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September 9, 2005

Utes ready to rock the Ags of Utah State

Utah's opponent this week is a familiar one with a new look. In-state rival Utah State is making the trip from Logan to Salt Lake City to take on the Utes.

This will be the 105th game between the schools the 12th longest series in the nation with Utah holding a decisive lead in the rivalry at 72-28-4.

Utah State is a team in transition. They are moving into a new conference with a new coaching staff, a completely new defensive scheme (going to a 4-3 from a 3-4), and breaking in a new quarterback. The game against Utah will be their first game of the season, as the scheduled opener against Nicholls State was cancelled due to hurricane Katrina.

New Aggie head coach Brent Guy retained only three assistant coaches from the previous staff.

What to look for from Utah State:

Design of the offense. No one really knows what to expect as a base offense from new offensive coordinator Mike Santiago. As the offensive coordinator for McNeese State (1990-98), he coached an offense that produced three consecutive All-Conference quarterbacks and lead the league in passing in 1996.

Getting the QB in space. Designed roll-outs, bootlegs and option plays for starting quarterback Leon Jackson III. Jackson is a duel threat who can make plays with his arm or his feet. Look for Utah State to try and get him out on the edge where he can use his athleticism and to get him away from Utah's interior lineman.

Offensive line play. Utah State's offensive line returns only one starter at his original position: left tackle Donald Penn. Projected starters include a three year backup tight end (center Nick George) and a three year defensive tackle (left guard Ryan DeQuilletes).

Defensive line play. The switch from the 3-4 to the 4-3 could put more pressure on the Aggie lineman. Can the new tackles occupy Utah's lineman and allow the linebackers to make plays, especially in the running game? Keep an eye on former BYU signee and high school All-American Brian Soi.

Inexperience at linebacker. Projected starters include two walk-ons, Matt Wiser and Jake Hutton and, two freshmen in Hutton and Devon Hall.

Special Teams. Wide receiver Kevin Robinson was one of the nation's best return men in 2004, returning two punts and a kickoff for touchdowns. He was 2nd in the nation in punt returns, averaging 22.5 yards on 17 returns. QB Jackson also punted in 2004, averaging 42.3 yards on 40 punts. Don't be surprised if Utah State uses him in certain situations to try and catch the Utes off guard.

What to look for from Utah:

Design of the offense. Will Utah run the shotgun offense exclusively? The offense did not look good against Arizona when quarterback Brian Johnson was under center, producing Utah's only turnover. Will Johnson be allowed to run the ball when the opportunity is there?

Offensive line play. Starting left tackle Tavo Tupola (ribs) is listed as doubtful for the game. If top backup Mitch Arquette doesn't play well, the staff could shake things up on the line, moving left guard David Dirkmaat to left tackle, right guard Eric Pettit to left guard (he made four starts here in 2004) and have redshirt freshman Robert Conley play at right guard. The Aggies do have a good pass rusher in end John Chick, who could cause problems for a new look Utah line.

Defensive ends and linebackers. Will they get up field and contain the outside running game? Can the ends provide consistent pressure on the quarterback? They struggled against Arizona getting outside containment. With a mobile quarterback and an undersized but quick line, Utah State will try to exploit this weakness.

Special Teams. How will Utah attempt to contain Robinson? Directional punting? Short, high kickoffs? More of the rugby-style punts that allow the gunners more time to get downfield? Utah gave up some big returns to Arizona and Robinson is a dangerous return man that needs to be game planned for.

Utah State Utah
QB Leon Jackson III - His mobility could give the defense problems. Will the Aggies line him up at punter? QB Brian Johnson Struggled early and in the fourth quarter against Arizona, as the offense had a hard time getting first downs.
WR Tony Pennyman 2nd on the team in receptions. Good speed and quickness. RB Quinton Ganther "Q" had a great game against Arizona. He could do even better against an Aggie front still learning a new system.
WR Kevin Robinson Led Aggies in receptions as a freshman. Game breaking WR and return man. WR John Madsen He is still recovering from a pulled hamstring. The offense needs him to play to his potential.
DE John Chick Good pass rusher who has a knack for making plays behind the line of scrimmage. S Eric Weddle One of the top safeties in the country. Earned MWC Defensive Player of the Week honors for his performance against Arizona.
S Andre Bala 2nd on the team in tackles, forced three turnovers in 2004. CB Shaun Harper He was beat several times by Arizona receivers. Look for the Aggies to go after him.
S Terrance Washington Freshman All-American in 2003. Missed all but two games in 2004 due to injury. Recorded 93 tackles and 5 interceptions in 2003. LB Grady Marshall or Joe Jiannoni Marshall started the Arizona game, but could be replaced by Jiannoni this week. Whoever plays will need to step up and stop the outside running game.

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