2007 Utah State Preview - Defense

Posted May 9, 2007

Preview 2007 Utah State Aggies Defense

Utah State Aggies

Preview 2007 - Defense

- 2007 Utah State Preview | 2007 Utah State Offense Preview
- 2007 Utah State Defense Preview
| 2006 CFN Utah State Preview 

What you need to know:
If experience counts for anything, the Aggies should be far better with 11 returning starters and a ton of veteran backups ready to fill in. Now the defense has to stop someone after getting ripped apart by just about everyone. How bad did things get? The Aggies allowed an average of 48.8 points per game over the final five games. Ben Calderwood leads an undersized line that has to do more to get into the backfield. The corners are way too small, the linebackers are way too small, and the tackles are way too small. If the overall team quickness isn't accounting for big plays, there will be problems.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Antonio Taylor, 74
Sacks: Paul Igboeli, 3
Interceptions: Caleb Taylor, 2

Star of the defense: Junior DE Ben Calderwood
Player that has to step up and become a star: Senior DTs Ben Childs and Frank Maile
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore CB Kejon Murphy
Best pro prospect: Calderwood
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Calderwood, 2) FS Antonio Taylor, 3) LB Jake Hutton
Strength of the defense: Experience, depth
Weakness of the defense:
Pass rush, playmaking defensive backs

Defensive Line

Projected Starters
The star of the defense is junior end Ben Calderwood, who made 44 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss on his way to second-team All-WAC honors. While he didn't turn into the elite pass rusher the Aggies needed him to become, he was a tough all-around defender who fought through a hand injury and was still the best producer up front. At 268 pounds, he's bigger than the starting tackles while still maintaining the athleticism of an end.

On the other side is the only new starter to the front four, senior Carl Singleton, after making 14 tackles and two sacks in just six games. More like a big outside linebacker at 245 pounds, he has the speed to be a regular in the backfield.

Inside will be an issue against the bigger running teams with seniors Frank Maile and Ben Childs each around 265 pounds. Childs took over the starting role over the second half of last year and finished with 19 tackles, while Maile made 26 stops with seven starts. Maile has seen time at the end and needs to use his quickness to get into the backfield more, while Childs has to prove he can hold up against the run for extended stretches.

Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Darby Golden will start out behind Calderwood on the right side, but he might as well be considered another starter considering all the time he saw last season, He started the last three games of the year finishing with 18 tackles, and showed off enough speed and quickness to make 5.5 tackles for loss.

Inside, 259-pound sophomore Jon Overton will play a big role rotating with Childs after making ten tackles as a reserve. He's a little taller than Childs, but he's still undersized for a tackle. At left tackle, 6-5, 278-pound sophomore Alan Bishop should be a key player as the biggest lineman in the mix. He made eight tackles in a limited role, and now he could push Maile for starting time. 

Watch Out For ... the tackle rotation to be the key to the season. The Aggies simply must get better play on the inside, and the coaching staff has to keep shuffling the lineup to make sure everyone's fresh and effective.
Strength: Calderwood. Able to do a little of everything, he's a great defender to revolve the line around. Everything will work around him.
Weakness: Size. There aren't many in the WAC who'll power the ball up the gut, but the smallish tackles will still be an issue. If they're not using their speed and quickness to get into the backfield, they're not of much use.
Outlook: The line has to be far, far better at getting into the backfield. The Aggies only cranked out 48 tackles for loss and 19 sacks, and they have to be far better against the run. The production needs to double.
Rating: 4.5


Projected Starters
Sophomore Paul Igboeli is the leading returning tackler in the corps, and was second on the team, making 69 stops along with a three sacks and eight tackles for loss. Named the WAC Freshman of the Year, he's a disruptive force on the outside despite only being 6-0 and 206 pounds.
In the middle, 229-pound Jake Hutton is back after missing almost all of last year with a foot injury. Despite playing just four games, he still made 29 tackles and should be the team's leading tackler if he can stay healthy for a full season.

On the weakside, or the Aggie position, junior Devon Hall is back after finishing third on the team with 68 tackles to go along with three fumble recoveries. He bulked up to 216 pounds, but he needs to be more effective against the run and has to do far more to get into the backfield.

Projected Top Reserves: Junior Derrick Cumbee stepped in for Hutton in the middle for five games as the starter, and was a backup the rest of the season, making 48 tackles and four tackles for loss. The former JUCO transfer is a strong tackler in the middle despite his 209-pound size.

JUCO transfer Deshon Benton could quickly push for time at the Aggie position behind Hall after coming in this spring. He's a former high school running back who made the successful conversion to the defensive side at Modesto JC.

Junior Daryl Fields is one of the nation's smallest linebackers at 5-7 and 205 pounds, but he's extremely quick and productive making 45 tackles in a reserve role. How tough is he? He got three starts in the middle late in the year.

Watch Out For ... the linebackers to be a bit more productive. Everyone was trying to figure out what they were doing last year, and now it should all translate into better overall play.
Strength: Experience and options. Getting all three starters back is nice, but having three decent players in Cumbee, Fields and Benton among the reserves. There should be a good rotation.
Weakness: Size. Basically, the Aggies are small by design to get quicker, more athletic playmakers on the field. Unfortunately, they haven't used that speed to make enough plays and have been run over by everyone.
Outlook: If experience counts for anything, the Aggies should be better here. Injuries were the big issue throughout last season, so the longer the starting three can stay in one piece, the better. With all the pumped up safeties, there has to be more plays made in the backfield and more big plays in general.
Rating: 4.5

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters
All four starters return led by leading tackler Antonio Taylor at free safety. The senior made 74 stops and broke up six passes cleaning up all the messes made by the front seven. He's a good-sized 214 pounds and could play strong safety if needed with his big shots; he rarely misses a tackle.

Next to him at strong safety will be junior Caleb Taylor, a rangy 6-3, 193 pounds, he's a good tackler making 64 stops last season. He's not all that fast, but he's athletic enough to get around well.

Sophomore corner Kejon Murphy took over late in the season starting the final three games on the left side. While he's only 5-8 and 157 pounds, he's a tough tackler with 21 tackles. Now he has to start making plays when the ball is in the air.

On the right side returns junior Marquise Charles, who started every game making 36 tackles with four broken up passes. One of the team's fastest players, he has to make up for his lack of size at only 5-8 and 177 pounds.

Projected Top Reserves: JUCO transfer Roy Hurst is ready to step in at strong safety in a rotation behind Caleb Taylor. He's one of the team's most athletic defensive backs and with his speed and athleticism, he should be able to step in at corner if needed.

Junior Josh Taylor, Caleb's brother, has great speed and enough experience to start at right corner. He's a former quarterback who was in the starting mix at the beginning of last year, but ended up as a reserve making 17 tackles.

Sophomore James Brindley is coming off a good first season making 22 tackles as a backup, and now he'll play behind Antonio Taylor and will see time in nickel situations and at corner.

Watch Out For ... a few more interceptions. The overall production can't be any worse after only six picks, and with so many returning veterans, there should be more done when the ball is in the air.
Strength: Experience. The Aggies return all four starters and have enough experienced backups to step in and start. This is also a versatile group allowing the coaching staff to make several adjustments and changes on the fly.
Weakness: Talent. Can anyone here cover a receiver? The corners are way, way too small, while the safeties might be too busy dealing with the running game to take care of business against the pass.
Outlook: The secondary was miserable last season giving up 250 yards per game and finishing last in the nation in pass efficiency defense. Forget about the obvious passing teams like Hawaii and New Mexico State putting up big numbers, San Jose State, Louisiana Tech and Wyoming also went nuts. The worst part of last year was how the secondary got worse as the season went on finishing up by allowing Boise State and New Mexico State combine to complete 84% of their passes for 588 yards and eight touchdowns. Now everyone returns, for good and bad, and while the overall talent level might not be good enough to stop the best of the WAC passing attacks, things can't be any worse.
Rating: 4.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters
The special teams has to be far better, and it should get a major upgrade for the kicking game with the addition of true freshman Peter Caldwell, considered one of the nation's top kicking recruits. He's 6-4 and 213 pounds with a huge leg able to connect from 50 yards without a problem.

Quarterback Leon Jackson averaged a mere 37.7 yards per punt, but he's a terrific directional kicker putting 16 inside the 20 and forcing ten fair catches. He has a good enough leg to air it out once in a while.

Kevin Robinson
is great punt returner who had a down year averaging a mere 5.3 yards per try and 20.7 yards per kickoff return. He's far better than that.

Watch Out For ... Caldwell to be all the difference. Now the offense knows it just as to get inside the 40 to generate points. Of course, that's only if he lives up to the hype.
Strength: Robinson. The coaching staff has to do more to set him up on returns. He's the type of gamebreaker the team desperately needs to make big plays to jump-start the momentum.
Weakness: Experience at placekicker. Caldwell had better be all that and a bag of donuts, but no matter what he does, he'll be far better than what the Aggies had last year.
Outlook: The USU kickers hit two of five field goals. Things will immediately be far better, and the special teams could now be a strength. Robinson is too good to not crank out a few more big returns. Jackson's average needs to get up over 40 yards per kick, but as long as he keeps pinning teams deep, things will be fine.
Rating: 6.5


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