A lot of Aggies light up at the mention of Joe Hill, the team’s junior running back pegged as the starter in Thursday’s game.
Quarterback Chuckie Keeton is no different. He’s one of many who thinks Hill could have a special season.
“He’s definitely going to take off on some guys this year,” Keeton said. “It’s going to be fun to stand back there and hand it off or hopefully throw it to him and watch him run for a touchdown.
The Aggies could definitely use some explosiveness going into Thursday night’s game with the Utes. On a team with so much experience, a lot of eyes will be focused on the new offensive starters and how they perform in expanded roles.
That includes Hill, a speedy back with soft hands that Utah State coaches see as the potential next great back for the Aggies. Back-ups Joey DeMartino and Robert Marshall will also see snaps in certain situations, but Hill will be the main guy.
Utah may have lost two linemen to the NFL, but the trenches will be a battlefield. Offensive tackle Eric Schultz said Utah likes to face off offenses with pure aggression. Hill will have to find the right holes against a tough Utes line.
“All the Utah guys they’re physical,” Schultz said. “They don’t like to run around you, they like to run through you. That’s a big thing we’ve got to prepare for.”
Aside from the running back spot, the receivers have had questions marks over them throughout camp. Travis Van Leeuwen, Travis Reynolds and Jojo Natson have each had flashes of brilliance, but Matt Wells said after the last scrimmage that he’d still be looking for that consistency in games.
As with Hill, Keeton believes in his group.
“They’ve definitely been working hard this entire summer and this entire fall camp,” he said. “The timing between myself and them has gotten very good and it’s pretty precise, which is a big thing.”
Wells confident in kicking game
Utah State — actually, every major Utah team — went through some notorious kicking issues last year. Early in the season, the Aggies struggled to make their field goals.
Fast forward a year, and Wells is much more confident at the position. The field goal job is Nick Diaz’s to lose, and throughout camp, he’s looked pretty reliable from short to midrange.
A watchlist candidate for the Lou Groza award, Diaz is coming off a season in which he was 8-for-11 on kicks and was perfect on 40 extra point attempts. Many are anticipating a close game against the Utes on Thursday: Utah State is a 2.5-point underdog, so Diaz could be the difference.
Wells said he thinks the biggest change has been Diaz’s surging confidence.
“It’s astronomical: You look at where he came from just in the last 12 months,” Wells said. “You look at him coming out of training camp to getting thrown in there mid-season and having a really good season at the end of the year. I’m really proud of Nick.”
Wells added that Josh Thompson, who was another kicker the Aggies tried starting last year, has also come along this fall. Thompson could be in the mix as a kickoff specialist, which Wells said he hadn’t decided yet on Monday.