Future Bright For Utah State Football After Bowl Loss

Dec 27, 2022, 6:48 PM
PROVO, UT- SEPTEMBER 29: Robert Briggs #22 of the Utah State Aggies leaps toward teammate Cooper Legas #5 after he scored a touchdown against the Brigham Young Cougars during the first half of their game September 29, 2022 at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo, Utah.

LOGAN, Utah – A 38-10 loss to Memphis in the First Responders Bowl could mask the most important thing Utah State gained this season: experience.

Utah State battled injuries at key positions all season long.

Before October set in, the Aggies had lost starting quarterback Logan Bonner, starting wide receiver Kyle Van Leeuwen, their top-two defensive tackles in Phillip Paea and Seni Tuiaki. They would lose quarterbacks Cooper Legas and Levi Williams, linebacker MJ Tafisi in the coming weeks.

RELATED: Bonner Says ‘Time At USU Has Come To An End’ Due To Injury

All but Legas would miss the remainder of the regular season. Williams served as the third quarterback and played the final drive of the First Responders Bowl loss.

Out of the secondary, John Ward, Ajani Carter, Michael Anyanwu, Ike Larsen all missed multiple games at various points this season. Gurvan Hall Jr. left the team after playing in eight games.

All told, more than 30 freshman benefited with playing time from the growing pains Utah State went through this season.

With all the injuries, it’s a wonder Utah State was able to remain competitive, let alone reach a bowl game.

RELATED: Attrition Catches Up To Utah State In Loss To Memphis Tigers

Youth Leading The Way For 2023

With only ten graduating seniors, head coach Blake Anderson expects to return most of his roster. With it comes a host of experience.

Legas returns as a senior quarterback eight career starts and two bowl game appearances. The junior out of Orem HS threw for 1,499 yards and 11 touchdowns this season while completing 61 percent of his passes.

RELATED: Cooper Legas Throws Long TD Pass To Terrell Vaughn Late In 3Q

Wideout Kyle Van Leeuwen is expected to return after suffering a knee injury in a loss to Weber State. Van Leeuwen had eight catches for 88 yards and a touchdown before going down.

Van Leeuwen will be joined by Terrell Vaughn and redshirt-freshman Otto Tia. Tia caught his first career pass in the loss to Memphis. He and Vaughn combined for five catches and 43 yards through the air.

Running back Robert Briggs will be back after playing in 10 games as a freshman. Briggs carried 74 times for 353 yards and a touchdown as the backup to a graduating Calvin Tyler Jr.

RELATED: Calvin Tyler Jr. Reaches 2,000 Rushing Yards In Aggie Career

Freshman guard Weylin Lapuaho, who started all 13 games, will be tasked with leading the offensive line as potentially the only returning starter.

Defensively, all four starting defensive lineman are eligible to return. Daniel Grzesiak (8.5) and Hale Motu’apuaka (5) combined for 13.5 sacks this season.

RELATED: Utah State’s Ike Larsen Named To CFN Freshman All-American Team

Safety Hunter Reynolds will move on to the NFL, but the position is in good hands with redshirt-freshman Ike Larsen will enter his sophomore season looking to live up to a great freshman year. Larsen will lead a young secondary that should include Omari Okeke and Jaden Smith.

The linebacker position should be in good hands with the potential return of senior AJ Vongphachanh and junior MJ Tafisi. The pair led the Aggies in tackles before Tafisi went down with an injury. Vongphachanh started all 13 games for USU, racking up a team-high 92 tackles and eight tackles for a loss.

Junior Kaleo Neves and his 28 tackles and true freshman Max Alford will add much need depth to the linebacker room. Alford had nine tackles in the the loss to Memphis and finished with 31 total tackles this year

RELATED: Utah State Football Completes 2023 Schedule

Utah State Aggies 2023 Football

Utah State will open the 2023 campaign on the road at Iowa on Saturday, September 2.

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Future Bright For Utah State Football After Bowl Loss