<em>This is the fifth in a series of previews of the 2016 Utah State football team. The other previews can be found at these links: <a href=”http://www.cachevalleydaily.com/sports/article_a8767102-5db9-11e6-8e72-876267ee69ec.html” target=”_blank”>Offensive line</a>, <a href=”http://www.cachevalleydaily.com/sports/article_c646adcc-5e82-11e6-a8e0-634ab124a813.html” target=”_blank”>Wide receivers</a>, <a href=”http://www.cachevalleydaily.com/sports/article_5c5ed972-5f8e-11e6-b671-7392ae4fb32b.html” target=”_blank”>Special teams</a>, <a href=”http://www.cachevalleydaily.com/sports/article_7e176f5e-62bb-11e6-b5dc-dba717bdd756.html” target=”_blank”>Linebackers</a></em>
LOGAN – With an experienced offensive line, a dual-threat veteran quarterback in Kent Myers and a solid group of running backs, the Utah State football team will have good reason to focus more on the ground game this year.
A bigger emphasis on the ground game is exactly what senior running back Devante Mays expects.
“I believe there will be (more emphasis on the run game),” he said. “I believe there should be. I believe we have a lot of experience in those groups. I feel like the receiving corps is kind of young so I feel like there should be more emphasis on running the ball and getting me and (running back) LaJuan (Hunt) and Kent (Myers), guys with more experience, the ball.”
Roles will change in more ways than just the game plan. In addition to simply getting the ball more, the running backs are expected to be leaders on offense as well.
“We’re veterans now,” Hunt said. “It’s our turn to lead the team. We have a bunch of unproven receivers and proven running backs so I think it is our turn.”
Mays’ 966 yards on 165 carries made him USU’s leading rusher a year ago. The senior is listed at 5-foot-11 and 230 pounds this year, which is 10 pounds bigger than last year. Head coach Matt Wells said people should “get fired up” about what Mays has done this offseason.
“He put up big numbers in the lifts, bench, squat and vertical jumps and had a tremendous summer,” he said. “From this point on, the excitement comes if Devante can stay durable and healthy … I’m excited to watch him, he’s had a tremendous summer.”
With all the additional size and skills Mays has developed during the offseason, he is expecting to expand his role this year and become a factor in the passing game as well.
“I feel like every time I went in last year other teams would know it was most likely going to be a run,” he said. “When we passed the ball I would come out. That is a big thing for me this year is playing all of the three downs and being a factor in that.”
Most of the offseason attention has gone to Mays, but the running back group will be much more than a one man show. Last season Hunt rushed for 338 yards on 106 carries, but two years ago he had even more. He picked up 504 yards on the ground in his first year at USU which set the record for the most by a freshman in school history. Tonny Lindsey Jr. and Justen Hervey each got touches as underclassmen. Lindsey rushed 12 times for 96 yards while Hervey picked up 47 yards on 14 carries. According to different coaches and teammates, both improved through spring ball and will make an impact.
If what Wells, Myers, and Mays said is true, the offensive line should be improved over last year, which should translate to more yards per carry. Hunt said has liked what he’s from the guys who will do his blocking.
“We’ve got a bunch of veteran guys coming back and a bunch of news guys stepping up and playing their hearts out for us,” he said of the offensive line. “I have all the confidence in the world in them.”
Morian Walker, Jr. and Dionte Simon are two freshman running backs that may see the field. Simon is a 6-foot 190 pound all-state guy from Tacoma, Washington. Walker is a 6-foot-1, 215 pounder from San Jose, California.
“They’re looking good,” Hunt said of the freshmen. “They’re just getting into things. They’re young guys. They’re learning how to practice, learning how to run like we do. So far so good.”