Utah State football 2017 position previews

Copy of EB-USU-vs-AF-First-Half-1

A version of this story ran in the Utah State Football Preview magazine, produced by the Utah Statesman.

Quarterbacks

The Aggies’ success this season will largely prosper or falter with the play of senior Kent Myers. Currently sitting at ninth on the all-time passing yards list at USU, Myers will be relied on to do battle with five other starting senior quarterbacks in the Mountain Division. He’ll also be asked to do so with an entirely new offensive system implemented by new offensive coordinator David Yost. The new system may open things up further for Myers both through the air and on the ground. Myers holds the USU single-game record for rushing yards by a QB (191 yards against Colorado State in 2015) and looks to feature heavily in the Aggie rushing attack this year after ranking as the second-leading rusher one year ago. Myers is also Utah State’s all-time leader in interception rate, with only 14 interceptions on 679 career attempts. In 2015, Myers had a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 16:3 but saw that ratio drop to only 10:8 last season, albeit with an uptick while throwing over 160 more attempts and more than 800 more yards. For Myers to fully deliver on the potential so blatantly shown since his injury-induced emergency during his freshman year, he’ll have to return to the form that saw him throw three multi-touchdown games with zero interceptions. With last year’s backup QB, Damion Hobbs, converting this year to tight end, Utah State will trot out redshirt freshman Jordan Love as the primary backup. Junior DJ Nelson, incoming JC transfer sophomore Zach Larson, and true freshman Henry Colombi round out the quarterbacks crew for the Aggies.

Running Backs

It has been four years since Utah State last produced a 1,000-yard rusher. Then, Joey Demartino rushed for 1221 yards as a senior. This year’s best bet to end the drought is senior Tonny Lindsey, who led the team in rushing last season. Lindsey amassed 763 yards on only 148 carries and could look to eclipse the century mark with a heavier workload this season. Lindsey topped 100 yards in a game only twice last season, at Colorado State and Nevada, but received 12 or fewer carries in seven contests. With a yards per carry average of 5.2 last season, Lindsey would need only 192 carries at the same pace to top 1,000 yards on a season. The last Aggie running back to top 192 carries in a season, consequently, was also Demartino in 2013. Alongside Lindsey, senior LaJuan Hunt and junior Justen Hervey are looking to make an impact in the backfield as well. Hunt led the Aggies in rushing three seasons ago before relinquishing the title to Devantae Mays and Lindsey and subsequent seasons. Two freshmen round out the depth chart in SJ Fehoko and the redshirted Morian Walker.

Wide Receivers/TE

Utah State will have several deep threats and mismatches-in-waiting at their disposal within the offense. Last season’s leading receiver, junior Ron’Quavion Tarver, returns looking to improve in his second season at the FBS level. Alongside Tarver stands a second deep threat in senior Jaren Colston-Green who boasts a yards per catch average of 29.3 from last season. In Yost’s new offense, receivers will look to continue to stretch the field. “A lot of our stuff works off of the vertical game… every guy can adjust their route depending on what they see,” coach Yost explains. “You’ve got to find the open space.” Taking advantage of that open space underneath will be players ranging from small speed-demons like redshirt freshman Jordan Nathan and sophomore Gerald Bright to larger targets like junior Zach Van Leeuwen and seniors Braelon Roberts and Alex Byers. The tight ends will add a major dose of size to the receiving group, as no tight end on the roster registers lower than 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds. The group is led by redshirt sophomore Dax Raymond, who was named to the John Mackey Award Watch List, an award given annually to the most outstanding tight end in college football. Former QB Damion Hobbs will convert to tight end this year while junior Emerson Woods joins the Aggies as a JC transfer. A trio of freshman in Tyler Thornock, Travis Boman, and Carson Terrell round out the tight ends. After totaling just under 350 yards receiving last season, the tight ends look to make their mark on the offense this season. “They’re just big wide receivers to us and that’s how we’re going to use them,” coach Yost said during fall practices of the TE group.

Offensive Line

The Aggies return only one starter from last year’s group. Junior KJ Uluave and senior Preston Brooksby are the only lineman with any starting experience heading into the season. Last season’s group ranked 93rd in the nation in sacks allowed, allowing 2.5 per game. With such little experience returning, USU will rely heavily on freshman and junior college transfers to turn around the line to the top 50 ranking it posted in the same stat only one season prior. JC transfers Roman Andrus and Rob Castaneda arrive as possible plug-and-play options that could contribute to just that. Andrus lists as a 6-4, 280 lbs tackle while Castaneda, who also spent time at Texas Tech, comes in at 6-4 and 305 lbs. Junior Sean Taylor, a redshirt last year after transferring from junior college, also appears to factor heavily into the rotation. Quin Ficklin joined Utah State in the spring after playing on the line at BYU last season and projects as the team’s center. Freshmen Alfred Edwards, Ty Shaw, Demytrick ali’fua, Viliamu McMoore, and Chandler Dolphin look to provide depth through the line.
Defensive Line

The secret to Utah State’s recent run of defensive prestige has relied heavily on a stout run defense. From 2011 through 2016, the Aggies finished within the top 50 rush defenses in the country each season. Over that same time, USU went 43-24. For the team to return to the success of recent years, the defensive line will have to return to its elite form as well. This year’s squad boasts little experience, but oozes with potential. The group will still be led by two of its more experienced members in senior Ian Tagiai and sophomoe Mohelika Uasike. The pair combined for eight starts and 48 tackles last season. Supporting the effort will be junior Adewale Adeoye, who played in seven games a year ago, and JC transfer Devon Anderson. Junior Gasetoto Schuster looks to also build on his 2016 campaign where he totaled 18 tackles over 11 games. Junior Jake Templeton and sophomore Christopher ‘Unga are the only two other players with in-game experience. Freshmen Logan Lee, Caden Anderson, Jake Pitcher, Keith Tambe, Nami Tuitu’u, and Ritisoni Fata round out the defensive front.

Linebackers

Of the previous nine Aggies drafted into the NFL, one third have been linebackers. With names like Vigil, Fackrell, and Wagner preceding them, the pressure to perform and lead the USU defense from the linebacker position is daunting. This season, the group looks to live up to the billing of one Utah State’s most storied positions. Returning from last season are junior Derek Larsen and senior Alex Huerta, who combined last season to start 14 games and total 88 tackles on the year. Junior Chas Christiansen and sophomore Just Te’i both return with starting experience as well. A number of JC transfers also arrive to reinforce the group as juniors Suli Tamaivena and Louy Compton come to Logan poised to contribute to the defense. The corps also runs deep, as junior Chasen Andersen and senior Patrick Miranda also return with in-game experience for the Aggies. A quartet of sophomores are also available to provide depth as Dalton Baker, Braden Harris, Mason Tobeck, and Mason Gajkowski look to prove their worth and climb the depth chart this season. A plethora of freshmen also stand at the ready in David Woodward, Troy Murray, Daniel Langi, Kevin Meitzenheimer, and Jamaal Evans.

Secondary

Matt Halton

Perhaps the best position group entering the season, the secondary has high expectations to meet. Jalen Davis became the first cornerback in school history to start a season opener as a true freshman. After receiving honorable mention to the All-MW team in 2015, Davis was absent during award season and will look to return with a stellar senior season. After from BYU in 2015, senior Dallin Leavitt became an almost instantaneous vocal and spiritual leader for the team. In his junior season, Leavitt recorded 57 tackles and three interceptions, leading all returning Aggies in both categories. Junior Jontrell Rocquemore also returns after tallying 39 tackles and two INTs one year ago. Junior Gaje Ferguson also returns with starting experience at the safety position to solidify an impressive back end of the defense. Senior Westley Bailey ranked second on the team last season with four pass break ups and will look to further improve in his final season. Junior Deante Fortenberry arrives as a JC transfer and looks to provide depth alongside sophomores Cameron Haney, Chance Parker, and junior Aaron Wade. A slew of freshman wait in the wings in Jarrod Green, Jay Brown, Zahodri Jackson, Ja’Marcus Ingram, Zach Swenson, Braxton Gunther, and Chase Nelson.

Special Teams

Utah State has several holes to fill on special teams. The Aggies’ leading kicker of one year ago is gone, as are the top kickoff and punt returners. Gerald Bright is the most experienced returner on the roster, having returned nine kickoffs with a 20.3 yard per return average. Jordan Nathan, a shifty freshman wide receiver, also may receive play as a returner. Running backs Lajuan Hunt, Justin Hervey, and Tonny Lindsey also served as returners in sparing roles last season and could see the same action this year. At kicker, the future looks to be Dominik Eberle. The sophomore from Germany went 3-5 on field goals last season, missing only on two 40+ yard attempts, with a long of 43 yards as part of a perfect 3-3 day at Nevada. Punter Aaron Dalton averaged over 41 yards per punt as a freshman in 2015, but saw his averages drop to under 38 in his sophomore campaign. Much of that drop can be traced back to punt coverage. The Aggies allowed an average of yards per punt return last season, fourth-worst in the country. Dalton and the coverage team will look to right the ship this season as part of a special teams hoping to rebound after a disappointing season.


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