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Utah State mailbag — UNLV concerns, MW hoops, and those darned screens

Published November 4, 2013 8:45 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This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

Logan • It's going to be a lot to juggle this month. Actually, just this weekend.

Think about it. USC is coming to the Spectrum. The football team heads to UNLV. There's also the possibility that the soccer team makes a run in the Mountain West tournament. The women's basketball team starts up this week.

But enough about the disaster that is my calendar. Let's get to your questions. Remember you can always send me Monday Mailbag items by e-mail, the Twitters, or hand-written letter (just send it early, or just send it one of the other two ways).

What is Coach Matt Wells biggest concern this week going into the UNLV game. What worries him the most? - @IdaAg93

I assume you're talking about what UNLV brings to the table and the matchup problems they present. Wells talked about a bunch of things Monday, but matching up what he said against some of the statical readouts, I'd say the biggest thing Utah State needs to worry about is limiting the Rebels explosive plays.

That's kind of a catch-all for covering UNLV's biggest playmakers. Wells name-checked Tim Cornett, who now leads the school all-time in rushing. He's a grinder, a physical back who rarely fumbles. Devante Davis, a Biletnikoff candidate, is the go-to receiver with more than 500 yards more under his belt than any other Rebels receiver and has 10 touchdowns (Full disclosure: Wells mentioned Marcus Sullivan as UNLV's "real wideout" today, but given Davis' standout numbers, I'm assuming he misspoke).

Considering that Utah State has had a problem especially containing pass plays - the team has allowed 35 passes of 20 yards or more this year - Davis might be the big individual concern here. Nevin Lawson will likely be the primary coverage guy on him, but it could take more than one man to contain the 6-foot-3, 210-pound receiver.

Utah State has allowed four touchdowns of 20 yards or more in their last four games, including against Hawaii. That can't happen with UNLV. Having to worry about what Cornett can do on the ground makes that a little more unnerving.

Several players did not play or were hurt during the game on Saturday. Suite, Swindall, Bulter...etc. Do the coaches expect them to play against UNLV? What is there [sic] timetable? - Rhett

Just so everyone is caught up, here's what this question is about: Brandon Swindall didn't play Saturday. Brian Suite sat out most of the second half with his pads off. I didn't personally see it, but I had people tweeting at me that Ronald Butler was in a sling.

Matt Wells does not discuss injuries unless they are season-ending. Asked about those particular injuries, he reemphasized that point Monday morning: "We haven't practiced yet. We'll see how that goes. Brandon was a game-time decision like I mentioned last week. Until a guy has a season-ending injury, I'm not going to comment much futher than that."

It's not my personal favorite policy, but it's what a lot of teams do this time of year. So right now, the most I can assume is that none of them are done for the year. Swindall is probably close to coming back if it took until Saturday to decide he wasn't going to play. It's early in the week - so hopefully we can learn more as practices get along Tuesday and Wednesday.

Hi kyle. Can you ask why so many screen plays. Teams are reading them all too often and Garretson can get the ball down field. - @JethroUteman

I'll start out by saying that Matt Wells and Kevin McGiven know a lot more about calling plays than I do. And there's the issue of being critical of a passing game that passed for 370 yards, which was actually a season-high. So it seems a little nit-picky to be worried about a screen that doesn't work. But this wasn't the only question I got about this exact issue, so here's my best shot.

Running an offense, you can't just go to one well every down. That's why there's not just mixes of running and passing, but different kinds of those plays, different hesitations, different routes, different goals. All offensive playcallers look for diversity in those calls so they don't stick to one thing. A screen for minimal or no gain doesn't exist in a bubble - it can often keep the defense on its toes and set up the big passing play.

It's true that Utah State ran a bunch of screens that didn't do much, and one ended up in a pick. But it's also true that the Aggies took several shots down field, and had two touchdown passes longer than 25 yards. In the grand scheme, it's hard to separate the plays from one another. When you screen, run, screen, and then hit defenses with a long pass, it can set them off balance - like Garretson's second touchdown drive, when some short plays by Robert Marshall set up a 30-yard strike on second down. In Hawaii's offensive game plan, didn't it seem toward the end that it was deep shots or nothing? That didn't work for them.

Also consider successful screens can take some heat off a QB. A defensive coordinator may think twice about blitzing if a quarterback can make him pay for bringing the house. It's kind of the pocket passer's answer to the read option, and coaches have acknowledged they've had to take out a few read option elements to accommodate Garretson's playing style.

This is more just my thoughts rather than anything Wells said. I wouldn't expect him to reveal too much about what his offense is trying accomplish against any remaining opponents. And it seems a little weird to ask him after a 533-yard offensive outing, "Why do you screen so much even when fans don't like it?"

How has the MW looked in their preseason games? Any idea what happened to UNLV vs Dixie? Growing pains or sign of a down year? - @Schamp12

As a preface, I can usually only follow one team at a time religiously. But I get it: Fans want to know what the heck is going on in their new league.

So yes, UNLV lost to mighty Dixie State on Saturday by a point. Jon Judkins is to be congratulated. But I'm not buying that.

For one, UNLV suffered an injury to guard Bryce Dejean-Jones early in the game after he had been the focal point of the offense. Utah State fans should understand that it's tough to lose your leading scorer and be able to adjust on the fly. I also think in general, teams can be so up-and-down early in the season, that they might not take exhibitions as seriously. It can lead to ugly results, even losses. UNLV almost got knocked off by the Red Storm last year, then wound up a 5-seed in the big dance.

It's hard to argue, however, that the Rebels don't have talent. They do. Dejean-Jones, who strained a hamstring, had 10 points in nine minutes. DeQuan Thompson had 18 points in the game. Other guys, like Kendall Smith, may still step up. By the time conference play starts, they'll be a tough draw - even if they're not as good as last season.

So yes, I don't take too much out of exhibitions. But for fun, here's some results by order of predicted finish in the preseason poll:

• New Mexico: Beat Eastern New Mexico 87-68• UNLV: Lost to Dixie State 71-70• Boise State: Beat Lewis-Clark State 80-52• San Diego State: Beat CS San Marcos 81-66• Colorado State: Beat Regis 70-69 (!)• Wyoming: Beat UC Colorado Springs 85-81 (!)• Fresno State: Beat CS Stanislaus 76-71• Nevada: Playing Monday night• Air Force: No exhibition• San Jose State: Playing Monday night

Feel free to draw what you will. I don't personally think they are a great indicator of future success, although it might say something about a team's discipline early in the season.

That's it for this week. Keep sending in your questions.

Kyle Goonkgoon@sltrib.comTwitter: @kylegoon






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