***** NCAA Football Preview - Utah State Aggies *****
By Gregg Xenakes, Associate College Football Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
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
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.
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
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
08/22 12:48:39 ET
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