Performance Of McCae Hillstead Gives Utah State Positive Outlook

Sep 25, 2023, 12:55 PM | Updated: 2:09 pm

LOGAN, Utah – True freshman quarterback McCae Hillstead shook off some early struggles before setting a Utah State freshman passing record in a thrilling comeback loss.

Utah State came up on the short end of a 48-35 final against the James Madison Dukes on Saturday, September 23.

RELATED: McCae Hillstead Hits Colby Bowman For Long Touchdown As Aggies Show Life

Less than a year ago, Hillstead was leading the Skyridge Falcons to a Utah 6A State Championship over the Corner Canyon Chargers. Ten months later, Hillstead made his first start for Utah State after taking over at quarterback for struggling starter Cooper Legas the previous week in a loss to Air Force.

Despite the loss, Hillstead gave the Aggie fan base a reason for hope.

“Gutsy as hell,” Anderson said of his freshman signal-caller. “He got hit, and hit, and hit but made some unbelievable throws.”

RELATED: Hillstead, Terrell Vaughn Combine For Second Half Touchdown

After completing 2-of-4 passes for negative yardage in the first quarter, Hillstead settled in. He would go 22-of-34 for 287 yards in the next two periods as the Aggies staged a furious comeback.

“You see why he’s in there, what he can bring to the table, and why we feel like he’s our quarterback. He’s gonna grow up from mistakes he made tonight. I think he’s the guy that gives us the best chance to win and we don’t want to wait a year to do it.”

Cleaning Up Turnovers Focus For Freshman

399 yards and four touchdowns are certainly gaudy numbers for a player starting his first career game. He also threw three interceptions. Growing pains are to be expected as Hillstead becomes familiar with the speed of the college game, but turnovers won’t be acceptable.

“We’re going to have some freshman mistakes, but he doesn’t get to turn the ball over. He can do a lot of things wrong, but that is not one of them.”

RELATED: Utah State Ties Games With 76-Yard Bomb To Micah Davis

If the freshman can clean up a handful of mistakes, his performance gives Utah State and their fan base reason for optimism.

Despite being harassed into five sacks and a 53.2 percent completion rate, Hillstead completed passes to seven different receivers.

Hillstead’s ability and willingness to take deep shots gave Utah State’s offense a quick-strike ability they had been lacking early in the season.

Terrell Vaughn’s ten catches for 124 yards and two scores led the team, but three Aggie wideouts averaged better than ten yards per catch alongside Vaughn. Long scoring catches allowed Colby Bowman and Micah Davis to average 39 and 41 yards per catch respectively. Otto Tia averaged 15.7 yards per catch on three grabs. Jalen Royals reeled in seven balls for a respectable 8.1 yards per catch.

“It’s my job to settle him down,” Anderson said after watching the game film. “I think we’ve got good communication going. I feel like we’re headed in the right direction. If we get all the other pieces to protect him a little better, I feel like he could do some solid things for us.”

Following The Aggies With KSL Sports Zone

Utah State (1-3) completes the non-conference portion of their 2023 schedule when they take on the Connecticut Huskies (0-4) in Storrs, CT on Saturday, September 30. This game completes a home-and-home series against the Huskies. The series’ first game was a 31-20 USU win at Maverik Stadium to open the 2022 season. The Aggies are 2-0 all-time against UConn.

Utah State 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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Performance Of McCae Hillstead Gives Utah State Positive Outlook