Utah State wide receiver Deven Thompkins leads the Mountain West with 144.3 receiving yards per game, which is just shy of 50 yards better than the league’s second-leading receiver. Eli Lucero/Logan Herald Journal

Jason Turner, who covers Utah State for The Logan Herald Journal, weighs in on what Wyoming can expect against the Aggies on Saturday.

Utah State was picked to finish second-to-last in the Mountain Division, and now the Aggies hold a one-game lead with two games left.

Is it safe to say this team has far exceeded its expectations?

I don’t know how a sound-minded person could say they haven’t. I know people in the program are always going to set high expectations for themselves, but based on what happened last season, and with it being almost an entirely different coaching staff, it’s been a smashing success to say the least.

You mention almost an entirely new coaching staff, and they also have a lot of new faces on the roster. Starting quarterback, leading rusher, leading tackler, all those are guys are new to the program.

How much of an impact has bringing in so many new guys had on first-year head coach Blake Anderson being able to turn this around so quickly?

It’s been a good combination of returning players and guys he brought in from the transfer portal. The thing a lot of people are excited about is the lion’s share of those guys from the transfer portal have multiple years of eligibility, so you’ll see guys like quarterback Logan Bonner, running back Calvin Tyler Jr. ... all those guys are going to be back next season. That’s the bigger thing is that most of them aren’t one-and-done players.

One of the first things that stands out about Utah State is the balance they have offensively.

What’s been the key to the Aggies’ success, both running the ball and throwing it?

One of the biggest keys has been the development of the wide receivers. (Broyles Award nominee) Kyle Cefalo is a proven wide receivers coach. He did a really good job at Arkansas State, and the last two Sun Belt offensive players of the year were his receivers. Those guys were both Biletnikoff semifinalists and second-team AP All-Americans, so I think that’s the big thing right there – and bringing back Deven Thompkins was the steal of the year. We talk about these newcomers from the transfer portal, but convincing him to withdraw from the transfer portal and come back has been a steal.

Deven Thompkins is another Biletnikoff semifinalist who is leading the country in receiving at the moment. What makes him such a dangerous weapon to have on the outside?

It’s a couple of things. He’s tough, and he’s not afraid to go up and catch contested passes. He has great hands – if there’s a ball in his area, you almost expect him to come down with it. I’ve never seen a kid who is 5-foot-8 high-point a ball as well as he does. He can jump, but it’s his timing that’s most impressive. I’ve seen it time and time again when he’s elevated over taller defenders and caught 50-50 balls. And he’s fast.

The Aggies had back-to-back losses about a month ago, but they’ve been rolling ever since – especially last week in a 48-17 win over San Jose State. What was the thing that impressed you most against the Spartans?

The thing that impressed me the most was the way their defensive line dominated the offensive line. That’s the most experienced offensive line in the Mountain West, and the Aggies just really dominated the trenches. I don’t think anybody was really expecting that. (SJSU) had 150 yards of total offense and 12 rushing yards, and the Aggies had seven tackles for loss in the first half. That’s what really stood out to me.

Utah State enters this game as a seven-point favorite. What’s your prediction for Saturday?

I think Aggies fans were pretty worried about this game earlier in the season. After those back-to-back losses, they were one of the bottom teams in the country in rush defense, averaging over 200 yards per game, but they’ve really turned a corner the last few weeks. They’ve given up about 80 yards rushing the last three games, and obviously that’s something Wyoming hangs its hat on.

I think the Aggies are just playing really well right now, and they’ve shored up the area that Wyoming could exploit the most. But Wyoming’s defense is really good, and they know how to get teams in low-scoring games. I think it’ll be pretty close, but the Aggies probably win by 10 points or two touchdowns.

Josh Criswell covers the University of Wyoming for WyoSports. He can be reached at jcriswell@wyosports.net or 307-755-3325. Follow him on Twitter at @criswell_sports.

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