Logan • Throughout the spring and summer, the Utah Utes have said their offense will play faster.
Utah State coach Matt Wells is confident that the Aggies will be ready for the tempo. His defense practices against a fast-paced offense every day in practice.
But that doesn’t mean Wells isn’t curious about what new Utah coordinator Dennis Erickson might have up his sleeve for Thursday’s season opener at Rice-Eccles.
At his Monday press conference, three days and 80 miles away from his first game as head coach, Wells said one of the biggest defensive concerns is how Erickson will showcase his various weapons.
“With the personnel groups, he’s got a lot of choices,” Wells said, noting the Utes’ use of multiple running backs and wideouts, “and those two really good tight ends.”
“That would be hard decisions for me. Which ones do you play?”
For the Aggies, the question becomes this: How do you defend them?
Wells said he expects Utah’s offense to be “much improved” from last season, when the Utes had an inconsistent performance in their 27-20 overtime loss. They rolled up 325 yards, but were only 2 for 17 on third-down conversions.
Adding Erickson, who has 23 seasons of head coaching experience, as an offensive coordinator should add some complexity to Utah’s attack. Not only are they going faster, but Wells said he foresees Erickson using the same personnel in a lot of different ways, which could be tough to read in the high-tempo framework.
Wells said he especially sees pass-catching tight ends Jake Murphy and Westlee Tonga as big matchup problems for the Aggies to defend.
“It’s challenging from our defensive standpoint,” he said. “As an offensive guy, I’m sure Coach Erickson is having fun with that.”
There’s also the issue of size: Utah boasts three linemen who weigh 320 pounds or more, headlined by 345-pound left tackle Jeremiah Poutasi. Utah State’s 3-4 scheme will face some size mismatches in the run as Utah tries to blow open holes for Kelvin York.
But it should be strength against strength. Utah State returns eight starters from its 13th-ranked run defense in 2012, including run-stuffing linebackers Jake Doughty and Zach Vigil. Defensive end Connor Williams said the defensive line will use speed and motion to its advantage.
“If you’re 350 pounds, I don’t know if you can move that well,” Williams said. “I could be wrong, but we’ll see.”
Part of Utah State’s success last season was getting in the backfield, as Bojay Filimoeatu had 12 tackles, including 2.5 for a loss. Filimoeatu graduated, but taking his place in the defense is Kyler Fackrell, a preseason Mountain West honoree.
The Aggies expect Fackrell to make some plays rushing quarterback Travis Wilson and forcing his hand — and maybe influence the games in other ways as well.
“Kyler is a heck of an athlete: He can do some freaky things,” Williams said. “Even if the game plan isn’t for him to make all the plays, he tends to make a lot of the plays. So, I expect some big things from him this Thursday, and the other players too.”
Back to play Utah
What some Aggies did last year against the Utes:
DE Jordan Nielsen • four tackles, two sacks
LB Kyler Fackrell • 11 tackles, two QB hurries
LB Zach Vigil • 10 tackles, half a TFL