USU football • Interceptions abound in overtime drill.
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Logan • As the ball came out, Jordan Nielsen's hands flew up.
The defensive lineman was just trying to break up the pass. He wasn't expecting the ball to stick to his fingers.
"I was honestly surprised when it went in my hands," he said. "I was like, 'Oh, dang,' and I just ran."
Nielsen's pick in an overtime drill Monday afternoon was one of a number of defensive highlights of Utah State's football practice. Jake Doughty also got a pick on Monday, as did Mo Alexander and a handful of other Aggies between the two sessions.
They had a bit of an advantage: The team practiced in shells Monday morning, then helmets only in the afternoon in an effort to have what coach Matt Wells called a "teaching workout." The Aggies worked on pressure situations, running a ones versus twos overtime drill to wrap up the day.
"Some last-minute game situations, some special teams situations earlier in practice," Wells said. "A little more of a teaching practice, taking the pads off, trying to get their legs back a little bit and have a good next two days."
That freed a few more defensive players up to get picks. Although Wells said the turnovers are more impressive with pads on, he gave his ballhawking defense credit.
"They made some nice adjustments," he said. "They made some nice individual plays."
The defense has worked hard on turning pressure into turnovers, Alexander said. In the film room, they've paid attention on where they might be able to grab passes when they blitz. It was on one of these plays where Alexander got his interception, he said.
"That turns over to film," he added. "Coach [Todd] Orlando is doing a great job of coaching us on that. We've got to come out with more energy every day."
As Nick Diaz was lining up for a potential game-winning kick in double overtime, linebacker Zach Vigil started hollering from the sideline.
When his teammates asked him what he was doing, he said, "You want us to win on these kicks this season? Then let's yell at them now!"
The sideline lit up with players shouting, trying to simulate the atmosphere of a hostile environment for Diaz, who nailed the mid-range attempt.
As best they can, the Aggies are giving the special teams unit and also the red-zone offense a dose of pressure they'll face in Rice Eccles Stadium, the Colesium, and other unfriendly venues. Vigil was glad to see Diaz pass the test at the end of practice.
"We don't have pads on, so we might as well go after the kickers a little bit," Vigil said afterward. "If we do this now, they'll be ready for the season."
Wideouts worked on running clean routes for a chunk of practice, with a few highlights mixed in when they went against corners. Ronald Butler and Hayden Weichers made high, contested catches while Brandon Swindall's juke on one of his routes left him wide open in the end zone. … The offense had some highlights in overtime as well: Chuckie Keeton completed a long pass to Joey DeMartino in double overtime, and Alex Wheat made a tough catch along the sideline from Craig Harrison.