1. Love, Love, Love
Examining Utah State starts with junior quarterback Jordan Love, who the Deacons got a glimpse of two seasons ago.
In the Aggies’ 2017 visit to BB&T Field, the then-freshman Love entered the game on the second possession of the third quarter and connected with Gerold Bright on a 77-yard touchdown pass — Utah State’s only touchdown of the game in Wake Forest’s 46-10 win.
Later in the 2017 season, Love took over as the starter and directed the Aggies to three wins in their final five regular-season games. His star rose last season, during which he threw for 3,567 yards and 32 touchdowns, rushed for seven more scores, and threw only six interceptions. Two of those interceptions came in the season-opening loss against Michigan State.
“He does not miss throws, and he especially doesn’t miss deep throws,” Clawson said. “The way he throws a deep ball, the way he gets on his toes, it is so smooth and beautiful; if we weren’t playing him, I really would enjoy watching the film.”
2. A new (old) coach
This is the first of two teams the Deacons will face that has a new coach in a former role. Gary Andersen, like Mack Brown at North Carolina, returned to his former post.
Andersen was 26-24 at Utah State in four seasons as head coach from 2009 to 2012. That run includes a 7-6 mark in 2011 — the Aggies' first winning season in 15 years — and an 11-2 record in 2012.
He left to coach at Wisconsin, where he was 19-7 from 2013 to 2014, before taking over at Oregon State ahead of the 2015 season. Andersen resigned in the middle of the 2017 season, his third season in Corvallis, Ore. His overall record as the Beavers’ coach was 7-23, and he left a wake of oddities in his departure — namely leaving his entire buyout of more than $12 million on the table and approving the publication of text messages to a reporter critical of his assistant coaches.
Andersen's last stop on his strange journey back to Utah State was spending the 2018 season as the associate head coach and defensive line coach at Utah.
Utah State’s front-seven of its defense “looks like a Power 5 team,” Clawson said Tuesday night during his radio show.
The Aggies’ defensive line features Tipa Galeai, a senior defensive end who had 10½ sacks, 14 tackles for loss, two interceptions and three fumbles forced last season. Defensive tackle Fua Leilua is a difference-maker inside, with 38 tackles and 5½ tackles for loss last season. Both players were in their first seasons on the field for the Aggies a year ago — Galeai transferred from TCU, Leilua from Oklahoma State.
At linebacker, Utah State has one of the top-rated returning players in college football, according to Pro Football Focus. David Woodward, a 6-2, 235-pound junior, had 134 tackles, 12½ tackles for loss, five sacks, two interceptions and two fumbles forced last season.
4. 50(!) newcomers
It’s a round and jarring number for how many new players Utah State has on its roster.
Beyond the initial intrigue, though, is that only 13 of them appear in the Aggies’ depth chart for the game. Of those 13, only three are freshmen — the others coming via transfer. And of the 13 in the depth chart, only two positions are guaranteed to have a newcomer starting — at receiver, where three newcomers are listed, and at one of the safety spots, where two newcomers are listed.
Utah State led the nation with 32 turnovers forced last season, including 22 interceptions. The Aggies have forced 173 turnovers in their past 88 games, and have forced at least one turnover in 70 of those games.
When these teams met in 2017, Wake Forest didn’t commit a turnover.