2011 Utah State Preview - Offense
Utah State C Tyler Larsen
CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Utah State Aggie Offense
Preview 2011 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: Offensive coordinator Dave Baldwin's offense exploded in 2009, but it was hit-or-miss last year with injuries to several key players a problem. On the plus side, star RB Robert Turbin is back after hurting his knee, and top receivers Matt Austin and Stanley Morrison return after missing almost all of last year with a knee and toe, respectively, and now the team has playmakers again. The line, if a few key JUCO transfers can shine right away, should be productive and athletic, and it should be able to open up the holes needed for Turbin and the speedy running backs to fly through. The key will be the play of a new starting quarterback in place of Diondre Borel, and while that might be a work in progress, the passing game can't help but be better after finishing last season among the nation's least efficient.
Passing: Jeremy Higgins
4-6, 22 yds, 0 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Kerwynn Williams
81 carries, 451 yds, 4 TD
Receiving: Xavier Martin
12 catches, 253 yds, 2 TD
Star of the offense: Junior RB Robert Turbin
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior QB Adam Kennedy
Unsung star on the rise: Senior WR Matt Austin
Best pro prospect: Turbin
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Turbin, 2) Austin, 3) WR Stanley Morrison
Strength of the offense: Speedy Running Backs, Line Experience
Weakness of the offense: Proven Quarterback, Consistency
The passing game didn't exactly light up the WAC, and it was among the most inefficient in the nation, but losing Diondre Borel, the team's top playmaker, will still be a problem. He was a pure baller who was better than his stats, but the hope now will be to find a star among a three-way race who can push the ball down the field a little more. When the passing game is 108th in the nation in efficiency, there's room for improvement. State of the Unit:
In the mix for the job, getting every shot, will be redshirt freshman Alex Hart and JUCO transfer Adam Kennedy. The 6-2, 195-pound Hart is a top-shelf passer setting several Utah high school records and leading the nation in passing efficiency as a senior throwing for 4,442 yards and 47 scores. He's also a runner and can do a little of everything on the move. The 6-5, 210-pound Kennedy is a big bomber who spent last year at San Joaquin Delta College. Even though he's big and is mostly a passer, he can also run a bit and isn't going to be a statue.
Jeremy Higgins only completed 4-of-6 passes for 22 yards with a pick, and he would've qualified as the team's most experienced and accurate option, leading all high school quarterbacks in Hawaii in passing efficiency, but he was named the No. 3 man coming out of spring ball is and is transferring.
Watch Out For … A dog fight for the starting job. Kennedy has the inside line on the gig, but there could be several chances early on, especially if the team struggles early, for everyone to get their shot.
Strength: Passing efficiency? Considering how bad the team was last year at coming up with big plays and with a wildly inefficient year from Borel, having the ultra-accurate Hart is a big plus. College is a whole different animal, but the quarterbacks are starting from a good place.
Weakness: Experience. The Aggies are going to be starting from scratch. The hope will be to go with Higgins or Hart and grow around him for the next few years, but just getting someone who can produce right away would be nice.
Outlook: A strong situation last year has suddenly become a problem. Hart is an intriguing passer who'll get every chance to show what he can do, and Kennedy is promising. Throw in the JUCO transfers in the mix and top recruit Chucky Keaton coming in this fall, and there's a lot of work to be done before the situation is finally settled.
Unit Rating: 4.5
The running game suffered a major setback before the season started when star State of the Unit: Robert Turbin went down with a knee injury. The ground game still worked with Derrvin Speight and Kerwynn Williams combining for over 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns, but now Speight is gone, Williams might move to receiver, and Turbin is back and close to healthy.
Two years ago, Turbin was a special back who tore off home run after home run. Can he show off the same quickness, cutting ability, and wheels that led him to a 1,296-yard, 13 touchdown season? The torn ACL happened early enough last offseason to be ready to go again by the start of the season as close to 100% as possible, and he'll be the focal point of the attack. The junior is 5-10 and 216 pounds, fast, and has great hands making 30 grabs for 418 yards and five touchdowns as the best outlet option, and he's a great combination of being powerful through the hole and fast enough to get to the outside. Even with the injury, there was some thought that he might have been back last year before shutting it down. As long as he's close to what he was, he'll be one the WAC's best players.
A big help to the ground game should be if and when Michael Smith is back. The 5-9, 205-pound senior is extremely quick and has the talent to be the main man when he's healthy. The 4.26 speedster and former JUCO transfer can be used in a variety of ways, including receiver and returner, but he has to get back after missing most of last season with a bad toe injury. He ran for 153 yards and two scores in his three games of action.
With Williams moving over to receiver, junior Joey DeMartino and sophomore Robert Marshall will combine forces to work behind Turbin. The 5-11, 201-pound DeMartino, a former JUCO transfer, ran for 157 yards and a score, averaging 5.4 yards per carry, and he has the ability to do far more. He has the receiving skills to be used far more for the passing game, while the 6-1, 231-pound Marshall, who ran for 146 yards and a score, will provide the power. He's a pass catcher if needed, and he's not just a pounder for his size with the speed to crank out a few big runs when he gets his chances. If needed, he could even be a kickoff returner.
Watch Out For … Turbin to be Turbin again. He finished 20th in the nation in rushing in 2009 and was great at destroying the mediocre defenses with 190 yards against San Jose State and 113 yards and three scores against Idaho. He's full systems go, and he'll have his moments.
Strength: Quickness. Turbin can move, and DeMartino and Marshall have good speed and will be great in the open field when they get their chances. If there's a hole, these guys will get through it in a hiccup.
Weakness: The passing game. No one's going to respect the Utah State passing attack that was among the least efficient in the nation, and everyone is going to focus all 11 defenders and the waterboy on stopping Turbin. There won't be much room to move, if any.
Outlook: The running game should be among the best in the WAC if the quarterbacks contribute to the net total. The backfield situation is strong enough to move Kerwynn Williams to receiver, but while there are several good options, it all comes down to Turbin.
Unit Rating: 7.5
The receiving corps could go from mediocre to fantastic in a hurry with some position moves, a key target coming back healthy, and surprising depth for a school that's not normally known for winging the ball around the yard. The key will be the play of the new starting quarterback, but the receivers should help the overall cause if all the pieces are in place. State of the Unit:
The biggest key to the corps is the return of Stanley Morrison, a 5-9, 150-pound wisp of a target who averaged 18.7 yards per pop in 2009. He's at his most effective when he can make one or two really big plays a game when he can catch everyone napping. But he wasn't able to do much of anything last year after suffering a foot injury. He's back now at the T position, and he'll get the ball in his hands in a variety of ways to utilize his superior athleticism.
Senior Eric Moats is a 5-11, 182-pound veteran who's a good route runner and has just enough speed to make the midrange play. He finished second on the team last year in receiving, but he only caught 20 passes for 218 yards and a score and disappeared for stretches. He'll work in a rotation on the X with senior Matt Austin, a 6-2, 198-pound playmaker if he's healthy. The former superstar JUCO transfer, who caught 71 passes for 1,134 yards and 13 touchdowns for Mt. San Antonio JC, caught a 59-yard pass against Oklahoma, and was lost for the season with a knee injury.
5-11, 199-pound senior Xavier Martin is a nice third option at the Z catching 12 passes for 253 yards and two scores highlighted by a 79-yard play against BYU. He might get lost in the shuffle a bit with so many other good receives in the equation, but he'll be a major factor once in a while when no one is paying attention. Adding more size to the inside will be 6-1, 184-pound redshirt freshman Shaan Johnson, a special athlete who was a high school star track athlete in the high jump and long jump.
In an interesting move, running back Kerwynn Williams might move to receiver. The 5-9, 184-pound junior was second on the team with 451 rushing yards and four scores, averaging 5.6 yards per carry, while catching 12 passes for 110 yards. Very fast, he should be a factor in the rotation with Stanley Morrison at the T.
The Aggies used the tight end a bit more last year, and senior Kellen Bartlett should be a bigger factor after catching 15 passes for 222 yards, averaging 14.8 yards per catch. He's a thick 6-2, 243-pound blocker who is in his third year as the starter after moving over from the defensive side, and he could be even more of a go-to target on key downs. Bartlett is a short, stocky target, while 6-7, 258-pound senior Tarren Lloyd is a more imposing receiver. He only caught four passes for 59 yards and a score, but he's too big and too experienced not to be a bigger factor.
Watch Out For … Austin. He was supposed to be a special player in the equation last year before getting hurt. Fortunately, it happened early enough that he should be ready to roll again right away. With all the attention paid to Morrison, Austin will get plenty of single coverage and should come up with several deep plays.
Strength: Deep threats. As long as Morrison, Austin, Martin and Williams are all healthy, they should be able to combine to average at least 12 yards per grab. There's speed, quickness, and talent.
Weakness: Experienced quarterback. The focus will be on the running game, and everyone will cheat up to try to stop Robert Turbin, but the big plays will be there if the quarterback play is merely adequate. That's not a given.
Outlook: It might not be crazy to call this the best Utah State receiving corps ever if everyone can stay healthy and if the plan works. Austin has No. 1 ability, Morrison is a devastating playmaker, and Williams and Martin should be dangerous. Throw a good veteran like Moats into the mix and the experienced tight end tandem of Bartlett and Lloyd, and there's a lot to get excited about.
Unit Rating: 5.5
Since taking over, the goal of the coaching staff has been to change up the big and bulky offensive line and making it quick and agile. This isn't a small line, but it should be more athletic and should be great on the interior and questionable on the outside. State of the Unit:
The key to the line should be the quick emergence of JUCO transfer Ian Maguire at left tackle. At 6-5 and 271 pounds, he's not all that big, but he can move. From the City College of San Francisco, he was the main blocker for high-powered offense and should be great in pass protection. He's not thick enough to be a true anchor, but he can be effective for what the Aggie offense wants to do. He might not be the team's top JUCO transfer, though, with 6-6, 296-pound junior Stetson Tenney coming over from Eastern Arizona JC. He's a mauler who brings a big body to the line, and while he might not be all that athletic, the former walk-on at BYU can move well enough to get by at right tackle.
The growing pains of last year on the interior should pay off as sophomore center Tyler Larsen is back after starting every game. At 6-4 and 297 pounds, he's a tall blocker who's more of a guard than a true quarterback for the line, but he's good in a phone booth and was solid in his first year. Also back after taking over the right guard job in the second half of last year is sophomore Eric Schultz, a 6-4, 294-pound talent who got leaner over the last season and has the maturity – he'll be 24 in September - to be steady. He's versatile enough to play anywhere on the line, but he appears to have found a home.
Senior Funaki Asisi was supposed to be a big factor two years ago, but was disappointing and was merely a key backup. He came through last season starting every game at left guard, and now the 6-2, 295-pound veteran should be a key run blocker. A star high school defensive lineman, he moved over to the offensive side when he joined the team, and now he should come into his own.
Back in the mix for one of the tackle spots will be junior Oscar Molina-Sanchez, a seven-game starter who can work on either side. He might not be a rock in pass protection, but at the very least the former defensive lineman is an experienced veteran with 6-5, 287-pound size.
There's a youth movement among the backups, but 6-2, 299-pound senior Phillip Gapelu has been around long enough to know what he's doing and find a role. He started 11 games in 2009 and every game last year, but he's not the talent that Eric Schultz is. A mauler and a strong option for the ground game, he'll work at right guard but can step over to the left side without a problem.
Watch Out For … the JUCO transfers. Normally, replacing both tackles would be cause for alarm, but Maquire and Tenney could be an upgrade. They fit exactly what the coaching staff wants to do, and they'll be ready to roll out of the box.
Strength: Experience. If you count the time spent last year in the JUCO ranks, the front five shouldn't be starting from scratch. Considering two-year starter Phillip Gapelu is likely going to be a reserve, there's plenty of time logged in across the board.
Weakness: Pass protection. The line was saved last year by the mobile Diondre Borel under center, and while the line is full of experience and is athletic, it's going to have problems with the quicker defensive fronts.
Outlook: The line is quick, experienced, and should be what the coaching staff has been working for over the last few years. The line won't barrel over anyone for the ground game, but it'll open up the holes for the quick backs to get through. The key will be how fast the JUCO transfers can shine on the outside. If they're good, the line will be a major strength.
Unit Rating: 5
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