LOGAN – Utah State’s 376.2 yards and 23.9 points per game a season ago were second to last in the conference. Offseason changes were made, and that’s when David Yost came in. USU’s new offensive coordinator, who has 23 years of coaching experience in schools like Missouri, Oregon and Washington State, was hired in late December.
With Yost comes a new offense. Aggie fans are hoping it will lead to wins and help erase the memories of 2016’s 3-9 season.
So, what is the new Aggie offense going to look like?
Head coach Matt Wells said there will be a lot of similarities from last year. He said it will still be no huddle, and even though Yost has experience under Mike Leach at Washington State, the Aggies will not be chucking the ball 70 times a game.
But there are key differences in the new attack. Yost discussed his three main focuses to his approach. He wants success running the football, he wants to be able to throw downfield and he wants it to be up-tempo.
Yost came to Logan from the University of Oregon, a football program famous for its more-than-up-tempo approach to an offensive attack. Utah State already had a similar, but slower, method. Senior safety Dallin Leavitt practiced against last year’s offense. He said there is a difference.
“I mean, we went fast last year,” he said, “but this is a different speed.”
There are multiple benefits to an up-tempo approach. Opposing defenses are easily be worn down and fatigued, and big offensive numbers become more possible, but Yost said it can be detrimental if not executed properly. He stressed the importance of making sure his team’s own defense has adequate time to rest.
“There are times (with up-tempo offenses) when its nine seconds later and your defense is back on the field,” he said. “That is not what we want to do. That is not our goal as the offense.”
Yost believes that problem can be solved just by eliminating three-and-outs. In fact, that is his primary goal with the offense: to pick up at least one first down every time the offense takes the field. Yost explained that not only will a first down provide sufficient time for the defense to rest, but if his offense can move the chains at least once during a drive, the chances of scoring increase to 64 percent.
“The three plays you run to start a drive are critical,” he said. “Your whole goal is to get one first down. You get one first down and that changes everything.”
He said a possession’s initial first down is something he and other coaches are constantly discussing with his players.
“Once you get that first first down, it’s amazing how things get better,” he said. “Things get easier, things start rolling for you. I hear about that all the time … All we need is one first down and everything changes.”
Wells said the team wants to be “very aggressive” with its downfield throws. Quarterback Kent Myers believes it is only going to lead to more points.
“In the past we’ve done a lot of sideways passing and not getting up the field as much as we want,” Myers said. “We’re going to spread the offense and go vertical a lot.”
Yost said Ron’quavion Tarver has already shown he can be a big time receiver, and that Jaren Colsten-Green has gone from being a “good player” to another level entirely this offseason. He mentioned other receivers as well.
“You could see in the spring (Jordan) Nathan and (Gerold) Bright were both trending upwards with how they were getting better as wide receivers,” he said. “Those were both guys that hadn’t played much.”
Yost believes throwing downfield will be a way of playing to his personnel’s strengths. Leavitt, who has had the challenge of going up against those receivers in practice, agreed.
“It utilizes our players very well,” he said. “We have a lot of guys that can run vertically up the field and make catches or make plays after they get the ball in their hands.”
<h3>Running the ball well</h3>
Yost tried to watch as little film from the 2016 season as possible when he arrived at Utah State. He said he didn’t want any “preconceived notions” about a player’s ability. He wanted to observe the players himself and make decisions from there.
He knew the running back group struggled after losing key starter Devante Mays to injury. The Aggies averaged just 170.5 yards per game on the ground, but when Yost started watching guys like Tonny Lindsey, LaJuan Hunt and Justen Hervey, he knew he had something to work with.
“The running back position is a little more talented than what the expectations were,” he said.
What will help are the improvements made to the offensive line. There were concerns after losing some of the starting five to graduation, but Yost is pleased with both of the freshmen brought in as well as the junior college transfers Roman Andrus and Rob Castaneda.
Yost said the new system will be quarterback friendly. That means Myers – or whoever else is under center – will be making more in-the-moment-type decisions based on what he sees from the defense. He said his quarterbacks have bought in.
“There is a lot of responsibility they take in making sure we are running good plays and getting good looks and putting themselves in position,” Yost said. “They have more to do to fix things.”
Leavitt said it will “allow Kent to be Kent.”
“It allows him to make decisions post snap,” he said. “It allows him to make checks, make reads, just the easiest thing for him on what the defense is giving him. I think that Kent did a great job in spring and I think he’ll continue to do a good job in fall and have a great year.”