Logan • With Chuckie Keeton, Matt Austin and Kerwynn Williams, there seems to be little doubt that Utah State has the necessary talent at the skill positions to compete with Utah.
The concern for the Aggies on Friday at Romney Stadium will be their ability to win the battles in each interior line.
Gary Andersen calls Star Lotulelei the best defensive tackle any of his teams has ever faced, and says that game-planning for his size and strength will be a major challenge for USU. Andersen also had high praise for the remainder of Utah’s front seven, particularly Nate Fakahafua and Trevor Reilly.
"Star is a tremendous football player," Andersen said on Monday. "He’s tough, he’s physical, he’s everything that they say he is. We have to be tough and physical. If we want to run downhill on Utah, we’d better be sure that we get a helmet on somebody."
Andersen tackled game film of Utah this past weekend, only taking a break on Sunday to travel to Salt Lake to fulfill media interview commitments. He recognized that Lotulelei is rarely the guy who actually makes the tackle. In the run game, however, he commands double teams, which gives the remainder of Utah’s defensive line one-on-one matchups. Lotulelei is also good at collapsing the pocket in the passing game, and pushing offensive linemen into the opposing quarterback.
"That’s what he does," Andersen said. "He gets you so much pressure up the middle that it becomes a challenge for a quarterback to actually stand in the pocket. We have to know where Star is on each and every play. We will run with a purpose, and we will identify him. We have to if we expect to be successful. Star is good enough that you can put three lousy players next to him and still have a great defensive line. The problem is that Utah puts great players next to him and it makes it that much more effective."
Utah State dominated Southern Utah in a 34-3 win last Thursday night. Still, the play along the lines left room for concern. The defensive front, maligned through spring and fall camp, didn’t get much of a push on SUU quarterback Brad Sorensen. Andersen went on to call the play of the front three "average."
Offensively, the Aggies were stuffed on a fourth and one, and they appear to still be looking for a bigger back who can be counted on in short yardage scenarios.
If USU is dominated on Friday along the interior, Andersen knows that the athleticism and talent of the skill position players will mean relatively little. As a result, improving some of the holes on the lines will be an emphasis this week in practice.
"We have to be smart up front and we have to play well up front," Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton said. "We know they have Star, but we have to respect everyone in their front four. They have a lot of guys defensively that can make plays, and we have to be prepared for that."
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