Team preview: Utah State
Utah State survived two tough transitions in one season and hopes to be better for it in 2006.
Not only did the Aggies have to adjust to the ways of new head coach Brent Guy, they also upgraded from the Sun Belt to the Western Athletic Conference, predictably taking their lumps along the way.
Early in the season, Guy decided to build for the future by playing as many fresh faces as he could, resulting in a 3-8 record that might not look that good to the casual observer. But when you scroll down the list of returning starters, a single stat sticks out -- six of the 13 are sophomores. Four of those are on the defensive side of the ball where Utah State finished fourth in the league in total defense, yielding 405.6 yards a game. That alone isn't something to brag about. After all, that total was No. 81 in the country.
But what is promising is Utah State finished 53rd nationally against the run, yielding 144.1 yards a game. It reflects a level of physical toughness needed to compete at the high end of the WAC. Guy saw a lot of potential in this young class and knew if there was to be a payoff down the road, baptism by fire was needed.
"When I saw how bad we were at stopping the run, I knew we had to do something," Guy said of sticking with a 4-3 scheme last year as opposed to evolving to a 4-2-5. "There's a lot of passing in our league. You have to be able to stop that phase to compete with the better teams, but to instill mental toughness, hard hitting and good tackling, it starts with defense against the run.
"We told our guys, whether the ball is run or thrown doesn't have anything to do with tackling. Style of play doesn't matter. How you hit that guy, how you run to the ball, that's what matters."