LOGAN, Utah - Utah State football head coach Matt Wells, along with senior running back Joe Hill and senior linebacker Zach Vigil, held a press conference Monday to open the 2014 season and preview its season-opener at Tennessee. A complete transcript of Wells, Hill's and Vigil's remarks can be found below.
Head Coach Matt Wells
"Welcome back. It's game week! The kids walked in early this morning, excited to start our meetings off with Tennessee and game week. We as a program, as a staff and a team, are excited to go play in as historic a venue as Neyland Stadium. Some prime players and coaches have played there. Just to go play in that checkerboard end zone is pretty cool for these kids to go in there. They've seen plenty of SEC games on TV and heard about them, so it's pretty neat. Not lost is the fact that Utah State has only had one win against an SEC team, and that was before I was born. We understand what kind of challenge we're going up against. Knowing that, we'll prepare to play our very best."
"Tennessee, as I look at them on offense starting out, Justin Worley is a kid that is one of the most experienced returning quarterbacks in the league. I know they've had some attrition at quarterback, but the kid has had a lot of starts. This won't be his first rodeo. He's very accurate and can distribute the ball. He's got a lot of guys to distribute it to. Tennessee is known as `Wide Receiver University' and I don't think I'd argue that. They have 11 first-round draft picks in the last 40 years, at wide receiver. That's unbelievable. There may be four more on this roster. We talk about Marquez North. Von Pearson is a very talented slot, similar to JoJo Natson. Josh Malone, it goes without saying is tremendously talented. He had 180-some yards in the spring game with three touchdowns. He lit it up, unstoppable. The guy is Mr. Tennessee Football. That's a big time honor in a very good state of high school football. There are two Mr. Tennessee Footballs, the other being Jalen Hurd from two years ago. You watch that kid in their spring game and the guy looks like Eddie George. I mean that sincerely. He's a tall, strong, powerful back. When he runs behind his pads, he'll be a load to bring down. Marlin (Lane) will probably start, or at least get a lot of playing time. He's an experienced player for them on offense. He's a good back. I'm sure they are happy with their running back and receiver situation. That is a strength for them."
"You look at them on defense and A.J. Johnson is everywhere on tape. It doesn't matter what game you pull up, No. 45 is there on the screen. The guy needs to be accounted for or he'll be all-SEC by the end of Sunday. He's a good player. Jordan Williams, the D-end is a good player, you see him all over the tape. The back end is led by both safeties, they're very experienced and have played in a lot of games the last two years. That gives them, I would assume, good confidence in their defense going into a game against us."
On the national Sunday broadcast:
"First of all, you know that the coverage you're going to get is nationwide. We're going to be in a lot of living rooms. There are going to be a lot of programs wrapping up their preparation on Sunday. We're going to be on every TV set in every football complex in America. Every college football team is going to be watching us. To be able to play in that atmosphere, in front of that audience is just an opportunity more than anything to expose our program and show the country what we've done. This is a brand new team, I've said that all along. It's a brand new team, expectations continue to remain high and we want that. It's just another opportunity to go do it."
On the feelings toward the team overall compared to last year:
"I think we have maybe a few more weapons on the perimeter, offensively and at running back. But they're not proven, they haven't done it yet. I look at the secondary and know that we lost three guys to the NFL and that scares the heck out of me. We've got good, talented players, but they haven't done it yet. I like the front seven on defense. I like a lot of those guys returning and I think we've plugged in some holes there on the D-Line and at linebacker. I feel good about that. The thing is, in any opener there's always uncertainty. It doesn't matter if you're playing at home, on the road or against any opponent, they have the same questions as we do about certain kids. We'll see what kids show up, where the venue and the stage doesn't phase them. The team that has less of those happening probably has a better chance of winning."
On Daniel Gray, a transfer from Tennessee:
"He's played really well in camp. It will be his first start as a Utah State Aggie. I'm sure there will be mixed emotions for him going in. He needs to be able to control those and play each snap and move on and have success. He better have a short mentality at cornerback in any game. I'm sure he'll have some mixed emotions, but he's played well the last couple weeks of training camp. He's known since the minute he walked in here that this was the opening game."
On Chuckie Keeton's participation at quarterback camps this summer:
"He went to work on some lower body mechanics and get a little bit different of a perspective. He hasn't changed much. How much that helped, I don't know. He's throwing the ball really well. His footwork continues to get better. It's not where we want it to be, but as a quarterback it never is. It's everything lower body. Every single day we're talking to him about his footwork and all that. The other thing it gave him is a little bit of exposure to other quarterbacks in the country, being able to go to the Manning Academy. You put yourself in that surrounding with elite quarterbacks from around the country and you come away knowing that you rightfully belong in that category, and I think he does."
On if Chuckie Keeton is any different:
"I think he's a little bit further ahead mentally in our offense. I think he's playing faster and everything he does pre-snap is a little more advanced. He feels a little more comfortable in everything that we're doing."
On preparing for the Neyland environment:
"In a practice environment and when we close practice especially, you're not going to have the people. We practice with music anyway. I try to push it right on the edge of breaking those speakers. We get that dial at max volume. Rocky Top has been playing, crowd noise has been playing, plus a little mix of what we usually do. We just try to concentrate that on the offense and the kicking game, but not much more than we have in the past when we've gone into these environments."
On any standouts from the past week with game preparation:
"The two that stick out to me this last week on defense are LT Filiaga and Jalen Davis. Jalen continues to play at a really high level and is playing with a lot of confidence. Those two guys will play a lot of snaps on Sunday."
Senior Running Back Joe Hill
Thoughts on fall camp:
"I feel like camp went really well, it was a grind. On the offensive side, we really found out how much depth we have at each position. I feel like we did a great job of picking up the plays and getting our chemistry together. I feel like it's going to help a lot and we're ready for this week. We're really excited. I remember when Tennessee was like 300 days away and now it's only six days. It's crazy but we're excited."
On at what point in the rehab process he knew his knee was going to be okay:
"I would have to say about the 10th month, so about a month ago or so, it felt great. During our first scrimmage, just going out there and getting tackled and everything took away the mental part of it. I got hit a couple times and I've felt great after that. My knee feels 100% now, I can really say that."
On if wearing the knee brace affects him at all:
"No, I've gotten used to it. I downgraded to a smaller brace so it's a much tighter fit and I can move my knee and leg much better than with the bigger one."
On what he sees from the Tennessee defense:
"Based on the film that we watched from last year they were pretty big and look pretty physical. One player that stuck out to me was No. 45. He's a good player and I feel like we have to challenge him."
On what it's going to take the get over the hump and win one of these big-time games:
"We just have to finish. I feel like in all the other big games we didn't finish at all. We need this game and I feel we can get this game if we just come out with tenacity and don't back down at all. This time we've got to just finish."
On his feeling with where the offense sits now:
"I feel like we have a lot more depth than last year. The wide receivers are really dangerous and the running backs have worked really hard, we've got some good running backs. LaJuan Hunt has worked hard along with Rashad Hall and Kennedy Williams. We're all just going to combine and lead behind Chuckie Keeton, let him lead and work together."
On what he's telling the less experienced backs about what games are like:
"Through camp we've worked so hard and practice is so fast that once you get to a game it slows down so much. You just have to get used to the environment and the atmosphere. We're going to Tennessee where there are over 100,000 fans. You've just got to keep your nerves. You've done this your whole life, don't focus on what's happening around you, just focus on what's happening on the field."
On the group of blockers in front of him:
"The linemen have come a long way. Kevin Whimpey has been working with them, getting the chemistry down and everything. I feel that they're going to do a great job. They still have to get the first game out of the way experience wise at Tennessee, but I believe in them."
On what he expects from the Tennessee program:
"They've been good in years past, but we've been there before with Auburn. It's a big game, but we can't look that much into it, you've just got to go out there and play at the end of the day. It doesn't matter who's on the other side, it's football at the end of the day. That's the approach we're taking."
Senior Linebacker Zach Vigil
Thoughts on fall camp:
"To start off, I think camp went pretty well for the defense. I saw a lot of things that I wanted to see early on in camp. I think the corners stepped up and did a really good job making plays and learning the defense, which is huge. The young guys and new guys bought into the system here with how we work. I'm looking forward to playing Tennessee. What an awesome experience we get, playing in front of 100,000 people. I can't wait, I'm sick of practicing with my own teammates."
On what it will be like to go into Neyland Stadium with the sea of orange a play a storied program:
"The biggest thing is before the game we all get to go to the stadium and that's the time to take pictures and be a little bit in awe of how big it is and soak up the history there. When it's game time, as soon as you walk out there, you're going to see a sea of orange and take that in and put it away because when you're out there on the field and all you have is each other. That's what you have to focus on when you're out there."
On losing Alex Huerta to injury but also gaining LT Filiaga at the linebacker position:
"I think LT (Filiaga) is a good player for us. He's good in the run and pass game. He's faster than people expect him to be, so we're going to see quite a bit of him. He's stepped in and he knows the defense pretty well right now as a new guy so that's good to see."
On if games like this big of an opener can set the tone for a season:
"Absolutely, I think that the opening game, whoever you play, sets the tone and a precedence for how your team approaches a game and how they prepare going into a game. Whether we play Tennessee or a Division III school, I think the opening game is always very important."
On if it's different going into a game against a bigger program like Tennessee or Auburn:
"I think for some guys it is but at the same time we talk about it enough and we think about it enough that when you get there, it's just another football game. That's something that I think our team has done a pretty good job with in the past, is not letting where you are and the surrounding overcome you. That's to be determined with this year's team, but I'm sure we're going to be just fine walking into that stadium."
On Tennessee having no returning starters on their offensive line:
"We're going to do what we do as a defense and that's fly around and get after them a little bit. They're an SEC team so I'm sure the guys that they've brought in aren't any slouches. They're going to be prepared and coached well and they're going to be big and strong and fast, so we're going to have to be on top of our game that day."
On how he would characterize what Tennessee tries to do offensively:
"In my opinion they're going to try to establish the run up front with us because they are big and talented up front and they have good running backs. The wide receivers, they're specimens to say the least. From film that we've seen on them, they're not afraid to go up and get the football. Our back end is going to have to be on top of our game. We're going to have to try to pressure the quarterback a little bit to mess up their timing."
On his routine for walk-throughs at a stadium:
"For me, I like to go out there and I'll take a picture and then we'll grab a football and toss it around amongst our friends and just try to relax. Like I said, when you're in there, everybody always talks about the noise, but honestly, whenever we've been in those other stadiums like Wisconsin or Auburn, it quiets down when you're out there on the field and all you can hear is your teammates. For me, it's just getting relaxed in that environment."
On the way he views players from bigger programs like Wisconsin or Auburn:
"They're human beings. They're going to make mistakes and we're going to make mistakes and it's whoever makes the least amount of mistakes and executes at the highest level that is going to win. Honestly, we have enough talent to compete against anyone in the country, we just have to go out there and execute."
On what it's like entering his senior year:
"I'm just trying not to think about that because it's all about to come to an end for me. I'm just enjoying the moment. I've had a wonderful time here playing in a lot of big games and I've had a lot of fun doing it. I've been a part of the transition for Utah State. I'm just soaking it in and hopefully we have another great year this year."
On what this team is capable of:
"We could win every game. Again, that goes back to execution. We have the talent to do it, that's God willing that everybody stays healthy, but that's our expectation. We want to win every single game we play. Whether that's to happen or not, that's to be determined, but we have the talent here and the guys who care enough about the program to execute."
On if it'll take a few games for the defense to really settle in or if they can step right in and stay at the level the defense ended last season at:
"I'd like to say that I can expect that, but that's probably not going to be the case. We have some new guys here and we haven't played a game together yet. We're going to have to find out ourselves next Sunday."
On his brother Nick Vigil being a better athlete than he is:
"I think he's a little quicker than I am, I will say that. He's always had really good vision. I've said that since high school when he played running back, he seems to see the field differently than other people and I think that gives him an edge when he's out there on the field."
On if he's talked to Daniel Gray about what Knoxville and Tennessee are like:
"No, most of the things that I say are just to handle our business at practice, that's the biggest thing I've said to him. Maybe this week now that you mention it, I'll go talk to him, but I'm not all that concerned with what Knoxville is like or anything like that. I'm just excited to see the sea of 100,000, that will be a sight in itself."
On Daniel Gray having a bit of an extra incentive for this game:
"He should have a bit of an extra incentive and I think he's going to play really well for us. He's had a good camp and I'm excited to watch him play."
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