophomore transfer Austin Leausa (West Jordan, Utah/West Jordan HS/Southern Utah), and freshmen Teague Anderson (Provo, Utah/Timpview HS), Weylin Lapuaho (South Jordan, Utah/Bingham HS), Sione Motu’apuaka (Honolulu, Hawaii/Radford HS), Adam Pond (Lehi, Utah/Skyridge HS) and Bryce Radford (Hyde Park, Utah/Green Canyon HS).

Defensive Line

The Aggies bring back a pair of starters and three additional letter-winners from 2021. Add six others that were in the program last season and six newcomers, and the Aggie defensive line might have more depth than any position group on the roster.

Returning starters senior defensive tackle Hale Motu’apuaka and junior defensive end Patrick Joyner Jr. will anchor the line. Mountain West Championship Game Defensive MVP Byron Vaughns also returns after starting the final five games last year.

“I am very excited for this defense this season. With coach (Ephraim) Banda here in his second year, we are very comfortable with his playbook and are excited to play in his fast and physical defense.”

During the 2021 season, Motu’apuaka posted 26 tackles, which included 2.5 sacks and 8.0 tackles for loss. Joyner finished with 29 tackles, 3.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss, including a safety. Vaughns recorded 43 tackles,  4.0 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss, to go along with six pass breakups and one forced fumble last year.

“Our guys are attacking every day with a lot of juice and energy. That’s probably the best thing about them. They’re joys to be around. They come to work every day and coaching them is easy. They work really hard at practice,”  first-year defensive line coach Alex Devine said of the group.

Graduate senior Phillip Paea and junior Poukesi Vakauta also return as letter-winners.

Four additional defensive lineman (Johnson Hansen, Bo Maile, Enoka Migao and Seni Tuiaki) return after redshirting last season. Senior Aurion Peoples and junior Addison Trupp also return.

Utah State welcomes seven newcomers along the defensive line. Daniel Grzesiak (Los Angeles, California/Crenshaw HS/Nevada) and sophomore John Ward (Palmdale, California/Palmdale HS/UCLA) transferred from four-year programs. Junior college transfer Tavian Coleman (Humble, Texas/Humble HS/Trinity Valley CC). Three freshmen round out this group of newcomers in Paul Fitzgerald (Idaho Falls, Idaho/Thunder Ridge HS), Adam Tomczyk (Los Alamitos, California/Los Alamitos HS) and Tom Turpin (Washington Terrace, Utah/Bonneville HS).

Week Zero

The Aggies open their 125th season of football at home against the Connecticut Huskies with a 2:05 p.m. (MST) kickoff on Saturday, August 27.

Every Utah State football game can be heard on the KSL Sports Zone with Scott Garrard and former Aggie quarterback Kevin White on the call.

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