Previewing Utah State

Utah State will roll into Death Valley for Homecoming on October 16th. Scott Rhymer continues his game-by-game preview of the 2004 season by taking a closer look at the Aggies, and what problems they could potentially bring to the table.

In this 11 part series I will break down and predict each Clemson football game for the 2004 season. Of course, much can and will change as fall practice commences and the season progresses. So by no means do I envision a scenario where I am perfect, but the hope is to give a realistic view of where Clemson, and the rest of the ACC, will fall in the upcoming season.

Week #1: Previewing Wake Forest
Week #2: Previewing Georgia Tech
Week #3: Previewing Texas A&M
Week #4: Previewing Florida State
Week #5: Previewing Virginia

October 16
Clemson vs. Utah State

Clemson returns home with a bruised ego after back to back losses to Florida State and Virginia and in desperate need of a win. An out of conference Homecoming game versus Utah State will hopefully prove to be just what the doctor ordered.

This will be the 6th game of the year for the Tigers in 2004. I have predicted in the previous three preview articles that Clemson will win the first three games to start the 2004 season before losing to FSU and UVA. I predict Utah State will be 3-3 on the season with wins over Idaho, Troy State, and North Texas. The Aggies' losses will be in the opener at Alabama, Utah, and UNLV.

Utah State plays in the Sun Belt Conference until 2005 when the Aggies will jump into the Western Athletic Conference. The Aggies are coached by Mick Dennehy (Montana, 1973) who has a 16-29 record at USU and a 65-54 overall record. The Aggies are coming off a 3-9 season in 2003 with wins over Louisiana Monroe, Arkansas State, and Middle Tennessee. Last year the Aggies lost to Utah, Nebraska, Arizona State, New Mexico, Wyoming, North Texas, New Mexico State, Troy State, and Idaho.

On offense, Utah State returns only 4 starters from last year's team that averaged 350 yards per game (4th in Sun Belt, 80th Nationally).

While there may not be many returnees on offense, the Aggies will be able to rely on experience at quarterback. Travis Cox started all 12 games in 2003 and earned second-team All-Sun Belt Conference. Cox led the Sun Belt Conference in passing (232.6) and total offense (237.0) while throwing for 2,791 yards and18 touchdowns to just seven interceptions in first season as a starter. Cox threw for 300-plus yards three games, including a career-high 322 in the season finale at Idaho. He also connected on at least one touchdown pass in 11 of 12 games and posted seven games without an interception throughout the year. He only threw more than one interception in one game last year, proving he could avoid making the bad mistakes. While Cox won't wow you with arm strength, it is obvious that he is a solid college quarterback that can read defenses and spread the ball around the field.

The Aggies are coached by Mick Dennehy (Montana, 1973) who has a 16-29 record at USU and a 65-54 overall record in coaching.
Utah State's leading rusher from last year (David Fiefia) has graduated and his almost 1,000 yards on the ground must be made up by a new face. Travis Davis, who was second on the team in rushing with 150 yards on 21 carries, and Tyrone McKinney (33 yards on 10 rushes) will battle it out in August. Both backs are small (less than 5 feet 6 inches) and weigh less than 180 pounds, so don't expect very much between the tackle running from the Aggies regardless of who is getting the carries.

The cupboard is also bare at wide receiver, where only three players who letter are back and those combined for only 23 total catches in 2003. Raymond Hicks and Tony Pennyman are the two most experienced returnees, but both are small relative to Division I-A football standards. Tarrell Richards redshirted last year and is expected to make major contributions for the Aggie offense, but this group lacks overall speed and size that would make it formidable in Death Valley come October. USU lost Chris Cooley, who was the nation's leading receiving tight end with 6.2 catches per game. Jason Stephens and Patrick McNutt will battle it out to replace Cooley.

The offensive line will also need to be retooled as USU lost three starters from the 2003 season. Both tackles return in Donald Penn and Elliott Tupea, although Tupea will move over to guard this year. Pace Jorgensen will man the other tackle spot and Victor Eti should anchor down the other guard spot. David Rawlins, who has seen limited action the last two years, is listed as the starter at center. The line, while not very quick, averages over 300 pounds and will be able to muscle up with Clemson's defensive lineman just fine.

On defense, USU returns 6 players from a unit that gave up 360 yards per game in 2003 (3rd in the Sun Belt Conference and 45th nationally).

Two starters return on the defensive line, including Ronald Tupea who will actually move outside this year. Tupea was second-team All-Sun Belt last year and has 30 career starts under his belt. Tupea racked up 35 tackles, including six sacks which tied for the most in the Sun Belt Conference. Ryan DeQuillettes should man the nose guard position and Michael Gates should start at the other tackle spot. There is plenty of depth as eight players have lettered on the line giving the Aggies a luxury they do not have at many positions across the team.

John Chick, who anchored one the tackle spots in 2003, will move to the Stud position as a combination linebacker/end. Chick missed the first three games of 2003 with a broken thumb but he registered a sack in each of his first four games back. On the year hehad 33 tackles in just nine games, returned a fumble 37 yards for a touchdown and had 5.5 tackles for loss, including four sacks.

Middle LB Robert Watts was second-team All-Sun Belt last year and was the second-leading tackler in the Sun Belt Conference with 118 stops. Watts has a knack for flying all over the field and creating turnovers while getting 2 sacks on the season. Nate Fredrick and Jared Johnstun also have plenty of snaps under their belt, making the linebacker corps a strength of the defense.

Safety Terrance Washington anchors the secondary after being named College Football News Freshman All-American (2nd team) in 2003. Washington was third on the team with 93 tackles and led the team with five interceptions. The first year player was ranked among the top 10 freshmen in the country in tackles per game and was second among freshmen in interceptions (29th overall in the NCAA). Joe Lindsay moves into the strong safety spot after a solid freshman season as a backup. Cornerback Jerome Dennis returns after sitting out the last nine games of the season due to a blood clot in his shoulder. Dennis will start at one corner and will be joined by Cornelius Lamb, who took his place in the lineup for the remainder of 2003 at the other. This unit is a group of solid playmakers that will be a challenge to throw on consistently.

Ben Chaet averaged 40.3 yards per punt and kicked 11 punts 50 or more yards during the season. Chaet can also kick field goals, hitting three of four after Justin Hamblin struggled early in the season. Hamblin drilled 20 of 21 PATs, while Chaet was eight of nine on extra points.

Summary And Prediction
Clemson will be desperately looking for something positive to happen after struggling in the two previous losses to FSU and UVA. The good news is that Clemson is a much better football team than Utah State across the board.

The Aggies lack a serious running game behind a patchwork offensive line and small scat backs. That will put a ton of pressure on Travis Cox at quarterback. Because the Aggies lack playmakers at wide receiver and because the secondary is Clemson's strength on defense, the Aggies will find the passing game equally as difficult to succeed in as the running game. Therefore, don't expect many first downs, much less points, from the Aggie offense.

Defensively, the Aggies have a chance to keep things interesting for awhile. The Aggies are defiantly stronger on defense than offense this year, so don't expect things to be easy for the Tigers. However, because the Aggie offense will spend much of the day going three and out, the defense will eventually succumb to the amount of snaps they are playing and the Tiger offense will eventually pull away.

This will be a small confidence booster for the Tigers, and it will most certainly send the Homecoming crowd home with a smile on their face and guarded optimism for the next two weeks when N.C. State and Maryland come to town.

Clemson 37 Utah State 6

Also See: An Offseason Look: Utah State Top Stories