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Get to Know the Opponent: Utah State

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The Aggies face the Spartans for the first time ever, and bring back most of their starters from last year’s bowl team.

NCAA Football: Arizona Bowl-New Mexico State vs Utah State Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

The Spartans open the season this Friday night with a non-conference game against Utah State. If you don’t know anything about Utah State, well you probably aren’t alone, as Michigan State has never played them before. We have you covered though, so here is everything you need to know and more about MSU’s week one opponent.

School: Utah State University

Nickname: Aggies

Conference: Mountain West

Location: Logan, Utah

Head Coach: Matt Wells (6th season)

2017 Record: 6-7 (lost Arizona Bowl to New Mexico State)

Mascot: Big Blue the Bull

The Aggies went 6-6 in the regular season last year, and went 4-4 in the Mountain West. They played two power five opponents in the non-conference schedule, losing at Wisconsin 59-10, and at Wake Forest 46-10. They also lost 41-14 to #22 Boise State at home.

Coach Matt Wells is in his sixth year at the helm after taking over for Gary Anderson, who spent a couple years at Wisconsin before heading back west to coach Oregon State. You also might have heard of another former Utah State head coach, John L Smith, who led the Aggies to back to back Big West championships in the late 90’s.

Wells has gone 34-32 as the Aggies head coach and has led them to four bowl games, going 2-2 in those. In his first year as coach in 2013 he led Utah State to the Mountain West title game, ultimately losing to Fresno State. He was also named the MWC Coach of the Year in 2013.

Fun fact about Utah State football is that they will enter the game against Michigan State at exactly .500 all time. They are 540-540-31 in their history.

Team Stats

Last year the Aggies were 51st in scoring offense, averaging 30.2 points per game. They checked in at 68th nationally in total offense, averaging 397.4 yards per game. They were 56th in rushing offense at 171.38 yards per game, averaging 4.59 yards per rush (49th). Through the air Utah State was 69th overall, at 226 yards per game, averaging 6.8 yards per attempt (89th).

NCAA Football: Arizona Bowl-New Mexico State vs Utah State
Jordan Love leads the Aggies Offense
Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Offensive Coordinator David Yost has spent time working under Gary Pinkel and Mike Leach, and was also at Oregon for a bit. Expect some of the up tempo style of offense that those schools like to employ.

On defense the Aggies were 67th in the country in scoring defense allowing 26.9 points per game. They ranked 73rd in total defense, allowing 398.8 yards per game. They struggled to stop the run, ranking 116th in rush defense allowing 216.38 yards per game, but were 77th in yards per rush at 4.49. On the flip side the Aggies pass defense was pretty good, ranking 19th in the country at 182.5 yards per game, and 16th in the country in yards per pass (6.3).

Utah State has a new defensive coordinator this year in Keith Patterson, who has been around the college game for a while, most recently at Arizona State. Patterson has run some different looking defensive schemes in his time, including a 3-3-5 base as well as the rare 4-2-5 look. Expect him to throw some different looks at the Spartan offense this week.

Utah State forced 29 turnovers last year, the sixth most in the country. And they also picked up five defensive touchdowns off those turnovers, the fourth most nationally.

Players to Watch

Much like MSU, Utah State returns a lot of players from last year’s team. The Aggies bring back nine starters on each side of the ball.

Quarterback Jordan Love is a sophomore after setting a Utah State freshman record in passing yards last season. Love appeared in 12 games and threw for 1,631 yards, eight touchdowns, and six interceptions. He completed 54.9 percent of his passes and had a 119.13 rating. He also ran the ball 46 times for 165 yards and two touchdowns.

The Aggies return their top three receivers from last year. Ron’quavion Tarver is a 6-3, 215 pound senior who caught 48 passes for 569 yards and seven touchdowns last season, leading the team in all three categories. Sophomore tight end Dax Raymond caught 41 passes for 456 yards and one TD. Freshman Jordan Nathan was the leading slot threat, catching 25 passes for 324 yards and two scores.

Utah State had 10 players with at least 10 receptions last year.

Senior linebacker Suli Tamaivena leads the way on defesne for Utah State. He led the team with 111 tackles, including 6.5 tackles for loss last year, and was second on the team with three sacks.

Kicker Dominik Eberle was 18-for-24 (75%) on field goal attempts and a perfect 47-for-47 on extra points last year.