Utah State offensive coordinator Dave Baldwin couldn't stop gushing about the play of the offensive line during the Aggies' 63-19 throttling of Wyoming in Logan last weekend, a game that helped earn freshman quarterback Chuckie Keeton Western Athletic Conference offensive player of the week honors.
The 18-year-old completed 16-21 passes for 228 yards and a school-record tying five touchdowns, becoming just the fourth Aggie signal-caller in history to perform the latter.
"It's the closest our O-line has gotten to make Chuckie perfect," said Baldwin of a group that did not allow one sack in the Aggies' first win against an FBS opponent this season. "Chuckie only had to scramble one time. It was more of a seven-on-seven feeling for him, rather than moving in the pocket and throwing quickly."
Keeton and the Aggies take on Fresno State's Bulldogs tonight in the WAC opener.
With the Bulldogs defense yielding 36.5 points per game in a 2-4 campaign, perhaps Baldwin would be salivating about his own group of young men, who are averaging nearly 43 points per game through five contests, 11th in the nation.
"It's going to be a good challenge for us," Baldwin said. "Logan Harrell is a great pass-rush specialist, but he's very physical in there. They have a lot of physical inside players. They've got interior strength, they've got outside speed, and they're going to hit the gap."
The Bulldogs strike on offense with quarterback Derek Carr, who has completed 60.5 percent of his pass attempts for 1,417 yards and 10 touchdowns. Five receivers average three or more receptions per game.
Their ground game begins with all-conference returner Robbie Rouse, who has already rushed for 646 yards, along with 4 touchdowns, in six games. His 143 carries lead the nation.
More than enough, Baldwin said, to keep the Aggies from criticizing the Bulldogs' record.
"They are a premier, championship-type team," he said. "That's the battle we're going against. They're going to take shots down the field. They'll take more long-ball tosses than anyone we've seen. Their running back is as talented as they get."
By anyone's estimation, Harrell was a force to be reckoned with last season for the Bulldogs.
The 6-2, 275-pound senior was named first-team all-WAC after finishing the season ranked second in the conference and 10th in the nation with 10.5 sacks. He was fourth in the conference in tackles for loss and made 3.5 sacks in a season-opening 28-14 win over Cincinnati.
But Harrell's force last season wasn't too much for Utah State offensive lineman Philip Gapelu to handle.
Though his Aggies lost 41-24 in Logan last fall, Gapelu held his own, keeping Harrell from notching any sacks.
"Last year we battled," Gapelu said of the NFL prospect. "I just have to keep that up this year as well. He doesn't have just one move. You have to keep on your toes as an offensive lineman because you don't know what to expect all the time from him."
But that's only the second reason why the senior is excited for his team to face the Bulldogs at Bulldog Stadium. For Gapelu, a senior, it's a return home. His family lives less in Lynwood, less than four hours south of Fresno.
"I have a lot of family and church friends coming," Gapelu said. "I am really excited perform in front of them all, instead of on TV. I just have to go out there and show them what we are about and that Utah State is coming up."
Senior linebacker Kyle Gallagher tells a similar tale. The Woodland, Calif., native was raised approximately three hours northwest of Fresno, by Sacramento, and was briefly recruited by the Bulldogs after attending summer camps during high school and spending most of his college football-watching time on the same program.
"We ran basically the same stuff because our coaches idolized their offense and defense," Gallagher said of his days at Woodland High School. "They're tough and they've always been a tough football team, and that's how I've based my playing style throughout my career."
Gallagher finished last season -- 12 starts -- with 91 tackles, second only to fellow senior Bobby Wagner.
* INJURY REPORT: Baldwin said that kick return specialist Kerwynn Williams has practiced during the week despite a stinger sustained against Wyoming. ... Offensive tackle Eric Shultz received hand surgery but is expected to play against the Bulldogs. ...
Despite the healthy status, it didn't help Baldwin undisputedly declare Fresno State coach Pat Hill's comment from earlier in the week to be true. Hill said that he has been viewing film of the best Utah State team he will have encountered at this point in his career.
"We believe we're the best Utah State football team since we've been here, but are we there yet? No," Baldwin said. "We still have a lot of work to do. We're still 2-3. You can be the best and still not be where you need to be."