Continued Progress

You don't see Utah State's name as one of the contenders in any of the preseason magazines. But those close to the WAC know that the Aggies will be in there fighting for one of the conference bowl games.

Since Head Coach Gary Andersen came to town, the outlook for Utah State football has improved.  Make no mistake about it; this is a team on the rise.  Add in 18 returning starters and there is good reason for optimism in Logan .   

Utah State finished 4-8 last year, a record that on the surface may not show promise.  But four of those losses were by eight points or fewer and thus a play or two swinging the other way would give USU the win.  Andersen's squad lost to Nevada 35-32 and Fresno State 31-27.   

The Utah State attack thrived under first-year offensive coordinator Dave Baldwin.  Quarterback Diondre Borel (6-0, 190) has improved by leaps and bounds since coming in as a green freshman, with the new coaching staff instrumental in that improvement.  Borel has always had the athletic ability and is without question one of the better athletes in the conference as he enters his senior year.  He has the speed to make the Aggie spread offense work, can scramble, and is making better decisions as well, throwing just four interceptions last year.  

Overall, Borel completed 214-of-366 passes for 2,885 yards and 17 touchdowns, and also ran for 458 yards and six scores.  Utah State set school records for total offense (ranking 12th in the country) and fewest interceptions in a season (4).  Borel has been working on an improved comfort level in the pocket and his footwork, while Andersen would like his accuracy (58.5%) improve.   

Jeff Fischer (5-11, 195) completed 64% of his passes with 23 TD passes at the JUCO level.  Redshirt freshman T.J. Canales (6-0, 190) has a good strong arm and good quickness.  The development of both these players is key to the future at the position.  

As a group, the running backs feature great wheels, but are not going to break a lot of tackles or gain the tough inside yards.  Junior Robert Turbin (5-10, 215) is making better progress than expected after a freak ACL injury in February.  This cat-quick running back generated 1,296 yards rushing (on just 207 carries), amassing 142.8 all-purpose yards per game last year with 18 trips to the end zone.  He is quick to the hole and can fly through the secondary as well.  Turbin topped 100 yards seven times last fall and also had 30 catches for 418 yards.  He is hoping to be ready by opening day, but the coaches could hold him out until conference play.   

If Turbin is not able to go, super-quick senior Michael Smith would likely be inserted into the lineup.  Smith averaged 6.3 yards per carry last year for a total of 290 yards.  He isn't a power back by any means, but he too can spurt through a hole quickly.  Smith runs a 4.26 40 and showed versatility by also grabbing 19 passes for 220 yards and two scores.  He could also be used in the Aggie return game.  Senior Derrvin Speight and speedster Kerwynn Williams (5-9, 185, So.) would likely also see a lot of carries.  Speight (5-9, 209) led the running attack in 2007 with 504 yards but he was hurt for all of 2008 and didn't see much action last year (210 yards).  Williams runs a 4.3 40 and gives good depth to the position.  

Stanley Morrison (5-9, 158, Jr.) returns as the leading Aggie receiver, grabbing 33 catches for 616 yards (18.7 yards per reception) and three scores.    Morrison has the speed to give most WAC corners fits and will likely play more of a role this fall.  He was the star of spring ball for Utah State .  Junior Eric Moats (5-11, 182) is also being counted on for a big year.  Moats was fourth on the team with 27 catches for 400 yards last fall.  He runs good crisp routes and has the athleticism to make plays.   

Junior college transfers Matt Austin (6-2, 198), Dontel Watkins (6-3, 200), and Xavier Martin are on campus and ready to make some noise.  Watkins has run a 4.24 40 and Martin a 4.33.  Austin caught 22 TD passes in junior college, is a big target, and looks to have a great year.  Watkins has the size to create matchup problems, and is an incredible athlete who could also be used in the kick return game—look for him to be one of the rising stars in the WAC.  Mikhail Morgan (6-3, 192, So.) has good size and speed as well.  He returns after a good finish to the 2009 campaign in which he came up with five catches in the final two games.  Junior Austin Adler is quick after being converted from a defensive back in high school.  He caught seven passes for 72 yards last year.   

When a tight end is included in the formation, Kellen Barlett (6-2, 242, Jr.) will fill that role.  Although used mostly as a blocker, Bartlett caught nine passes for 81 yards. 

Four starting linemen return, giving good continuity there.  Coach Andersen wants more physicality after the group allowed 32 sacks last year and Anderson could shuffle the lineup to get what he wants.  Senior Spencer Johnson is a towering leader (6-7, 294) at left tackle that has started for the past 1 ½ seasons.  Johnson is athletic and good out in front.  Right guard Philip Gapelu (6-2, 298, Jr.) started in 11 of 12 games last year.  He has good drive and may be the guy to go behind when USU needs the tough yards.  Senior Tariq Polley was an eight-game starter at tackle last season and will make the move to start opposite Gapelu.  Polley (6-4, 296) is a focal point to the ground game but needs to work on pass protection.  Junior Tanner Richins (6-5, 295) should start at right tackle.  At least one freshman (center Tyler Larsen) will start this fall.  Larsen (6-4, 298) is better in space but also has good strength for a solid push up the middle.  

Senior Ty Rogers (6-4, 285) knows the system and is a capable backup to Richins.  The line uses traps to open holes for the speedy backs.  They have had the size but Andersen is working with the unit to be quicker and play with more finesse.   

The "D" is central to a reversal of fortune.  We have seen the USU offense make great strides.  The Aggie defense must now follow suit for Logan to feature a complete team.  First-year defensive coordinator Bill Busch did not get his front seven to hit the quarterback enough to his liking.  Busch employs a press-man coverage but saw his secondary give up far too many big plays.  There will likely be a shuffling of the defense as well in an effort to strengthen the unit.  

Utah State was 100th in sacks and 109th in tackles for loss—those certainly aren't numbers for a bowl team and that production must improve in 2010.  The line simply must improve big-time for the rest of the unit to be successful.  

Junior Levi Koskan (6-4, 238) and converted safety Maxim Dinka-Mba (5-11, 218) emerged as the top defensive ends in spring ball.  Koskan led the group with three sacks last year and his speed rush will be counted on for a number at least double that.  Dinka-Mba has good speed and range and was moved to the line to try to generate the pass rush.  Quinn Garner (6-3, 250, Jr.) is another quick rusher but has not finished the play to the quarterback.  He did come up with 28 stops last fall.  At tackle, returning senior starter Sean Enesi (5-11, 286) and senior Daniel Gurrola (6-1, 282) are tough and thrive on contact.  Enesi has great strength and toughness, and Gurrola needs to play off of his strength to be a run-stopper in the middle.  

Look for a steady rotation among the front four to keep the unit fresh.  Nathan Royster (6-0, 262, Sr.) who had 15 tackles last year is active but undersized.  Senior Casey Davis (6-3, 270) was demoted last year but will be counted on in the rotation this fall.  Senior Devin Johnson (6-2, 232) was originally a linebacker who rang up 20 tackles with 3.5 tackles for loss.  Johnson is quick and athletic and will rotate with Garner.  

All-Western Athletic Conference linebacker Bobby Wagner (6-1, 230) leads a talented unit that will be counted on to make big plays.  He paced the Aggies with 115 tackles last year and added two interceptions and eight tackles for loss.  Wagner will likely see action as a pass-rushing end and outside linebacker to utilize his speed, experience and sure tackling.  He will be joined by two other returning starters—Kyle Gallagher (6-0, 214, Jr.) and Junior Keiaho.  Gallagher had 53 tackles and always seemed to be around the ball, showing good range and a good motor.  Gallagher will also make his presence felt with the big hit to halt the ball carrier.  Keiaho (6-3, 243, Jr.) will be the man on the strong side.  He is a good pass rusher with good pursuit, but he needs to be more dependable against the run.   

Junior Rueben Willis has good size at 5-10, 227 but only recorded eight tackles after getting 72 stops and seven sacks in '08.  Jerome Barbour (6-4, 222, Sr.) will also push for playing time after a great spring.  JC Transfer Gavin Jones (6-2, 191) began his collegiate career at safety but it is hoped that his mobility will serve him well as a backup at the middle linebacker spot.  

Against the pass-happy WAC, Andersen couldn't be more pleased than with three senior starters returning in the secondary.  Chris Randle and Curtis Marsh are back at the corners and Rajric Coleman returns at safety.  Randle (5-11, 187, Sr.) was fourth on the Aggies with 53 tackles and showed penetration with seven tackles for loss.  He's a battler and is expected to shine this fall.  Marsh (6-1, 193) is a senior that was also a former running back.  He has great athletic ability but is still raw at the position despite making 32 stops.  Marsh had an interception and broke up five passes last fall.  Coleman has found his niche at free safety after starting out at cornerback, recording 74 tackles with two picks and five pass breakups.  The senior has good size at 6-1, 194 and good speed as well.  

The other position in the secondary is up for grabs.  Senior Joey Schrader will get first dibs by attrition.  He is a winner, helping Snow College to a JC National Championship with 116 tackles and two interceptions.  Walter McClenton (5-11, 193) will also factor into the equation at strong safety.  McClenton is a fierce warrior, finishing with 33 tackles and an interception before getting hurt in the seventh game of the season.  

Sophomore Quinton Byrd (5-11, 182) will step on the field as a nickel back.  Byrd has excellent speed and good instincts.   

Senior Peter Caldwell very well could handle both punting and placekicking this fall.  He managed both two years ago before concentrating solely on punting last year, leading the WAC at 42.2 yards per attempt.  He did show a knack for pinning opposing offenses with 27 punts landing inside the 20.  Former placekicker Ulinski was chosen last year because of a stronger leg than Caldwell , meaning if the Aggies have a fourth down between the opponent's 30 and 40-yard lines this year, they will likely go for it.  

Kerwynn Williams will fly on kickoff returns with his sub-4.4 speed.  He averaged 25.1 per attempt last year.  Stanley Morrison will likely handle punt returns again this fall—Andersen is looking to him to become a playmaker there.  Josh Flores is another option returning punts for Utah State .  

We will find out quickly if this Aggie team is ready to contend in the WAC.  To begin they face Oklahoma in Norman , and while few expect them to win, it is important for their psyche to stay close.  Many are also pointing to an October 1 game with BYU at home as a possible reversal of fortune for Utah State .  The Aggies have given Fresno State fits the last two years (losing by a combined six points) and the Bulldogs come to Logan for the WAC opener this year.   

If Utah State can get over the hump against Fresno State, look for them to go unbeaten at home in a schedule that also includes Idaho, Hawai'i, New Mexico State and Idaho.  A perfect slate at home would definitely put this team in contention for a bowl bid.    



2010 Schedule

Sept. 4 at Oklahoma
Sept. 25 at San Diego State
Oct. 1 BYU
Oct. 9 at Louisiana Tech
Oct. 23 HAWAI'I  
Oct. 30 at Nevada
Nov. 13 at San Jose State
Nov. 20 IDAHO
Dec. 4 at Boise State


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