Aggies hope to build momentum
Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of articles previewing estern Athletic Conference football teams. Today, the Appeal takes a look at Utah State.
BY DARRELL MOODY
Appeal Sports Writer
Utah State is two years into its rebuilding phase with Brent Guy at the helm, and the Aggies have produced just four wins.
It’s not easy to win in any conference, much less stay competitive, with young players playing huge roles for the first time. It’s not easy when scoring points or stopping the opponents is such a huge struggle.
The 2006 season is one the Aggies, 1-11, would love to erase from the record books. Offensively, the team averaged 10.7 a contest and was shut out four times. On defense, which was considered to be the stronger of the two units, the Aggies gave up 102 more points than in 2005.
“All these kids are concerned with is winning,” said Guy. “We need to win. We need to do it early. It’s very important.
“Early on, we want to play and be competitive. It’s critical to get the monkey off our backs so we can stop talking about last year. It’s a burden to carry around. We had a little spark in the middle of the season when we beat Fresno State, but we couldn’t do anything with the momentum we built. We went to San Jose the next week and lost. “
Where to start?
Well, Guy brought in former North Texas head coach Darrell Dickey to be his quarterback coach/offensive coordinator. Dickey led North Texas to four straight Sun Belt titles and a 42-64 overall record.
“We (Dickey and I) have a lot of experience together,” Guy said. “I’ve known him for many years. He did a great job building the program at North Texas. He’ll help the offense a lot.”
Guy said that the offense will essentially be the same – some option by the quarterback, a little passing and a solid running attack. Let’s hope that Dickey can put some zip into the offense.
Utah State enters the season without a starting quarterback. True freshman Riley Nelson, who ended the season as the starter in 2006, has left for his two-year Mormon Mission. Nelson guided the Aggies to a 13-12 upset of Fresno State last season, and passed for 925 yareds ansd six scores last season.
The top candidates is Leon Jackson III, who lost his starting job to Nelson last season. Jackson passed for 694 yards, but was intercepted seven times. He rushed for 105 yards. Sean Setzer, who threw for 2,034 yards at Garden City JC in Kansas last year, and Jase McCormick, a sophomore, are battling for the job, too.
“We’ll narrow it down after the first couple of scrimmages,” said Guy, whose team opens with UNLV this year.
Guy said the new quarterback would have 14 days to get ready for the Rebels.
Setzer has a better arm than Jackson, but his running ability may not match Jackson’s.
“He (Setzer) doesn’t get rattled,” Guy said. “He is not quite the runner Leon is. I think he’s tough enough to run; to get the three or four yards for a first down. He is a pretty even-keel guy.”
The running back situation isn’t in the best of shape, either. Marcus Cross, who rushed for 650 yards last year, left school to go back home to Texas where he could be closer to his wife and son.
Chris Forbes has come back over for from the defense and ex-Fallon star Aaron Lesue, a converted wide receiver, return from last year. Lesue carried 16 times for 51 yards in the final two games of the season. Redshirt freshman James Actkinson, Derrvin Speight, Josh Anderson and Curtis Marsh also are in the mix at either fullback or tailback depending on what formation the Aggies are in.
“We had some injuries at this position,” Guy said. “Aaron finished the season there and played all spring there. If the season started tomorrow, he’d carry the ball first. We have to get all the guys in there and see what they do the best. Some run the ball and some protect the passer. We have to use the best we can to help the offense move the ball downfield.”
Kevin Robinson leads a bevy of wide receivers. He is a legitimate deep threat, and caught 36 balls for 582 yards and five TDs.
“He’s a big-play guy,” Guy said. “We’ve got to make sure he gets enough chances to produce yardage and produce points.”
Otis Nelson (27-211-1), Nnamdi Gwacham (3-41-0), Omar Sawyer (5-51-0) and Xavier Bowman (6-74-0) also are back.
Jimmy Bohm (4-16-1), Rob Myers (10-125-0) and Will Fausel all return at tight end.
The offensive line returns three starters – guard Pace Jorgenson, center Ryan Tonnermacher and guard Shawn Murphy. Mammoth Derek Hoke at 6-foot-9 is expected to start at tackle along with freshman Spencer Johnson. Brennan McFadden also will challenge for playing time.
“This is the biggest we’ve been in the interior (guards and centers),” Guy said. “We had trouble with penetration for two years; with A gap and B gap. That makes it tough for any quarterback to execute.”
The Aggies ranked next-to-last in every major defensive category last season, and Guy, a defensive-minded coach, would like to change that. The team produced just 11 sacks, an average of less than one a game.
“We have to be more consistent,” Guy said. “We played pretty good defense early on. With 1:40 left (against Arkansas) it was a 7-0 game. We wore down because we played so many snaps.”
The secondary of safeties Caleb Taylor (64 tackles, 2 interceptions) and Kejon Murphy (2 tackles) is back along with corners Marquise Charles (36 tackles) and Antonio Taylor (70 tackles, 1 interception). Drew Pearson and Joshua Taylor are the back-ups.
The entire starting linebacker corp also returns.
Paul Igobelli, the WAC Freshman of the Year, registered 69 tackles and 8.5 tackles behind the line. Jake Hutton, a third-team freshman All-American in 2005, had 29 tackles in four games. Hutton’s replacement, Derrick Cumbee had 48 tackles, including four stops behind the line. Devon Hall contributed 68 stops and Darryl Fields 45.
“Hutton gives us tremendous leadership,” Guy said. “He’s a nice player who can go side to side.”
Seniors Ben Childs (19 tackles) and Frank Maile (26 tackles) will line up at defensive tackle, and second-team all-WAC selection Ben Calderwood (43 tackles, 2 sacks) and Darby Golden (26 tackles, 2 sacks) will play outside. Bevan Howard, Carl Singleton and Alan Bishop are the back-ups.
Calderwood has been named to the Ted Hendricks Award watch list, and much is expected of him.
“We’ve had a little attrition (on the line),” Guy said. “We don’t have the depth I’d like to have. There are a couple of freshmen that might have to play some snaps this year.”
Jackson will serve as the team’s punter, and he averaged 38 yards a kick last season, inlcuding 16 kicks inside the opponent’s 20. Freshman Peter Caldwell is expectd to have an immediate impact as the team’s place-kicker.
“He has the abiity to score points from the 30 on in,” Guy said.