‘Eliminating Mistakes’ Focus For Utah State Looking Forward

Sep 15, 2023, 10:21 PM | Updated: Sep 16, 2023, 3:05 pm

LOGAN, Utah – Despite the lopsided defeat, can Utah State salvage something positive after falling at Air Force on Friday night?

Utah State was outmatched from start to finish in a Mountain West opening, 39-21 road loss to Air Force.

After a shaky, 2-for-7 start from Cooper Legas, the Aggies went with freshman McCae Hillstead at quarterback. Despite his lack of experience, Hillstead held his own against the Falcons. The former Skyridge Falcon completed 18-of-27 passes for 202 yards and touchdowns to three different receivers.

RELATED: Falcon Ground Game Carries Air Force To Win Over Utah State

Asked about the sudden quarterback change, head coach Blake Anderson said it’s something he has thought about for a while.

“It’s been under consideration since fall camp. Every day, evaluating how Coop (Legas) was progressing. How McCae was progressing. How Levi was progressing. I just wanted to give Coop every opportunity to settle in and get into a confident place… An unwillingness to pull the trigger in a couple situations. Missed reads and turnovers. I felt like it was time to move on.”

Anderson stopped short of calling it a long-term quarterback change, saying he’ll need to review the tape before making a final decision.

RELATED: McCae Hillstead In At Quarterback For Utah State In Second Quarter

Despite being listed as the third quarterback on the depth chart, Anderson pointed to Hillstead’s decisiveness as the reason he was called on.

“McCae’s skillset, his willingness to work through progressions and get the ball out… McCae’s answers are with his decision-making and his arm and willingness to deliver the ball. I feel that’s a skill set that fits our personnel and gives us the best chance to win.”

RELATED: Jalen Royals Finds End Zone As Utah State Fights Against Air Force

Defense Gashed By Falcon Rushing Attack

Utah State was pushed around all night on both sides of the ball but it seemed more obvious on defense as Air Force got whatever they wanted early.

“We felt like we had a good plan coming in and had prepared a lot,” Anderson said. “We didn’t execute that plan very well and never really got them off balance. They threw when they wanted to; they ran the ball downhill and ran the clock.”

RELATED: Hillstead Connects With Terrell Vaughn For First Utah State Touchdown

In the end, Air Force gained 344 yards on the ground and 428 total yards while taking pretty much whatever they wanted all night. Owen Burk (110 yards) and Emmanuel Michel (106 yards) each reached the 100-yard plateau and Michel found the end zone three times. Air Force scored five rushing touchdowns.

“We’ve got to eliminate mistakes,” Anderson said postgame. “We’ve got to quit hurting ourselves and give ourselves a chance to compete. There’s work to be done across the board.”

Despite the poor overall showing, six different Aggies finished with their career-high in tackles. Cole Joyce and Ike Larsen led Utah State with a career-high 11 tackles each.

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Utah State (1-2) returns to Logan where they will host the James Madison Dukes at Maverik Stadium on Saturday, September 23. This will be the first meeting between James Madison and the Aggies. USU will complete a two-game series with the Dukes when they travel to Harrisonburg, Virginia in 2025.

USU football games are found on KSL Sports Zone with Scott Garrard and former Aggie quarterback Kevin White (1988-89) on the call.

KSL Sports coverage of Utah State University Athletics can be found here. 

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‘Eliminating Mistakes’ Focus For Utah State Looking Forward