The Utah State football team capped off its spring practices with its annual Blue vs. White Spring Game Saturday afternoon at Maverik Stadium.
Using a special scoring system that awarded points for touchdowns as well as other additional statistics, Blue (the offense) defeated White (the defense) 64-29 in what was an energetic and lively finish to Blake Anderson’s second spring practice session as the program’s head coach.
“I thought the energy was good, (the) guys had a good time and everyone played. …These guys love playing together. All in all a good spring and we’re ready to turn the page and get ready for summer workouts,” Anderson said.
The defense held a 22-16 lead over the offense about midway through the scrimmage, but the offense found its groove, outscoring the defense by 41 points the rest of the way.
Quarterback Cooper Legas took the starting reps and went 13 for 19 for a team-high 276 yards and three touchdowns.
NyNy Davis finished with a team-high 70 yards receiving and a touchdown on four catches, followed by Justin McGriff, who snagged four balls for 65 yards and a touchdown.
While the Aggie offense thrived in the passing game, scoring all eight team touchdowns, it struggled on the ground, gaining 77 yards on 44 attempts.
Cooper Jones was the leading rusher for the Aggies with 34 yards on three carries.
Defensively, in addition to slowing down the run, the defense had success in the pass rush. Defensive tackle Hale Motu’apuaka finished with a game-high three sacks.
Here are three takeaways from the game.
Legas stands out in starting QB role
Filling in for the injured Logan Bonner, Legas — the junior signal caller from Orem and the hero of the LA Bowl — took the game’s first quarterback snaps and performed well in the role, as he has all spring, according to Anderson.
In addition to taking care of the ball, Legas looked strong throwing it deep in the game, with completions of 47 and 53 yards to receivers Xavier Williams and Davis, respectively.
Legas had been battling this spring with Wyoming transfer Levi Williams for the No. 2 role behind Bonner, and while Anderson had been reluctant to officially name the backup quarterback this early in the offseason, his postgame comments suggested that the job has become Legas’ to lose.
“He’s been steady and he’s gotten better everyday,” Anderson said of Legas. “I feel really good about him.
“We all expect Logan to be fine and ready to play (in the fall), but we’d feel very comfortable throwing Coop out there to win a game for us if need be. He’s already done it once, why can’t he do it again?”
Williams finished 13 for 20 for 169 yards and three touchdowns and threw the game’s only interception.
Defensive front seven looks disruptive
Even though the offense managed to blow the game open in its favor, it was the Aggie defense that looked like the stronger unit in the game’s opening stages.
Through the first nine series of play, the defense forced five three-and-outs, to go along with an interception and a stuffed run play on fourth and short to force a turnover on downs.
The unit finished with nine sacks from seven different players and 14 tackles for loss.
Though performance level dipped a bit as the starters began to find their way to the sidelines, the overall performance from the defense was significantly more encouraging than the final scoreline may indicate.
“We just played hard and that’s the standard,” Motu’apuaka said. “We just need to create havoc.
“That’s the main thing we want to do. We want to do that and make the job easier for the rest of the defense.”
Considering what the defense lost from last season’s squad, the disruptive performance from the front seven was certainly an encouraging sign for Anderson and defensive coordinator Ephraim Banda.
“That whole group, every day that they play together gets a little better,” Anderson said. “We’ve got pretty much the same O-line that we did a year ago, so it gets pretty competitive (between the front seven and them) and they make each other better.
“Time will tell, but we have a chance to be just as dynamic up front as we were a year ago, and we’re going to need to be.”
The defense suffered a devastating blow, however, four plays into the game when outside linebacker Anthony Switzer went down with a knee injury that Anderson said looked to be serious, though he couldn’t confirm what the injury was or how severe it was.
A transfer from Arkansas State—Anderson’s former school—Switzer was expected to be a significant contributor for the defensive unit.
McGriff primed to take the next step
A starter in all 14 games for the Aggies last season, the 6-foot-6 McGriff caught six touchdowns and notched over 400 yards as a junior goal mainly dwelled in the shadows of fellow receivers Deven Thompkins, Derek Wright and Brandon Bowling.
Now a senior, McGriff performed well in his final spring game as an Aggie and looked like he had taken the next step in his development.
“Since I’ve been here, he’s grown so much,” Legas said of the big-bodied receiver. “From last fall to this spring has been by far the biggest step he’s taken.
“I’m excited to see how he can keep improving going into the fall, but it’s been a night-and-day difference for him compared to last fall and now.”
McGriff’s teammate, Brian Cobbs, a transfer from Maryland, had been the one generating the most buzz throughout spring ball, and although Cobbs looked good in his fairly limited reps Saturday, McGriff’s performance showed that there are plenty of potential contributors among the team’s receivers, and he may be topping that list by the end of the 2022 season.
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