Utah State has extra motivation for season

This is the seventh in a series of articles previewing Western Athletic Conference football teams. Today, the Appeal takes a look at Utah State.


Appeal Sports Writer

As expected, the Utah State Aggies were dead last in the preseason Western Athletic Conference preseason football poll.

The Aggies are 6-29 in the first three years of the Brent Guy era, but two of those wins came at the end of the 2007 season when Utah State knocked off New Mexico State 35-17 and Idaho 24-19. Both wins were on the road.

"It (being picked last) is a motivational tool for us," Guy said. "Everybody has a right to their opinion.

"We're going to carry the motivation (of those two wins) into this season. Those two wins were team wins. When you win, you don't worry about who gets the credit. We were trying to fight our way out of the cellar. That's all we had to play for."

"Having early success is the key for us. September is critical for us."

The Aggies open on the road at UNLV and Oregon and then host Utah and Idaho. Utah State is certainly capable of being 2-2 at that point.

One of the things that Guy has stressed to his team is finishing games. The Aggies led both UNLV and Wyoming entering the fourth quarter and lost both times. The only times Utah State led entering the fourth quarter and held on were against Idaho and New Mexico State.

The Aggies return six starters on offense, including running back Curtis Marsh (5-11, 194), tight end Rob Myers (6-4, 240), tackles Spencer Johnson (6-5, 292) and Derek Hoke (6-9. 315), center Ryan Tonnemacher (6-3, 292) plus wide receiver Otis Nelson (6-4, 214).

Marsh, who shared time with Derrvin Speight, finished the season with 302 yards rushing and 96 more on pass receptions. Jacob Actkinson (6-0, 226) makes the transition from tailback to fullback. He rushed for 86 yards and caught 12 passes for 167 yards.

Nelson had 20 grabs for 189 yards and a score. Speight, who will share time with Marsh, gained 504 yards rushing. Redshirt freshman Stanley Morrison starts on the other side.

Myers finished 2007 with a second-best 21 catches for 320 yards and three scores. There is no proven back-up behind the talented Myers.

Phillip Gapelu (6-1, 309), a redshirt freshman, and sophomore Ty Rogers (6-3, 300) will handle the guard spots.

Last year's starting quarterback Leon Jackson graduated, and junior Jace McCormick, senior Sean Setzer and Diondre Borel are battling for playing time with Setzer in the lead. The Aggies also recruited Ben Longshore, younger brother of Cal quarterback Nate Longshore.

Setzer injured his shoulder and threw just one pass all year. McCormick is the better runner of the two, and also he completed 62 percent of his passes for 258 yards and two touchdowns.

"He (Setzer) did a really good job of getting back in shape," Guy said. "He makes the right decision. He doesn't have to carry the load.

"Diondre has a lot of talent. He can throw the ball farther than any of the guys; 65 in the air."

The defense returns nine starters from a unit that gave up 33 points per game and was next-to-last in the conference in rushing defense and total defense.

The strength of the defense is at linebacker where starters Jake Hutton (6-0, 236) and Paul Igobelli (6-0, 211) return. Hutton led the team with 102 tackles and Igobelli finished with 95, including eight behind the line. Kyle Gallagher (6-0, 198) is the third starter, stepping in for De'Von Hall (6-3, 215) who has moved to strong safety.

Hall is battling returning starter James Brindley at strong safety. Caleb Taylor returns at free safety. Chris Randle (27 tackles) returns at left cornerback and Kejon Murphy and Roy Hurst are battling for the starting job on the opposite side.

Ben Calderwood (6-2, 267) anchors the defensive line at left tackle. He'll be surrounded by either two or three new starters " Gregg Clark (6-4, 277), Nathan Royster (6-0, 256) and JC transfer Casey Davis (6-3, 284), who is ahead of returning starter Alan Bishop (6-5, 285).

Peter Caldwell will handle the place-kicking again this year after converting 13 of 21 field-goal attempts and all 25 PAT attempts. Caldwell or kick-off specialist Chris Ulinski will replace Jackson as the team's punter. Caldwell averaged 41 yards a kick in abbreviated action.

- Contact Darrell Moody at dmoody@nevadaappeal.com, or by calling (775) 881-1281


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