Defense dominates scrimmage, but Hill shines

<strong>LOGAN—</strong> The Utah State University football team took the field at Romney Stadium Saturday morning for their first official scrimmage of the fall. There were highlights on both sides of the ball, but defense was clearly the story of the day.

“The defensive line has improved,” USU head coach Gary Andersen said. “I know you can’t believe I’m actually saying something positive about them, they probably won’t either and they’ll have a bad practice on Monday now when we come back, but the pass rush was impressive today.”

As a group, the defense recorded nine sacks on the day and forced five turnovers – all interceptions – as they held the Aggie offense mostly in check.

In the ongoing quarterback battle, sophomore Chuckie Keeton clearly had the better day. After starting slowly with the first team offense, Keeton returned after a short intermission to lead the offense on two scoring drives – both of which ended with touchdown passes.

Keeton’s first score came on the first play of the second half, when he connected with junior receiver Travis Van Leeuwen on a 50-yard bomb. Keeton’s second touchdown pass was an 11-yarder to Travis Reynolds on third down to end a 10 play, 50 yard drive. Keeton had thrown a TD pass on the play before, but the play was negated due to an offensive hold.

“It wasn’t necessarily designed that way, but it definitely gave us a good matchup,” Keeton said of the pass to Van Leeuwen. “That was the biggest thing, we had Travis Van Leeuwen on one of our redshirt freshman cornerbacks, and he ran a great route and I was just lucky enough to put it in the right spot.”

Senior QB Adam Kennedy didn’t fare quite as well in the scrimmage. He did come in to lead the offense on a long scoring drive, however, the offense only completed one pass during that drive that featured a heavy rushing attack and was capped by a 7-yard touchdown run from sophomore running back Joe Hill.

Kennedy was picked off twice during the scrimmage – once by cornerback Will Davis, and once by cornerback Jamanne Robertson after the ball was tipped by safety Frankie Sutera. Kennedy finished the scrimmage 5-of-9 for 39 yards with the two interceptions, while Keeton finished the scrimmage 11-for-17 for 113 yards with the two TD’s with no picks.

“I think that both of them kind of had some success, Chuckie made some big plays,” Andersen said. “We’ve got to look at those picks very closely, sometimes when there’s picks they’re not always on the quarterback.”

Redshirt freshman linebacker Kyler Fackrell and senior lineman Al Lapuaho led the USU defense with two sacks a piece. Along with Davis and Robertson, safety Cameron Sanders, safety McKade Brady, and freshman corner Devin Centers also recorded picks on the day. Sanders returned his the furthest, but Centers had the most acrobatic grab as he hauled in the ball while falling out of bounds and dragging his feet.

“We try to be aggressive, we bring pressure a lot. We bring a lot of blitzes and our corners are great, so that’s okay when we just play man-to-man and bring pressure, because they can cover,” Fackrell said. “That’s the No. 1 thing that we’ve got is takeaways. That’s huge for us, we do a takeaway circuit every other day, it’s a huge emphasis for us.”

One of the surprise performances of the day, though, was that rushing attack of Hill. The sophomore tallied 100 yards on 17 carries to go along with his score. Known for his speed, he also showed the ability to get tough yards between the tackles.

“I can take hits, I feel like I’m durable. I gained like 10 pounds since last season, and I feel like I’ve gotten better and I feel like I could do it all,” Hill said.

Andersen was also pleased with Hill’s performance.

“Joe’s a tough young man, very quiet as you know, but when he gets on the field he’s excited about playing,” he said. “He’s got some explosiveness. Every rep for him is very important, and I’d imagine he’ll be a pretty tired young man tonight when he lays his head down on his bed.”

Senior running back Kerwynn Williams did participate in the first series with the offense, but tallied just a short run on the day. Junior back Robert Marshall had some nice carries, including a 31-yarder on fourth and short, but came up a little slow and did not return.

“There were some big plays on offense, some big plays on defense,” Andersen said. “The two biggest questions when we walked in was our ability to stop the run on defense and our ability to be able to pass protect and throw the ball down the field. I think you can see we have work to do in both those areas.”

The Aggies will return to practice Monday morning at 9:15 a.m., and will have two-a-day practices on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, with morning practices on Tuesday and Thursday. The second scrimmage of fall camp will take place on Saturday, Aug. 18, at 2 p.m., as part of the Aggie Football Fun Day. 

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