2012 Utah State Preview

Posted Aug 8, 2012

CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Utah State Aggies

Utah State Aggies

Preview 2012

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Gary Andersen
4th year: 15-22
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 21, Def. 23, ST 6
Lettermen Lost: 27
Ten Best Utah State Players
1. C Tyler Larsen, Jr.
2. QB Chuckie Keeton, Soph.
3. RB/KR Kerwynn Williams, Sr.
4. CB Nevin Lawson, Jr.
5. CB Jumanne Robertson, Sr.
6. FS McKade Brady, Sr.
7. QB Adam Kennedy, Sr.
8. WR Matt Austin, Sr.
9. LB Bojay Filimoeatu, Sr.
10. SS Brian Suite, Soph.
2012 Schedule
Aug. 30 Southern Utah
Sept. 7 Utah
Sept. 15 at Wisconsin
Sept. 22 at Colorado State
Sept. 29 UNLV
Oct. 5 at BYU
Oct. 13 at San Jose State
Oct. 20 New Mexico State
Oct. 27 at UTSA
Nov. 3 Texas State
Nov. 17 at Louisiana Tech
Nov. 24 Idaho
And here's the best part; it could've been a lot better.

After spending over a decade as one of America's premier college football punching bags – with the last winning season coming as part of the Big West in 1996 – Utah State came up with one of the shocking breakthrough performances of 2011. The Aggies came agonizingly close to shocking the world by beating the defending national champion Auburn Tigers in its home park, only to choke it away in a 42-38 loss. They also gagged away games against Colorado State and BYU to start the year 1-3 when it could've and should've been 4-0. It was as if the team wasn't quite sure what to do when it had a chance to pull off a win, partly because it didn't have a whole bunch of experience at doing anything positive.

Fittingly, Utah State closed out the year with another close loss - a 24-23 thriller against Ohio in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl – to make it five losses on the year by a touchdown or less. However, even with the seven victories on the season not quite seeming like they were enough, considering the program hadn't won more than four games since 2000, there was reason to rejoice.

And now there's even more reason to be excited with an upgrade in conferences to the Mountain West next season. Instead of having to go to the Sun Belt or being thrown into the abyss of teams without a home like Idaho and New Mexico State, Utah State has something to build on and reason to be excited. But again, while Gary Andersen has done wonders in his three years, there's still a lot of room to do more.

The great rushing attack from last season might lose stars Robert Turbin and Michael Smith, but it gets back exciting playmaker Chuckie Keeton at quarterback along with most of the top targets for the passing game. Center Tyler Larsen is one of the nation's best offensive linemen anchoring a good front five with three starters returning.

The defense that made such terrific strides last year loses heart-and-soul linebacker Bobby Wagner, but six starters return including three starters in the secondary. The D generates pass rush from several spots and should be able to turn several new players loose, while gaps have been filled with JUCO recruits ready to play big roles.

The bar is now set high. A WAC title is a possibility and the team is supposed to win more and more of the close battles. For a program that's still new to success, it's all a positive. Utah State now matters in football.

What to watch for on offense: More of the same. New offensive coordinator Matt Wells isn't going to change what worked on the ground after the team finished sixth in the nation in rushing, but he'll try to utilize a stronger more powerful attack without speedsters Robert Turbin and Michael Smith to count on, but the idea will still be to keep up the pace and the temp while trying to hit the home run whenever possible. Whether it's Chuckie Keeton or Adam Kennedy at quarterback, the ground game is going to work with Kerwynn Williams a dangerous speed back and good toughness inside. It's a backfield loaded with possibilities, and now it's up to Wells to make it all work.

What to watch for on defense: Aggressiveness from all spots. After finishing 100th in the nation in defense, 101st in scoring D, 109th in sacks and 117th in tackles for loss, head coach Gary Andersen decided that the best person to take over the defensive coordinator duties was Gary Andersen. The results were terrific with an upgrade across the board, and while Andersen was able to show he could handle the work, he started delegating responsibility more and more as the season went on. Now he has a new defensive coordinator, Dave Aranda, whose job it is to keep the production going for a D that was disruptive and active in all areas. There wasn't any one killer of a playmaking pass rusher, but most of the top guys are gone. While six starters return, the defense is going to have to manufacture big plays.

The team will be far better if … it starts to dominate the turnover margin. This was a big, big problem last season with four fumbles proving costly in the loss to Colorado State, five turnovers almost blowing the San Jose State win and four turnovers allowing Idaho to stick around. There were just 15 takeaways on the year with a mere four picks, while the Fresno State loss was the only time the D came up with more than two fumble recoveries. For a team that played ten games decided by a touchdown or less, the difference between another strong year and being a WAC also-ran will likely have a lot to do with being on the plus side of the mistake margin.

The schedule: The Aggies don't get their first conference game until the middle of October, and they have to survive a rough early stretch on the road going away for four times in a five-week stretch and five times in a seven-week span. Counting a week off before going to Louisiana Tech, there's only one November away date. Fortunately, other than going to Wisconsin and BYU, and the Friday night nationally televised game against Utah, every other game is winnable, and that might include the showdown with Louisiana Tech, which should be for the WAC title.

Best offensive player: Junior C Tyler Larsen. If Larsen isn't the best center in America, he's in the mix. The 6-4, 308-pound junior is a technician in the middle with a blasting style and enough quickness to make things happen on the move. A starter from his freshman season, he has next level potential both as a guard and as a center, but he's a special college quarterback for the line. He destroyed the Auburn defensive interior in the opener and he didn't slow down from there.

Best defensive player: Junior CB Nevin Lawson. All the tools are there to be special. At 5-19 and 184 pounds he has good enough size to get by, and he's a strong enough tackler to be terrific in the open field making 73 stops. Extremely fast and with a good burst on the ball, he came up with ten broken up passes and a pick. This year he should be among the WAC's best cover-corners and combined with Jumanne Robertson should give the Aggies a major plus in the defensive backfield.

Key player to a successful season: Senior RB Kerwynn Williams .A superior returner, this year he has to show he's ready to handle more of the rushing work. Robert Turbin ripped off 1,519 yards and 19 touchdowns while Michael Smith was one of the fastest players in college football averaging 7.6 yards per carry rushing for 870 yards and nine scores. Williams can do a little bit of everything, and he should be in for a 1,000-yard season if he can stay healthy, but it's asking a lot for him to pick up the slack for Turbin and Smith.

The season will be a success if … The Aggies win the WAC. That's asking for too much; it would be a successful season if the Aggies finish second. They're not better than Louisiana Tech, and while they were good enough to come really, really close in a lot of losses last year, they also beat Idaho, Nevada and New Mexico State by the skin of their teeth. This year's version is worse than last year's team, but it's still a good, strong team with great upside and potential if the running game can come close to working like it did last year. At the very least, a second straight bowl campaign is a must.

Key game: Nov. 17 at Louisiana Tech. If everything works out like the Aggies hope, this should be the battle for the WAC title. There will be landmines to sidestep with a conference road trip to San Jose State a problem, but getting a week off before going to Ruston to deal with the Bulldogs should help. Playing New Mexico State, UTSA and Texas State before the showdown could bring USU in on a roll.

2011 Fun Stats:
- Interceptions thrown: Utah State 6 – Opponents 4
- 3rd down conversions: Utah State 90-of-186 (48%) – Opponents 69-of-195 (35%)
- Ten of the 13 games were decided by seven points or fewer, and eight of those were decided by four points or fewer

- 2012 Utah State Preview | 2012 Utah State Offense
- 2012 Utah State Defense | 2012 Utah State Depth Chart