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Aggie gridders hold first spring scrimmage

Published: Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Updated: Tuesday, April 9, 2013 12:04


JUNIOR RUNNING BACK JOE HILL sprints downfield during the Aggies’ win over Southern Utah in September of 2012. Hill will be counted on much more this season. File photo

    The Utah State football team held its first spring scrimmage of the year Thursday.

    Following USU’s best season in recent history in 2012 — finishing with a win at the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl and a top-25 ranking — the Aggies hoped to give fans a glimpse into 2013 with an impressive showing on the defensive side of the ball.

    Or at least a lackluster performance on offense.

    The offense scored three touchdowns and three field goals in approximately 100 snaps, fumbling the ball once, throwing three interceptions and giving up five sacks.

    First-year head coach Matt Wells, who was promoted from offensive coordinator after former head coach Gary Andersen left for Wisconsin, said there were good and bad things on both sides of the ball.

    “There was good give and take,” Wells said. “We moved the ball on offense. I just wish we could have finished some things down in the red zone with touchdowns instead of field goals.”
    The first touchdown came on the third series, driving 60 yards in 11 plays and ending with a 4-yard pass from junior quarterback Chuckie Keeton to sophomore wide receiver Brandon Swindall.

    Keeton said there were a few things he thought the offense needed to work on.

    “One of them is definitely ball security,” Keeton said. “There is no way you win a game if you turn the ball over three or more times, much less two or anything like that. Holding on to the ball is probably the number one priority right now.”
    Another issue to work on was letting the players get their lungs back.

    Senior defensive end Connor Williams said the team was feeling a little out of shape from the offseason and needed to remember techniques as players get tired.

    “As time goes on, I think we are going to refine our technique more and more,” Williams said. “So when it’s 3rd-and-8 we’ll be able to get out to the quarterback instead of getting tired and heavy legs, which is how we felt today, but that will change.”
    The offense fumbled once late in the scrimmage and freshman cornerback Devin Centers recovered.

    Wells said he needs his running backs to hold on to the football.

    “If you’re going to lay it on the carpet, you’ll watch the game right next to me on Saturday,” said Wells, “You will not play in this program putting the ball on the ground. That’s an emphasis of ours and will be a major emphasis this week.”

    Keeton went 17 of 28 for 186 yards passing with one touchdown. Junior running back Joe Hill had 13 rushes for 41 yards.

    Sophomore wide receiver Jojo Natson led the team with six catches for 69 yards.

    “We definitely have to work on consistency as far as routes, coming off the ball and of course catching the ball,” Keeton said. “We have got to find the guy who is our number one go-to guy. Last year it was Matt Austin and this year we definitely have to find who it is. We have some good candidates, but nobody has really defined themselves completely.”

    Keeton didn’t throw any interceptions, but  freshman linebacker Travis Parrish, sophomore linebacker Alex Marsaw and redshirt freshman cornerback Marquan Ellison each came up with picks.

    Senior defensive tackle Paul Piukala, junior cornerback Rashard Stewart, sophomore linebacker Kyler Fackrell, redshirt freshman linebacker Bridger Peck and freshman defensive tackle Ricky Ali’ifua each recorded a sack during the scrimmage.

    “They’ve gotten a lot better at disguising their coverage and blitzes,” Keeton said of the Aggie defense. “Even though I am checking at the line of scrimmage, trying to decipher who our offensive line is picking up, they are still doing a good job of bringing multiple guys and adjusting on the fly.”

    Last season, the Aggies were two missed field goals away from a perfect 13-0 season. Thursday, no USU kicker missed a field goal or extra-point attempt.

    Wells said it is a testament to strong red-zone defense when to force field goals.

    “It’s not about the yards,” Wells said, though the offense scored after gaining 92 yards on one drive. “It’s points given up and points scored. They stoned the offense right out of the gate the first series of the red zone.”

    The Aggies will continue spring practices three times per week with another scrimmage April 11 at 3:15 p.m. and conclude the spring season with the Blue vs. White Spring Game on April 20 at 2 p.m. in Romney Stadium.

    “It was one of those things that was love-hate, because you are going against your teammates and I am going against the guys in my locker corner,” Keeton said of playing against his teammates. “It’s exciting to get out here and compete and have a little bit of bragging rights.”

    “We have a lot of work to improve on,” he added. “Hopefully we can come out and have a better scrimmage next week.”

Twitter: @StuckiAggies

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