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2008 Utah State Preview - Defense
Utah State LB Jake Hutton
Utah State LB Jake Hutton
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted May 12, 2008


CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Utah State Aggie Defense

Utah State Aggies

Preview 2008 - Defense

- 2008 CFN Utah State Preview | 2008 Utah State Offense
- 2008 Utah State Defense | 2008 Utah State Depth Chart
- 2007 Utah State Preview
| 2006 CFN Utah State Preview 

What you need to know:
For the second straight season the Aggies return a ton of experience with plenty of depth and lots and lots of options to play around with. Will it matter? The defense finished last in the WAC last season despite returning all 11 starters and had nothing to hang its hat on. The pass rush was non-existent, the secondary struggled, and the run defense got pushed all over the place. The linebackers should be better with Jake Hutton and Paul Igoboeli one of the league's most productive tandems, and the secondary has to improve with 11 players decent enough to see starting time. The line got a major upgrade with the addition of JUCO transfers Casey David and Magnmu Mauga for the interior, but the big move was taking top end Ben Calderwood from the outside and moving him to tackle. Now it'll be up to Gregg Clark, Darby Golden and Nathan Royster to try to improve a pass rush that generated a mere 12 sacks.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Jake Hutton, 102
Sacks: Ben Calderwood, 2.5
Interceptions: James Brindley, Roy Hurst, 3

Star of the defense: Senior LB Jake Hutton
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior DE Gregg Clark
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Kyle Gallagher
Best pro prospect: Junior DT Magnmu Mauga
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Hutton, 2) LB Paul Igboeli, 3) DT/DE Ben Calderwood
Strength of the defense: Experience, depth, linebacker
Weakness of the defense:
Pass rush, playmaking corners

Defensive Line

Projected Starters
:
Senior Ben Calderwood has spent his career on the end, and appeared to be one of the WAC's most promising linemen, but he struggled to grow into a pass rusher making 2.5 sacks and just 5.5 tackles for loss to go along with 41 tackles. While he was good, he wasn't special and now will try to replace the line's best player last year, Frank Maile, at tackle. At 6-2, and 267 pounds, Calderwood is undersized, and will get work at end, but the hope is for him to use his toughness and quickness to be more of a disruptive force.

Next to Calderwood will be JUCO transfer Casey Davis, who'll lead an interesting rotation on the inside. The 6-3, 284-pound junior was an all-star for Snow College in Ephraim, Utah, and could be a tremendous force into the backfield. While he's not a space eater, he can move.

With Calderwood moving to the inside, at least on a limited basis, that means 6-0, 256-pound sophomore Nathan Royster has to shine at right end after making six tackles as a reserve. A strong, physical player with excellent upside, he has the tools to become one of the defense's breakout stars, but he could quickly be relegated to a backup role of Calderwood moves back to end.

Senior Gregg Clark will get the first look at the left end job bringing size to the line. The former JUCO all-star defensive lineman was moved to offensive tackle early on and ended up moving back to the other side where he made five tackles. He's an athletic 6-4, 277 pounder and could be moved to tackle to bring more beef to the middle.

Projected Top Reserves: Looking to see time on the inside behind Casey Davis is JUCO transfer Magnmu Mauga, a 6-0, 296-pound bowling ball who made 80 tackles and 10.5 sacks for Grossmont College in California. A nice talent and a good get for the Aggies, he could be in the mix sooner than later if he can bring the same motor and interior pass rushing ability he showed at the lower level.

Junior Alan Bishop ended up starting for most of the season at one defensive tackle spot but got pushed to a backup role late in the year after making just ten tackles with a sack. At 6-5 and 285 pounds, he's one of the biggest bodies on the inside, and he has the most experience, but he could have a hard time finding work with the addition of the JUCO transfer tackles.

Junior Darby Golden will start out the season as a reserve, but he could quickly find his way into a starting spot after finishing with 18 tackles and a sack as a key reserve. he has good size at 6-1 and 250 pounds and excellent quickness into the backfield. Now he needs more playing time and more of a role carved out for him on the left side.

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


Linebackers

Projected Starters
:
The linebacking corps should be the strength of the team thanks to the 1-2 punch of senior Jake Hutton and junior Paul Igboeli, who finished first and second, respectively, in tackles and will be the team's leaders this year.

Hutton made 102 stops in the middle with a sack, an interception and 4.5 tackles for loss. At 6-0 and 236 pounds, he got over the foot problem that kept him down earlier in his career and he showed what he could do when healthy. He earned second-team All-WAC honors last year and should be one of the league's best run stoppers again.

The 6-0, 211-pound Igboeli made 95 tackles and eight tackles for loss on the outside after earning WAC Freshman of the Year honors two years ago. He holds up well against the run despite his size, and he's decent in pass coverage. With two years under his belt he needs to be even more disruptive and force more big plays. He'll be turned into the backfield more often from the strongside.

The emerging star of the defense is 6-0, 198-pound sophomore Kyle Gallagher, a kamikaze hitter who's tough as nails and flings his body all over the place. At his size he has to show the toughness to be able to hold up for a full season, but with his playing style he could struggle to stay healthy now that he has a bigger role. He made 47 tackles and a 1.5 tackles for loss mainly as a reserve, but he also got three starts at the Aggie position.

Projected Top Reserves: Former JUCO transfer Deshon Benton
redshirted last year and now has two years remaining. The 5-10, 240-pound junior is a former running back with excellent athleticism and much needed size on the outside behind Kyle Gallagher. While Gallagher is plenty tough, Benton could be used more on pure rushing downs.

6-2, 240-pound sophomore Jordan Glass will be the understudy in the middle behind Jake Hutton before taking over next year. He made five tackles as a reserve. While he's not all that fast, he's a big hitter who should grow into the role and be ready to hit the ground running next year.

5-7, 210-pound senior Daryl Fields might be one of the nation's smallest linebackers, but he's extremely quick and is a good producer making 27 tackles last year after coming up with 45 two years ago. He has starts under his belt in the middle but will play on the outside behind Paul Igboeli.


Watch Out For ... Gallagher to be a bit of a cult hero. At his size and with his style he should be a perfect complement to Igboeli and Hutton now that he has the full-time job.
Strength: Experience and options. How loaded with experience is the linebacking corps? Two of its better players, Devon Hall and Derrick Cumbee, moved to other positions. Hutton and Igboeli will be one of the WAC's most productive tandems.
Weakness: Big plays. Oh sure, the tackling stats will be there because the corps has to spend all its time cleaning everything up, but there aren't enough plays made in the backfield, no sacks, and almost no takeaways. Just coming up with the stop isn't enough.
Outlook: The Aggies are loaded with experience and options with six productive linebackers ready to form a good rotation and with Hutton and Igboeli two stalwarts to work around. Making more stops at the line, instead of ten yards down the field, would be nice, and more help for the secondary would also be a plus. This is a very smallish, very quick corps that has to hold up better against the run.
Rating: 4.5

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters
:
The safeties should be solid if experience counts for anything. Senior Caleb Taylor is build more like a big corner at 6-3 and 193 pounds, but he's a good hitter and athletic enough to move around to make plays. He's not a blazer, but he gets to the ball and is good in pass coverage making two picks and breaking up seven passes. He was fourth on the team with 81 tackles and was excellent in getting into the backfield with a team-leading 8.5 tackles for loss.

Junior James Brindley plays much bigger than his 5-10, 195-pound size. The team's third leading tackler with 84 stops will have some competition this year for the strong safety spot, but he emerged as a key all-around playmaker even if he was a bit out of position. A corner by nature, he tied for the team lead with three pick to go along with three broken up passes.

Sophomore Chris Randle got more and more of a role at right corner as last season went on, with two starts late in the season, and now he'll get the starting job on the left side. While he's not big at 5-10 and 180 pounds, he's a good tackler and can move. After making 27 tackles with three broken up passes in a reserve role, he should put up big numbers now that the job is hit.

There will be a battle for the starting job on the right side with Kejon Murphy likely to get the first look again. He started the first three games of last year but struggled to stay healthy. The diminutive 5-8, 160-pound junior is extremely tough and is a good tackler with 31 stops with three broken up passes.


Projected Top Reserves: Former JUCO transfer Roy Hurst is neck-and-neck with Kejon Murphy for the starting right cornerback job. He came to Utah State as a strong safety prospect, and made 36 tackles and tied for the team-lead with three picks, and he started the final two games at free safety. The 5-9, 193-pound senior is one of the team's better athletes.

As good as James Brindley has been, he'll be pushed for the strong safety job by 6-3, 215-pound senior De'Von Hall, one of the team's top linebackers last season. Hall finishing fifth on the team with 69 tackles and three tackles for loss with an interception, and now he'll bring his size and big hitting ability to the secondary where he should be an intimidating force.

While Chris Randle appears to be the man at left corner, he'll be pushed by senior Joshua Taylor, an experienced but limited veteran who started in eight games last year and made 42 tackles with a pick and six broken up passes. He has decent speed and good size at 6-0 and 176 pounds, but he didn't make enough plays.

5-8, 175-pound senior Marquise Charles stared every game two years ago and was the main man throughout part of last year on the right side making 23 tackles and two interception. While he has the experience to start a times, or at least see time as a nickelback, he hasn't used his speed enough to be a top defender.

While he'll likely be out of the overall mix early on with so many other corner options, 5-9, 182-pound sophomore Geno Odong saw plenty of playing time late last year finishing with 38 tackles and an interception. One of the team's fastest players, he'll end up finding playing time somewhere on the field in some capacity.

Watch Out For ... plenty of lineup changes. With so many options and so much experience, this versatile group will be moved around early and often in search of the best combination. The starting foursome could change every week.
Strength: Options. There are ten players with meaningful experience and another option in JUCO transfer free safety Chris Williams who'll see time, too. The coaching staff won't have problems finding options to plug into spots.
Weakness: Talent. While the overall interception total went up, the overall production of the pass defense didn't. Considering the defense didn't do much against the run, the defensive backs shouldn't have also been allowing 254 yards per game.
Outlook: For the second straight season the secondary is loaded with experience and has plenty of options to play around with. Now the defensive backs have to stop someone. There will be competition at every spot, so if one player doesn't get the job done, someone else will step in. The safeties should be better than the corners, but they're going to spend all their time dealing with the running game.
Rating: 4.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters
:
The kicking game got a big boost with top recruit Peter Caldwell hitting 13 of 21 field goals with three of his kicks getting blocked. Consistency is a big of an issue, but eventually he'll start bombing away. The 6-4, 240 pounder has a big enough leg to hit from 50, but junior Chris Ulinski will get his chances and will likely serve as the main kickoff artist. Caldwell will also take over for Leon Jackson, the former quarterback who was a serviceable punter. Caldwell has to start using that big leg to air it out.

There's no replacing Kevin Robinson, one of the NCAA's all-time greatest kick returners. Kejon Murphy has the speed to eventually be a good punt returner, but Robinson averaged 18.9 yards per try. The Aggies averaged 25.62 yards per kickoff return, fourth best in the nation, with Curtis Marsh and Murphy each getting their shot.

Watch Out For ... Caldwell to be better. He had a ton of pressure heaped on him as a true freshman and he came up with a nice year. He's one of the team's best talented and he'll be used without hesitation from 50 yards and in.
Strength: The return game. Yeah, Kevin Robinson was a special player, but he got a little bit of help and some good blocking. The returners won't be as good, but things won't fall completely off the map.
Weakness: Coverage teams. The Aggies were fourth in the nation in kickoff returns averaging 25.6 yards per try, and they gave up 28.1 yards per kickoff. They also allowed a whopping 11 yards per punt return.
Outlook: The Aggie placekicking was night and day better with the addition of Peter Caldwell, and now it should be better while the return game will be worse. USU has to be far, far better on the coverage teams; the team isn't good enough to give up field position as much as it does.
Rating: 6