UTAH STATE AT MICHIGAN STATE
Kickoff: 7 p.m. Friday, Spartan Stadium, East Lansing
TV/radio: Big Ten Network/760 AM
Line: Michigan State by 25
View from the other side
Jason Turner, who covers Utah State for the Herald Journal in Logan, Utah, breaks down the Aggies for The Detroit News answering five questions heading into Friday’s Utah State-Michigan State game. You can follow him on Twitter @hjtrebek
1. Does last season’s opener at Wisconsin help this team be prepared for what it will face against Michigan State?
Utah State shouldn’t be shell-shocked going into Spartan Stadium. USU plays a big-name Power 5 Conference opponent on the road every season it seems like, and there are a lot of returning Aggies who experienced Camp Randall Stadium last season. USU outplayed Wisconsin for most of the opening half before falling apart and getting steamrolled after the break. Those returning players can certainly draw on their first-half success against the Badgers a year ago. I really believe the Aggies are much better than they were a year ago at this time. USU had a wealth of first-time starters heading into the Wisconsin game.
2. With 18 starters back from last season, how confident are the Aggies not only in competing in the Mountain West, but pulling off an upset on Friday?
I believe Utah State is very confident it can challenge Boise State for the Mountain Division title of the Mountain West. It’s going to be extremely challenging, inasmuch as that game is on the blue turf. Colorado State and Wyoming lost a lot of starters, and the Rams struggled last Saturday at home against Hawaii, so this should be USU’s year to make some noise in the conference, especially since the Aggies don’t have to play Fresno State and San Diego State during the regular season. As far as upsetting Michigan State, I’m sure the Aggie players know it’s going to be an uphill battle. However, I don’t think USU will be intimidated.
3. With all five starters back on the offensive line and QB Jordan Love having established himself as the starter, what are your expectations for the offense?
The Aggies should be much more consistent offensively with Jordan Love returning at quarterback, with all five of the starting offensive linemen from a season ago. Love will surely benefit from having the same offensive coordinator, David Yost, from last season. USU has more weapons at wide receiver than it has in at least five years, plus a tight end with legitimate NFL aspirations in Dax Raymond. I expect the Aggies to have one of the best offenses in the Mountain West.
4. How will Utah State’s defense be different under first-year coordinator Keith Patterson?
Under Keith Patterson, a proven defensive coordinator at the FBS level, the Aggies will be more aggressive this season. Case in point: Patterson-led defenses typically rank high in the NCAA in tackles per loss and sacks per game. The Aggies will utilize multiple defensive schemes this season, but the base defense will resemble a 3-3-5. USU’s base defense has been a 3-4 the previous few seasons.
5. If Utah State pulls off the upset, who is the player we’ll be talking about afterward as the reason why?
If the Aggies pull off the upset, it will likely be because they somehow contain the Spartans’ potent rushing attack and play turnover-free football. USU struggled defending the run a year ago as it allowed 216.4 yards rushing an outing. That means players like nose guard Christopher 'Unga and defensive end Fua Leilua, an Oklahoma State transfer, will have to shine. The Aggies must hold their own in the defensive trenches to stand a chance Friday.
Players to watch
Dax Raymond, TE: The junior is one of the Aggies’ top weapons and likely will get a shot at playing in the NFL. He earned All-Mountain West honorable mention honors last season by catching 41 passes for 456 yards and a touchdown. Along with senior WR Ron’quavion Turner, Raymond gives QB Jordan Love some options to loosen up the MSU defense.
Jordan Love, QB: He went 3-3 starting the final six games last season as a redshirt freshman and showed some promise, including throwing for 316 yards and two touchdowns against UNLV. He finished the season with 1,631 yards passing and eight touchdowns but did have trouble protecting the ball, throwing six interceptions.
Suli Tamaivena, LB: The senior led Utah State in tackles last season with 111, which ranked eighth in the Mountain West. One of nine starters back in defense for the Aggies, Tamaivena recorded double-digit tackles in six games last season, including five straight at one point while collecting 14 tackles in back-to-back weeks against Colorado State and Wyoming.
Facts and figures
Home sweet home: Michigan State has won 19 straight home openers, a streak that began in 1999 against Oregon. It’s the fifth-longest streak in the nation and coach Mark Dantonio is looking to improve to 12-0 in home openers with the Spartans, who are facing Utah State for the first time in program history.
Experience counts: After being one of the youngest teams in the country last season, MSU returns 19 starters, the most in the Big Ten and tied for the most in the nation with Florida. Utah State isn’t far behind, returning 18 starters from a team that reached a bowl game for the sixth time in seven seasons.
Ground game: In a matchup that favors the home team, Michigan State enters the game as one of the top rushing defenses, allowing just 95.3 yards a game last season, good for second in the nation. Utah State had trouble establishing its running game, averaging 171.4 yards a game to rank eighth in the Mountain West. Expect MSU to continue its dominance along the line of scrimmage.