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March 7, 2021

With the offense bottled up, USU hopes to let Jason Shelley air it out moving forward

LOGAN — On Monday, during his weekly press conference, Utah State head coach Gary Andersen didn’t feel the need to reiterate his thoughts from Saturday when he called the Aggies’ offensive performance “pathetic.” He had said what he needed to say — and it’s not like it was a secret anyway.

After two weekends of football, the Aggies sit last in the Mountain West in points (10 per game) and total offense (209 yards per game) — so yeah, pathetic seems pretty accurate.

“As coaches, we need to do a great job of accepting the blame and the responsibility,” Andersen said. “We’re the adults in the room and not the 18-, 19- and 20-year-old kids. They’re young men.”

It was offensive coordinator Bodie Reeder who took the blame for the Aggies’ poor start to the year — and specifically for how Jason Shelley has performed in his first two games as the Utah State starting quarterback.

Life after Jordan Love has been difficult, to say the least. In two games, Shelley has thrown for just 180 total yards and the Utah State passing attack is 11th in the conference — ahead of only Air Force, which isn’t exactly known for its love of throwing the ball.

Against Boise State, Reeder said the game plan was to use intermediate routes and not look to take big shots — something the coach admits, looking back, was “probably limiting” Shelley. The junior finished 14-of-27 passing for 92 yards and an interception.

A week later versus San Diego State, Reeder was concerned over the Aggies’ ability to protect Shelley long enough for him to even have the option to go deep. Shelley was 13-of-21 for just 88 yards.

In two games, Shelley’s yards per attempt is 3.75, which ranks last in Division I. For comparison, in the five games he started at Utah in 2018, Shelley averaged 6.9 yards per attempt (a number that is more indicative of a productive offense).

“We had the ability to push it down the field, so I think it’s more of giving him the ability with the calls that are coming in,” Reeder said.

And that’s why Reeder, who came to Utah State from North Texas and also had a stop leading the prolific FCS offense at Eastern Washington, says it’s time to allow Shelley to let it fly.

“Something that we need to be able to do going forward is not only let him see the ball get caught but then push the ball down the field as well,” Reeder said. “I feel like there’s been a little bit of a roof on our throwing game right now and we’re getting bottled in. So, allowing him to stretch the field and get the ball to some of the fast guys we have on the outside and show the defense that we can take some shots.”

The Aggies have had a tough schedule to start things off — Boise State and San Diego State were the Mountain West preseason favorites of their respective divisions — and now face a short week that will also be interrupted by an NCAA-mandated day off for Election Day on Tuesday. So there’s not much time for Utah State to figure things out before heading to Nevada for a Thursday night game.

“We are who we are right now,” Andersen said. “With all the things that’s out there — there’s an excuse for the youth, there’s an excuse for time missed, there’s an excuse for being a developmental program, there’s an excuse for whatever. None of those things matter. The staff has to be able to put kids in a position to be able to do things at the best of their ability.”

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