Logan • Matt Austin ran a 15-yard route and broke for the sideline as an open receiver, waiting on a pass that would have netted his offense a first down in a recent practice.
Only he wasn’t open. Nevin Lawson’s closing speed assured that the catch would never be made. As the Utah State cornerback made up ground, he put his hand up and batted the football away at the last second.
Lawson made a difficult play that ordinary corners don’t usually make. Which is why he is not regarded as an ordinary corner. Neither is his corner running mate, Jumanne Robertson.
“I tell you what, our quarterbacks are playing against a pretty good secondary every single day in practice,” offensive coordinator Matt Wells said. “Those are some very good athletes and players back there.”
Lawson and Robertson are back as starters, a year older and wiser after an up-and-down 2011. Together, they may be the best pair of corners in the Western Athletic Conference. That’s not the entire story, however. Utah State’s entire cornerback contingent returns, with Terrence Alston, Willie Davis and Quinton Byrd all back, experienced and ready to deal with opposing offenses.
The position is so deep that LaDale Jackson, a highly regarded redshirt freshman, was moved to running back a week ago to alleviate the logjam.
“We were a little hesitant last year, in terms of making plays,” Robertson said. “Our main goal this year is to be playmakers as a group. We have a lot of depth, and we feel a lot of talent. We’ve learned from being inexperienced last year.”
At its best, USU’s depth in the secondary presents a huge challenge for some of the better passing teams they will face this season, which starts Aug. 30 with the opener against Southern Utah University.
New defensive coordinator Dave Aranda built a reputation at Hawaii for blitzing and being a gambler, a trait that head coach Gary Andersen loves. Through the first two weeks of camp, Aranda has shown nothing to dispel that reputation.
As a result, Lawson and Robertson will play a lot of man defense with little help behind them, as well as a lot of bump and run coverage. It’s not a stretch to think that a large part of the success of the defense as a whole relies on their ability to be shutdown cornerbacks.
“We’re ready for the challenge,” Lawson said. “We play man defense, that’s what we do. That’s what coach Andersen loves, and that’s what we want to excel in.”
Andersen has had success in molding corners. Two years ago, Curtis Marsh was drafted in the third round by the Philadelphia Eagles and Chris Randle was effective as well. The Aggies, however, have never been as deep and experienced in the secondary during Andersen’s tenure.
Utah State coaches are hoping those two attributes pay off this season.
Jumanne Robertson file
• Phil Steele named him second-team preseason all-WAC
• Started 10 games last season
• Led the Aggies with 12 pass break-ups
Nevin Lawson file
• Phil Steele named him first-team preseason all-WAC
• A junior, he is in his third season as a starter
• Had 10 pass break-ups and an interception