| ||2011 SEASON IN REVIEW:The Utah State Aggies were roughed up during the first month of the 2011 campaign, winning just one of their first four outings. The team was a mere 2-5 heading into the home stretch, with one of those victories coming against Weber State (54-17), so the odds were heavily stacked against USU making it to the postseason for the first time since 1997. But head coach Gary Andersen talked his players up and road the wave of a vicious running attack to five consecutive triumphs over Western Athletic Conference competition. |
With the requisite number of total wins in tow, the Aggies earned the right to vie for a postseason bid and were thus selected to compete in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl versus Ohio University. The rushing attack for USU was up to the task as it generated a hefty 345 yards and a pair of touchdowns, thanks to the efforts of Michael Smith (157 yards, 2 TDs) and Robert Turbin (101 yards), but the passing game left a lot to be desired as it produced a mere 96 yards and only 1 score on 12 completions in a heart-wrenching 24-23 setback.
The passing game was nothing special in 2011 for the Aggies, as their quarterbacks ranked last in the conference and 97th nationally with just 174.6 ypg. However, Turbin and the ground attack were a different story as the group ranked first in the WAC and sixth in the country with 282.7 ypg. Unfortunately Turbin (116.7 ypg, 19 TDs) and Smith (870 yards, 9 TDs) were both selected in the 2012 NFL Draft, as was standout linebacker Bobby Wagner who was the first player from the WAC selected as the 47th overall pick by the Seattle Seahawks.
Wagner, a three-time All-WAC First-Team choice, was named the North's Most Outstanding Player of the 2012 Senior Bowl and was one of the nation's leaders in tackles with 11.3 per contest. Andersen has made a number of additions to his coaching staff since the end of last season, the most notable being Mike Sanford who joins as assistant head coach after two years as a coordinator at Louisville and a stint as head coach at UNLV.
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|A30 vs. Southern Utah |
S 7 vs. Utah
S15 at Wisconsin
S22 at Colorado State
S29 vs. UNLV
O 5 at BYU
O13 at San Jose State
O20 vs. New Mexico State
O27 at UTSA
N 3 vs. Texas State
N17 at Louisiana Tech
N24 vs. Idaho
OT Oscar Molina-Sanchez
C Tyler Larsen
OT Eric Schultz
WR Chuck Jacobs
WR Matt Austin
RB Kerwynn Williams
QB Adam Kennedy
QB Chuckie Keeton
DT Al Lapuaho
LB Bojay Filimoeatu
LB Tavaris McMillian
CB Jumanne Robertson
CB Nevin Lawson
SS McKade Brady
PK Josh Thompson
P Tyler Bennett
OFFENSE:First and foremost for the Aggies, they've got to find some running backs who can fill the holes left by Smith and Turbin. Obviously, whoever gets plugged into those spots will not be expected to shoulder as much of the load as that pair did a year ago, but they will have to be somewhat productive if for no other reason than to take some of the pressure off quarterbacks Adam Kennedy and Chuckie Keeton.
The first-ever true freshman to start at quarterback for Utah State in last season's opener at defending BCS National Champion Auburn, Keeton displayed poise in the pocket as he completed close to 61 percent of his attempts for 11 touchdowns and just 2 interceptions. Kennedy also tossed 11 TDs and was picked off 4 times as a junior college transfer in 2011. Having a two-quarterback offense might not work for most teams, but the head coach believes otherwise.
"A lot of people will ask how two quarterbacks can lead when they're both fighting for the job, but they will and they do."
Bringing back leading receiver Matt Austin, a senior who caught 34 balls for 465 yards and 6 TDs is crucial for keeping the offense moving. Chuck Jacobs (20 catches, 218 yards, 2 TDs) may not have the same type of numbers as Austin, but experience at the receiver position is not something that can be underestimated. Used mostly as a specialist in the kick return game, Kerwynn Williams was one of the best in the WAC and now the Aggies are going to ask him to take on more of a major role on offense as a potential top running back.
DEFENSE:As if the Aggies didn't have enough trouble trying to figure out how to replace Smith and Turbin on offense, the defense is in a similar predicament as it begins life after Wagner. The top-flight linebacker was responsible for 446 career tackles, ranking him first all-time in the WAC and tied for second in school history. Behind Wagner and his staggering 147 stops from a year ago was fellow linebacker Kyle Gallagher who delivered another 100 takedowns, but he too is now gone which leaves Bojay Filimoeatu and Tavaris McMillian in charge of the middle of the field for the Aggies. Even though the former had just 41 total stops in 2011, he did manage to place second on the team with 11 tackles for loss and that automatically makes him someone that the rest of the team can look up to according to coach Andersen.
"I look high to Bojay (Filimoeatu) to be a leader on the defensive side of the football and on the front seven, he needs to be that guy."
The defensive line will be almost completely overhauled, as Al Lapuaho is the only returning starter.
The secondary is a bit more solid with returning cornerbacks Nevin Lawson and Jumanne Robertson patrolling the deeper parts of the field. Senior strong safety McKade Brady was third on the team in tackles last season with 86, but he broke up just 6 passes compared to the combined 22 by Lawson and Robertson.
SPECIAL TEAMS:As noted earlier, Williams will not only get a chance to earn some additional yardage on offense, he will also continue to be a tough man to track down as a kick returner who last year set the WAC career record for return yards with 3,349. The majority of his damage was done during his sophomore campaign in 2010 when he delivered 1,444 kick return yards so one has to wonder how his expanded role will impact the area in which he has been so dominant.
Now a senior, Tyler Bennett will again be handling the punting duties, an area that the Aggies performed rather well in during the 2011 campaign when they ranked fourth in the WAC and 29th in the nation with an average of 38.2 net yards per punt. Junior Josh Thompson returns to handle the placekicking responsibilities after knocking through all but one of his 58 PATs. However, when it came to field goal kicking, Thompson was good just 60 percent (6-of-10) of the time.
OUTLOOK:Appearances in the postseason have been few and far between for the Aggies and while the team closed out last season with a devastating one-point loss to the Bobcats of Ohio, they are trying to earn a bowl berth in consecutive seasons for the first time in more than a half century. Unfortunately, there are several factors working against Utah State in 2012 that might prevent that from happening, not the least of which is the weakening of the conference itself.
Should the team become bowl eligible again, claiming victories over the likes of UTSA, Texas State and New Mexico State probably will not carry much weight. Non-conference contenders in Utah, Wisconsin and BYU will be anything but sympathetic to USU's potential issues this year, particularly since the Aggies are being forced to replace a couple of top-notch running backs and solid receivers.
By Gregg Xenakes, Associate College Football Editor