Utah State’s impressive streak of six consecutive bowl appearances came to an end last season, as the Aggies stumbled to 3-9. Getting back to the postseason could be a difficult task for head coach Matt Wells and company with only eight starters returning. Both the offensive and defensive lines will look completely different and Utah State has to do a better job of protecting leads and closing out games. With a non-conference schedule that features road games against Wisconsin and Wake Forest as well as a visit from BYU, the Aggies’ bowl hopes will likely be determined by how well they fare in conference play.
Previewing Utah State Football’s Offense for 2017
Developing an offensive line will be vital after losing four starters, three of whom had earned All-Mountain West honors during their careers. Veteran quarterback Kent Myers is back, but he needs better protection. Three junior college linemen will be counted on, along with returners Preston Brooksby and KJ Uluave.
The Aggies rushed for more than 2,000 yards as a team for the eighth straight season. Running back Tonny Lindsey Jr. filled in for injured Devante Mays and rushed for 763 yards, while Myers picked up 449 yards on the ground to go with his 2,389 yards passing. Running backs LaJuan Hunt and Justen Hervey have seen action and will add punch to the rushing attack, as will junior college transfer Eltoro Allen.
New offensive coordinator David Yost will tweak the attack some by speeding up play and opening up the pass game.
“Our passing game is going to be simpler,” coach Matt Wells says. “We are going to play with more tempo and hopefully more efficiency, possessions and points. ... We have a lot of game experience back at receiver. We are going to play a lot of receivers in this offense.”
All-league tight end Wyatt Houston is gone, but Dax Raymond has coaches excited. Wide receivers Ron’quavion Tarver, Braelon Roberts and Jaren Colston-Green give Myers plenty of targets. Quarterback Damion Hobbs has moved to tight end.
Previewing Utah State Football’s Defense for 2017
Like the trenches on offense, the Aggies’ D is going through some rebuilding up front as three starters are gone, along with two starting linebackers. The top three tacklers from a year ago have moved on.
“Overall, I think we are very talented in the secondary and at outside linebacker,” Wells says. “The focus is the defensive line.”
Safety Dallin Leavitt made an immediate impact last season after transferring from BYU. He is the leading tackler back with 57 and also led the team in interceptions with three. He missed several games because of injury in 2016.
“He (Leavitt) is one of the best safeties in the Mountain West,” Wells says. “He is smart, gets us lined up, has the ability to blitz, great open-field tackler and an emotional leader.”
Cornerback Jalen Davis has started all 35 games he has played in. Safety Jontrell Rocquermore also brings experience to the secondary. Alex Huerta and Derek Larsen will anchor the linebacking corps.
Another focus of the defense: creating turnovers. The Aggies had just 10 in 2016. Only three teams had fewer.
Previewing Utah State Football’s Specialists for 2017
Placekicker Dominik Eberle made 3-of-5 field goal attempts as a freshman. He will be pushed in preseason camp. The Aggies ranked 125th in the nation in net punting in 2016 with a 33.4-yard average. That needs to improve.
USU’s streak of five straight seasons with at least six wins and a trip to a bowl game ended last season with a 3–9 thud. The Aggies couldn’t close out games, suffering five Mountain West losses by a combined 29 points. Several of those setbacks came after leading by double digits in the second half.
The Mountain Division is by far the tougher of the two sides in the Mountain West, so the Aggies will have to be quite a bit better to make a significant move in the standings. The non-conference schedule is tough — with trips to Wisconsin and Wake Forest to go along with a home date vs. BYU — but Utah State catches a break by playing San Jose State and UNLV from the West Division. Still, getting to six wins will be a challenge.
National Ranking: 97
MW Mountain Prediction: 6
(Kent Myers photo courtesy of Utah State Media Relations)