Logan • The Utah State football team practiced without pads on Wednesday, the last session before Saturday's spring game.
Coach Matt Wells was encouraged. His Aggies didn't bring the tempo down, and there was something else familiar about it: a nervous sort of energy that comes before a game.
"They really came out like I expected them to," he said. "A lot of juice, a lot of energy, and a lot of giddiness. They're loose, and sometimes that's good."
Even if the score won't count as the Aggies play themselves at 2 p.m. on Saturday, the game certainly matters.
When the Utah State administration named Wells the next head football coach, they spoke of continuity and keeping momentum. In the spring game, Wells and the Aggies will try to show that the promise has been kept, that the program is still maintaining its recently high standard, and that they'll be ready to win come fall.
The biggest challenge for Utah State will be to prove that the new era is more of the same at least when it comes to success, talent and overall passion. And coming off an 11-2 season, the Aggies expect the pressure to perform well to be on it's their biggest motivation.
"I think they'll come out Saturday ready to go," Wells said. "Those kids will appreciate some supportive faces out in the stands, and they'll all be fired up."
There's at least 15 reasons to feel confident about the on-field product: That's how many starters on offense and defense return, including 10 who earned all-conference recognition.
The standard-bearer is quarterback Chuckie Keeton, who set program records for passing yards (3,373), touchdown passes (27), and completion percentage (67.6) in a season last year. In 2013, five returning linemen will protect him, and those around the program say he's better faster, more accurate, more composed than before.
"I do think he's a little sharper," lineman Eric Schultz said. "He's definitely cleaned up some passing things, and he's an all-around great leader back there."
Keeton and the Utah State offense will be wearing blue Saturday, pitted against the defense wearing white. That unit's main strength lies in its front seven, which boasts Jake Doughty, Kyler Fackrell and Connor Williams among its most dynamic playmakers.
A few players are still looking to prove themselves in the secondary and the wide receiving corps. If they hope to lock down their starting spots, this is their best chance before new players arrive in the summer to challenge them on the depth chart.
"It's going to mean a lot," lineman Kyle Whimpey said. "It's an opportunity for us to solidify our roles, it's obviously a chance to get our spots. There's a lot of competition out there."
Utah State Spring Game
O Romney Stadium, Logan
Saturday, 2 p.m.
Length • Two 15-minute quarters with normal clock rules, followed by two 10-minute quarters with a running clock until the last two minutes of the fourth quarter
Offensive scoring (Blue) • Touchdown = 6 pts. Conversion = 1 or 2 pts. Field goal = 3 pts. Run of 15+ yards = 2 pts. Pass of 20+ yards = 2 pts. First Down = 1 pt.
Defensive scoring (White) • Touchdown = 6 pts. Safety = 2 pts. Conversion = 1 or 2 pts. Turnover = 5 pts. 3-and-out = 3 pts. Blocked FG = 3 pts. Stopped drive, Sack, TFL = 2 pts.