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2014 Fierce 40 Previews: #24 Utah State

by DJ Boyer on Jul. 23, 2014

#24 Utah State Aggies

 

2013 Recap:

The first year in the Mountain West was a success as the Aggies went all the way to the Conference Title game before dropping a close one to Fresno State, and they held the high-flying Bulldogs to only 24 points. Utah State completed the campaign with a nice bowl win over Northern Illinois to go 9-5.

 

Coaching:

There was a little concern with Matt Wells being the new coach last season after Gary Andersen left for Wisconsin. Yet Wells responded with a solid 9-5 campaign and can be even better since they won 9 games with their best offensive player on the shelf for most of the year.

 

Offense

Quarterbacks/Running Backs:

Chuckie Keeton was moving along at a great clip last season before an ACL tear ended the season prematurely. Keeton was coming off a season in 2012 where he threw for 3,373 yards with 27 TD’s and 9 INT’s and added another 8 touchdowns and 619 yards on the ground. Keeton was a darkhorse for the Heisman and expectations were through the roof. Keeton was off to an impressive 18 TD and 2 INT campaign before the injury but he has had plenty of time to heal and the Heisman talk can start again. The best part for Utah State is the second best offensive player on the roster may be quarterback Darell Garretson who was pressed into duty as a freshman last season. Utah State has to feel comfortable knowing that if Keeton goes down again they have Garretson in the stable and while they'd lose the mobility factor, he is more than capable of leading Utah State to multiple victories. They'd prefer not to see him this season, but they will still have two seasons where they will be very confident with him leading the team.

Joe Hill will be running the football and he, like Keeton, is coming back from knee surgery. Hill should be fine but with Rashad Hall and Kennedy Williams in the background the Aggies have more than enough people capable of making big plays running the football.

Best Draft Prospect: Chuckie Keeton QB 5th Round 2015.

 

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:

Utah State is very excited about the passing game even though this is an area they are traditionally not known for. A clock-grinding ball-control-oriented running game with a stingy defense is the MO for this team but early indications seem to show Utah State wanting to break out of their shell this season. Utah State will utilize three wide receivers setting the table for a big play throwing the ball, but usually this is a spread formation for the running game. JoJo Natson caught 59 passes a season ago but only averaged 6.7 YPC as many of the throws were quick strikes and safe, more like extended running plays. Brandon Swindell and Ronald Butler will be the other starters but sophomore tight end Wyatt Houston may be the player capable of causing the most mismatches. We currently have him rated as a 6th round prospect for 2017 even though he caught only 7 passes last season. Houston has the look of a player that will cause problems in the open field and he is an astute blocker. Houston should wind up with at least 25 catches and 4 touchdowns this seasons as he becomes a more prominent figure in the Aggie attack.

Best Draft Prospect: Wyatt Houston TE 6th Round 2017.

 

Offensive Line:

Kevin Whimpey has the moxy and experience to provide leadership needed along the offensive line. Aside from Whimpey, who will be playing left tackle, the other four players projected as starters are all underclassmen. The coaching staff doesn’t seem vastly concerned about the state of the line. The staff has praised the quality of play thus far, and they just believe experience is all the unit needs to gain in order to achieve success. Last season Utah State had a pair of starters along the line go down to injury, and they missed either the whole season or a significant amount of time. Utah State is hoping the injury bug is behind them on offense. Taani Fisilau and Jake Simonich will be playing the right side and both players seem to be getting the most praise from the internal staff. Austin Albrecht is another player who will be a key reserve as he serves behind Whimpey and could even see some time at left guard.

Best Draft Prospect: Kevin Whimpey OT UFA 2015.

 

Defense

 

Defensive Line:

Utah State is another team that elects to go with the 3-4 front and this works due to the tremendous linebacking corps they have. The defensive line will be asked to truly open up gaps and occupy blockers more than creating havoc themselves and this plays right into the strength of the defense. B.J. Larson is a player capable of taking his talents to the next level and played at a high level a season ago. Larson logged 4 sacks last season but he is a solid all-around player who is strong against the run and can be counted on in big situations. Jordan Nielsen has a ton of experience and he will combine with JUCO transfer Edmund Faimalo to ensure defensive end has plenty of talent. Elvis Kamana-Matagi will likely platoon with Travis Seefeldt in the middle at nose guard. This is a solid unit but not filled with stars, but that will be the unit behind them on the field.

Best Draft Prospect: B.J. Larson DE 7th Round 2015.

 

Linebackers:

Alex Huerta has won an outside linebacking job as a freshman and he has the privilege of playing beside three accomplished players. The Vigil brothers Zach and Nick make up the middle while the strong side linebacker will be Kyler Fackrell, the best pro prospect this team has to offer. The three players combined for 263 tackles last season with 34 tackles for loss, 13.5 sacks, 3 interceptions, 5 forced fumbles and a pair of touchdowns. Nick technically only started four games last season but made 57 tackles last year and his 5.5 sacks leads all returning players for Utah State. Zach is a senior and was the only player over 100 tackles but Fackrell is the key. Fackrell does it all and is rated as a 2nd round prospect if he declares this season where he is only a junior. Fackrell is also in the running for Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year. There are some good players in the wings but barring injury there is no need to go over them since they are highly unlikely to see the field very often.

Best Draft Prospect: Kyler Fackrell LB 2nd Round 2015 (Junior who declare early).

 

Secondary:

This is a deep secondary with a nice blend of run stuffers and ball hawks, even after the loss of Mo Alexander through the draft. Brian Suite is the only returning starter at the free safety position and his 5 interceptions led the Aggies in 2013. Nevin Lawson is also gone at cornerback and Rashard Stewart is going to be looked at to step in and provide the leadership needed to keep the Aggies afloat in the back. There is some concern about Utah State with future classes as they lost a number of recruits to other schools when it comes to secondary prospects. We may see Utah State go back to the JUCO ranks in the coming seasons in order to ensure they are not depleted too much. Frankie Sutera takes over for Alexander at strong safety and he is a sound tackler who I suspect will be used as a blitzer in some packages for the Aggies.

Best Draft Prospect: Brian Suite S UFA 2015.

 

Special Teams:

JoJo Natson will be the punt returner while the kick return duties may be done by committee. The coverage units were outstanding a season ago and the strength of the special teams overall. Nick Diaz returns for his senior season as a kicker and he was a respectable 4-6 from beyond 40 yards so leg strength seems to be there for Utah State. Punter Jaron Bentrude averaged less than 40 YPK but his net was among the league leaders indicating good hang time and unreturnable punts. There is some room for improvement on special teams but this is not a concern for the team moving forward as it is far from a weakness.

Best Draft Prospect: JoJo Natson WR UFA 2016.

 

Schedule:

Utah State has a respectable road schedule as they open the season in Tennessee and they end it on the blue field in Boise. The home game with San Jose State leading up to the Boise season finale should provide some momentum if they win, as the last game could be for the Conference.

 

Draft Outlook:

No top level draft picks here aside from Fackrell and he could even work his way into the 1st round with an outstanding year or even stay for his senior season if he doesn’t post eye-popping stats. Utah State remains a team that is known for solid fundamental football and we are seeing more and more picks from this school coming to the NFL, and they look ready when they arrive.

 

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