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Utah State football mailbag — Connor Williams, secondary issues and more

Published September 9, 2013 3:03 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

This week we're going to try a new feature - a mailbag answering readers' most pressing questions on the Utah State football team. We've got a few questions over the weekend that I'm going to launch into right now.

If you want to send in future questions for the Monday mailbag, you can tweet at me at @kylegoon or e-mail me at kgoon@sltrib.com. I'll be looking for your questions from after the Weber State game until Matt Well's weekly press conference on Mondays around noon.

Let's jump in:

hey Kyle, 4 the mailbag, when will Connor [Williams] be back? - @bwheel82

Matt Wells said this morning he sat Connor Williams, one of the team's starting defensive ends, on Saturday more as a precaution and to give his foot injury time to rest. He added it's likely he'll be out against Weber State as well, and perhaps return for USC.

In the meantime, Wells was very happy with the play of at least two of the guys who have gotten more reps as a result of Williams' absence. Paul Piukala and Ricky Ali'ifua got big shouts out from Wells, along with tackle A.J. Pataiali'i.

Said Wells: "Those three guys really set the tone. Those three guys were a huge part of the reason Zach and Jake played so well. When you're playing an option offense, you have got to play really, really well at inside linebacker. And to do that, you've got to have defensive linemen who have gap control and can eat up two offensive linemen at the same time. Those three guys stood out to me on tape. They played with tremendous effort, especially backside effort."

That being said, Williams is a leader on the line and a solid player. The Aggies will welcome him back eventually, but they won't need him against Weber State. Wells has been very concious about injury prevention, people inside the program have said, and he won't rush guys back.

What needs to be done to fix the problems in the secondary? - @BradenGreen1

One of the first questions Wells fielded today was about the secondary, and if the first two games are any indication, he'll be talking about it for a while. The Aggies have been breakdown and penalty-prone: Two pass interference calls and a defensive holding call helped Air Force score a first-half touchdown. Zach Vigil said after the game it was unacceptable.

That's a team attitude as well. The penalties and coverage breakdowns won't get the job done against some of the tougher passing teams Utah State faces this year. Against USC, BYU, Boise State or Wyoming, some of the coverage miscues could really add up to big yards like they did against Utah.

Air Force's drops were a big saving grace for the Aggies. Wells said he thought some of the defensive backs were caught up by the Falcons' play action, which is a big component of their offense. Utah State will sometimes have some penalties for aggression as well, and Wells said he could "live with them a bit more," but the Aggies have to be a little more savvy when the ball is in the air.

Said Wells: "They've got to shadow them, they've got to lock them down. They're going to be confident and physical at the point of attack. You've got to understand when the ball's in the air, how to play it and when to play it. I'm certain that we'll get it cleaned up and it will be fine at some point in the year."

You can bet Kendrick Shaver is working with his corners a bit more on making a play on the ball at the right time and making sure they spot it and know where it's going. Contact will happen, but it has to be smarter.

As long as I'm being even-handed, it deserves mentioning that the secondary played a great game against the run, and Tay Glover-Wright had some big pass break-ups, including one in the end zone.

I liked seeing more running backs featured against AF, especially from [Robert] Marshall - will he continue to get more touches? - @JnelAgs

Yes. Wells said it was one of the team's goals was to get more backs involved against Air Force, and the result was good. The three most-used backs, Joe Hill, Joey DeMartino and Robert Marshall, combined for 123 yards and two rushing touchdowns. Hill and DeMartino split a lot of time early, while Marshall got most of his looks after the Aggies had built a lead.

It seems clearer that Utah State is comfortable with a committee approach to running back, that Hill won't necessarily carry as much as Kerwynn Williams. Hill still is looking for a big, big run on the ground, but also showed his receiving talent with his end zone grab Saturday. DeMartino is more of a between-the-tackles type who led the group in yards per carry (4.1) while Marshall seems to want to run over people.

Said Wells: "Really proud of [Joey DeMartino] from an unselfish standpoint. He was very productive, he ran behind his pads a couple times. You really saw what he could do I was very proud of Robert. He came in on some two-back stuff and ran downhill. He did a nice job on the perimeter block a little bit. And then I thought Joe played a very solid game. Not very flashy but a solid game. He had a great catch in the end zone."

Depending on if the Aggies can build up a big lead early, expect to see Kelvin Lee as well. He played a few snaps at the end of the game and got 19 yards. Rashad Hall might be the next guy off the bench if Wells chooses to dig that deep.

This past off-season's recruiting class was maybe the most heralded in recent memory. What info do you have on two of the biggest gets - Marwin Evans and Ronald Butler? I didn't notice Butler playing at all until Air Force and apparently Marwin Evans switched positions to safety. - Dallin Watts

Butler obviously made a splash Saturday catching a touchdown. He should be involved in the offense after having a few really good days in fall camp, but it might be on more spread-out sets. Evans hasn't really made a big impact yet, but having just switched positions, he's needed depth at the safety spot.

Wells mentioned several other members of the signing class he thought were doing well: Bill Vavau played about 30 snaps, he estimated, at both tackle and guard. He seems to be arguably the top back-up along with redshirt freshman Jake Simonich. Jeremy Morris did give up a touchdown late against Air Force, long after the game was decided, but Wells said he's liked the JuCo transfer's effort on special teams so far. Ali'ifua has been solid in his D-line reps, as we covered earlier.

Wells also has been extremely happy with kickoff specialist Jake Thompson, a Logan native who recovered from a knee injury as a senior and has turned out to be a coup in the class. At one-time under consideration for a high school All-American spot as a kicker, Thompson booted eight of his nine kickoffs out of the end zone last weekend.

Said Wells: "One that's stands out to me is the dadgum kicker. Jake Thompson has been really solid and really, really good in two games. He's a weapon."

Others that might have been considered, such as Hayden Weichers, Kennedy Williams and Braelon Roberts, haven't been out and could redshirt unless we see them play against Weber. It speaks a lot to Utah State's veteran depth at this point: If you don't need to burn the redshirt year, why do it?

That'll do it for the mailbag. Stay tuned to the Tribune and the Aggieville blog for more Utah State coverage.

— Kyle Goonkgoon@sltrib.comTwitter: @kylegoon




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