Countdown To Kickoff - Eight Days: 2012 Utah State Football Outlook
Aug. 22, 2012
LOGAN, Utah -
In 2012, its final season in the Western Athletic Conference, Utah State has its sights set not only a league championship but another bowl appearance as well which would mark just the second time in school history that USU has played in consecutive bowl games, joining the 1960 Sun Bowl and 1961 Gotham Bowl teams.
To achieve its goals during the 2012 season, Coach Andersen will look to a roster that returns 19 starters (O-8, D-6, S-5) and 44 lettermen (O-19, D-20, S-5) from a 2011 team that won its final five regular season games to finish with a 7-6 record and a 5-2 WAC mark to tie for second in the league.
Keeton, who became the first-ever true freshman to start at quarterback for Utah State in last season's opener at defending BCS National Champion Auburn, started the first eight games of the year before suffering an injury at Hawai`i. Kennedy then started the final five games of the season and led Utah State to five-straight WAC wins and its first bowl game since 1997.
As a true freshman, Keeton completed 60.9 percent of his passes (106-174) for 1,200 yards (133.3 ypg) and 11 touchdowns with just two interceptions in nine games. The freshman signal-caller also finished fourth on the team in rushing with 293 yards on 68 carries (4.3 ypc) with four touchdowns. Keeton finished the year ranking fourth in the WAC and 46th in the nation with a passing efficiency rating of 137.41. In his first-ever start, Keeton was named Rivals.com National Freshman of the Week as he was 21-of-30 passing for 213 yards, to go along with 33 rushing yards and two touchdowns in Utah State's 42-38 loss at No. 19 Auburn. Four games later, Keeton was named an honorable mention national Quarterback of the Week by CollegeFootballPerformance.com and the WAC's Player of the Week as he threw for 228 yards on 15-of-20 passing and a school-record tying five touchdowns in the Aggies' dominating 63-19 home win against Wyoming.
Kennedy completed 69.1 percent of his passes (76-110) for 972 yards (121.5 ypg) with 11 touchdowns and just four interceptions as a junior college transfer. He was also fifth on the team in rushing with 239 yards on 55 carries (4.3 ypc). Kennedy would have led the conference and ranked fifth in the country in passing efficiency at 169.04 percent but did not meet the required minimum of 15 attempts per game.
Under Keeton and Kennedy's signal-calling in 2011, Utah State established new offensive school records for total offense (5,945 yards), rushing yards (3,675), total points (437) and total touchdowns (60).
Joining Utah State's two proven starters here are will be a high school standout in Jeff Manning who was named the Region 11 Offensive MVP as a senior at Logan (Utah) High School in 2008, before serving a two-year LDS Church Mission.
Unfortunately, Utah State must replace its two most productive backs here from a year ago in 2012 NFL Draft selections Robert Turbin (Seattle Seahawks) and Michael Smith (Tampa Bay Buccaneers). Turbin ended his junior season as the WAC's Offensive Player of the Year, while Smith was USU's Offensive MVP in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, along with earning Offensive MVP honors for the North squad in the Players All-Star Classic.
Despite losing its two most productive backs from the 2011 season, Utah State still boasts plenty of backfield talent on its roster this fall in senior Kerwynn Williams, junior Robert Marshall and sophomore Joe Hill. Williams, who has played in 36 games, including five starts in his first three years on campus, has career totals of 164 carries for 1,003 yards (6.1 ypc) with seven touchdowns. Marshall has played in 22 games as an Aggie and has rushed for 207 yards on 46 attempts (4.5 ypc) with two touchdowns, while Hill saw action in seven games as a redshirt freshman in 2011 and finished the year with 24 yards on seven carries (3.4 ypc) with one score.
Utah State has another talented tight end who could also emerge as one of the best in the WAC at his position in junior D.J. Tialavea. Tialavea caught seven passes for 74 yards (10.6 ypc) with one touchdown as a sophomore appearing in all 13 games and has played in 22 games during his Aggie career.
Joining Bartlett and Tialavea here is junior Brad Theurer and sophomore Keegan Andersen. Theurer has played in 18 games during his first two years in the program and Andersen played in all 13 games as a redshirt freshman catching one pass for six yards.
In 2011, Austin led Utah State with 34 receptions for 465 yards (13.7 ypc) with six touchdowns, including game-winners in the final minute against both San Jose State and New Mexico State. Jacobs ended the season with 20 receptions for 218 yards (10.9 ypc) and two touchdowns, while also carrying the ball seven times for 49 yards (7.0 ypc).
With the experience of Austin and Jacobs returning, Utah State must still replace a pair of productive wideouts from a year ago in Stanley Morrison and Eric Moats, who combined for 46 receptions for 631 yards and four touchdowns.
Other returning letterwinners who are expected to provide significant contributions in 2012 include juniors Travis Reynolds and Travis Van Leeuwen and redshirt freshman Brandon Swindall. Reynolds has played in 17 games in his first two years at Utah State and has caught 12 passes for 100 yards (8.3 ypc), while Van Leeuwen has appeared in 23 games overall with 31 catches for 385 yards (12.4 ypc) to go along with two touchdowns. As a prep senior in 2010 at Millwood High School in Oklahoma City, Okla., Swindall was named a Parade All-American with 46 catches for 1,204 yards (26.2 ypc) with 17 touchdowns.
Headlining this group is junior center Tyler Larsen who is on the preseason Rimington Trophy Watch list for the second consecutive season after earning first-team all-WAC honors as a sophomore. Overall, Larsen has started all 25 games during his collegiate career.
Joining Larsen as returning starters on the offensive line in 2012 are senior right tackle Oscar Molina-Sanchez who has started 20 games (13 consecutive) and played in 28 during his Aggie career, and junior right guard Eric Schultz who has started 19 consecutive games and played in 24 overall. Joining this group of veterans is junior guard Jaime Markosian who started one game a year ago, but played in all 13 at both guard and tackle.
Gone from this group are a trio of four-year lettermen in Funaki Asisi, Philip Gapelu (who earned first-team all-WAC honors in 2011) and Robert Hill, and the leading candidates to fill the void on the left side of the line are Markosian at guard and redshirt sophomore Kevin Whimpey at tackle. Other players here with experience in the program include sophomores Josh Larmay and Bryce Walker, and freshmen Taani Fisilau and Jorden Mattinson who both redshirted a year ago, while junior Kyle Whimpey was on the team but did not play. Another player who figures into the mix here will be true freshman Logan Molohifo'ou who participated in spring practice after returning from an LDS Church Mission.
Despite the loss of Garner and Koskan, Utah State does welcome back some experience and plenty of size on the defensive front highlighted by the return of senior Al Lapuaho who started 12 games at end a year ago and finished the season with 31 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and one quarterback sack.
Joining Lapuaho as returning letterwinners here include senior Havea Lasike, junior Connor Williams, and sophomores B.J. Larsen, Elvis Kamana-Matagi and Tevita Vaifoou. Lasike and Williams both played in all 13 games in 2011, as Lasike registered 17 tackles to go along with 1.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks, while Williams finished the year with 28 tackles, 3.0 tackles for loss and 2.0 sacks. Vaifoou also played in all 13 games for Utah State a year ago and had nine tackles to go along with 0.5 tackles for loss and one fumble recovery.
During the 2011 season, Utah State's defense ended the year ranking first in the WAC and 50th in the nation in total defense (366.23 ypg), second in the WAC and 31st in the nation in rushing defense (127.70 ypg), second in the WAC and 53rd nationally in tackles for loss (5.92 pg), third in the WAC and 48th in the nation in pass efficiency defense (125.58), and third in the WAC and 59th in the nation in sacks (1.92 pg).
Also gone here is Kyle Gallagher who played in 49 games during his career, including 33 starts. As a senior, Gallagher ranked second on the team with 100 tackles to go along with 4.0 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and one interception.
Even with the loss of Wagner and Gallagher, Utah State appears to be well-equipped to continue to excel at linebacker with a plethora of talent.
Highlighting Utah State's linebacker group in 2012 will be senior Bojay Filimoeatu who is moving from the defensive line to an outside linebacker position for his senior season. As a down lineman during his junior campaign, Filimoeatu started all 13 games and ended the season with 41 tackles, including 11.0 for loss to go along with 3.0 sacks and one fumble recovery.
Another starter returning here is sophomore Tavaris McMillian who played in all 13 games a year ago with seven starts and registered 45 total tackles including 7.5 for loss.
Doughty saw action in all 13 games in 2011 and posted 26 total tackles to go along with 3.0 tackles for loss. Dabb also appeared in all 13 games and had five tackles, while Vigil played in four games and recorded four tackles to go along with 1.0 tackle for loss.
Other returning players who should see playing time here include senior Terrell Thompson, and redshirt freshmen Jefferson Court and Kyler Fackrell. Thompson played in just two games in 2011 and registered four tackles before suffering a season-ending injury. Court was a three-time all-state selection at Alta (Utah) High School, while Fackrell earned 5A-I all-region honors as a prep senior at Mesa (Ariz.) High School.
Overall, the only defensive back that Utah State must replace is Alfred Bowden who started the final five games of the season at free safety and ended the year with 45 tackles, including 1.5 for loss, and three pass break-ups to go along with one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.
As for its returning starters, Brady started all 13 games at strong safety in 2011 and finished the year third on the team with 86 tackles, including 1.0 for loss. Brady also had six pass break-ups during the season and forced one fumble.
Lawson also started every game for Utah State during the 2011 season at cornerback and was fourth on the team with 73 tackles. He also had one of Utah State's four interceptions during the year and added 10 pass break-ups to go along with a forced fumble and fumble recovery.
Utah State's third returning starter in the defensive backfield is Robertson who started 10 games at cornerback in 2011 and led the team with 12 pass break-ups, while ranking fifth overall with 48 tackles.
Along with its three returning starters, Utah State also returns seven other letterwinners here in seniors Terrence Alston, Quinton Byrd, Will Davis and Jamaine Olson, junior Cameron Sanders and sophomores Rashard Stewart and Frankie Sutera.
In 2011, Davis started three games at cornerback and played in all 13 as he recorded 35 tackles, including 3.5 for loss and six pass break-ups. Alston and Byrd also both appeared in all 13 games a year ago and recorded 12 tackles apiece. Sutera played in 10 games and had six stops, while Sanders had four tackles in the final four games of the season after recovering from injury. Olson added four stops as he appeared in 11 games during the year, and Stewart had six tackles in 11 appearances in 2010 before redshirting last season.
As a junior in 2011, Williams ranked seventh in the WAC and 79th in FBS with 22.69 yards per return on 36 kicks. Williams also returned seven punts in 2011 for 98 yards (14.0 ypr).
Joining Williams as a kick/punt returner will be senior wide receiver Chuck Jacobs who had 18 kick returns in 2011 for 441 yards (24.5 ypr).
Along with its talented return group back, Utah State also returns all of its specialist starters from the 2011 season in senior punter Tyler Bennett, junior placekicker Josh Thompson, sophomore kicker Jacob Haueter, sophomore long snapper Nate Needham as well as sophomore holder Jaron Bentrude.
During his junior year, Bennett ranked third in the WAC and 16th in FBS with a 43.83 punting average. He finished the year with 2,542 punt yards on 58 attempts with a career-long of 67 and 15 punts of 50-plus yards. Bennett also had 21 punts downed inside the opponent's 20-yard line.
Thompson set single-season school records for extra-points made (57) and attempted (58) during his sophomore season, while his extra-point percentage (.983) in 2011 ranks fifth all-time at USU for a single-season. Thompson also made 60.0 percent (6-10) of his field goals last year with a long of 43 yards.
Overall, Thompson ranks fourth at Utah State for career extra-point percentage (.983) and seventh in career extra points made (57). During his sophomore season, Thompson ranked sixth in the WAC in field goals per game (0.46) and 12th in the WAC in scoring (5.77).
During the 2011 season, Utah State ranked fourth in the WAC and 29th in FBS in net punting (38.20 ypp), third in the WAC and 39th in the nation in kickoff returns (22.80 ypr), and seventh in the WAC and 67th in the nation in punt returns (7.81 ypr). Overall, Utah State's net punting average improved 49 spots in the NCAA FBS rankings from 2010, ranking No. 29 in 2011 with a 38.20 net average after ranking No. 78 in 2010 with a net average of 35.49.