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Utah State football: Aggies' passing offense shines in scrimmage

Published March 31, 2017 11:47 pm

Utah State football • Big plays help offense score six touchdowns.
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Sure, it's only spring football and the touchdowns don't count like they will in the fall against opponents who aren't also your teammates. But establishing an aggressive mentality may be the biggest thing the Utah State football team does before it breaks for the summer.

For an offense that struggled to score consistently last season and that has been largely revamped and put in the hands of a new coordinator this spring, there are no negatives that come from finding the end zone. The Aggies offense hit pay dirt on three of the first five drives and scored a total of six TDs in Friday afternoon's scrimmage on Merlin Olsen Field at Maverik Stadium.

Quarterback Kent Myers, who spoke last week of a desire to throw the deep ball more and a need for the offense to create "explosive plays," set the tone on the second play of the day when he executed a play fake and hit a wide-open Ron'quavion Tarver on a 71-yard catch and run for a touchdown.

"I think he knows how big he really is, not only catching the ball, but when he has the ball in his hands he knows that he's 6-3, 220 or something like that," Myers said of Tarver. "He can get it and go against the smaller DBs. I think his hands got a lot better. He's more aggressive in traffic."

Tarver, last year's leader in receptions and receiving yards, pulled in two touchdown passes from Myers in the scrimmage. A rising junior who spent his first collegiate season at Fort Scott Community College in Kansas, Tarver has started to embrace a role as a featured target of Myers' despite starting just six of 12 games last season.

"I feel more confident," Tarver said. "The first year was just like, basically, getting your feet wet."

Despite last season's second-leading receiver, Rayshad Lewis, playing defensive back in the scrimmage, the Aggies offense enjoyed success spreading the ball around in the passing game and connecting on big plays downfield.

Former quarterback and recently converted tight end Damion Hobbs (two catches, 36 yards), wide receivers Zach Van Leeuwen (one catch, 60 yards, one touchdown), Jaren Colston-Green (two catches, 27 yards) and Tarver (two catches, 83 yards) each hauled in passes of 20 yards or more. Jordan Nathan also had a touchdown reception.

Tarver and Lewis even matched up a few times, including on a pass attempt in the end zone that the 5-foot-10 Lewis managed to break up. The play occurred in almost the same spot of the field where Tarver had used his size to go up and snatch a pass out of the air over Lewis in practice the previous day.

"Today, he got me, but yesterday in practice I went up on him," Tarver said before cracking a wide smile. "I mean, we're going to go at it."

Myers completed 10 of 14 passes for 170 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. As a group, the Aggies quarterback trio of Myers, Jordan Love (5-for-6, 93 yards, one touchdown) and DJ Nelson (7-for-9, 49 yards) threw for 312 yards on 22 of 29 passing with five touchdowns and one interception.

The defense gathered itself and got a measure of revenge by stuffing the offense for back-to-back safeties in the span of three plays in the "backed up" drill period in which the offense started with the ball inside its own 1-yard line. The defense also recorded five sacks in the scrimmage.

Redshirt freshman linebacker Kevin Meitzenheimer (five tackles), redshirt freshman safety Braxton Gunther (four tackles) and rising senior linebacker Alex Huerta (four tackles) led the defense, while junior safety Aaron Wade collected the day's lone interception.

"One more week, three practices to go," Aggies coach Matt Wells said. "I'd like to — we're still looking for inside linebackers to step up. Part of the deal today — let's be real — I'm holding two really good All-Mountain West players [out]. Dallin Leavitt and Jalen Davis played very little. They only played at the beginning of the scrimmage, and then we held them out. Baron Gajkowski was held out today. He'll be back next week. His was an injury, but nothing major. So I feel good."

Wells also delighted in the fact that placekickers Dominik Eberle and Jonathan Hagee each made a 52-yard field goal.

The Aggies will practice on Tuesday and Thursday next week before their annual Blue-White Spring Game next Saturday afternoon.

lworthy@sltrib.com Twitter: @LWorthySports






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