Struggling offense looks to break out against the U

By By Cody Brunner and By Cody Brunner

By Cody Brunner

Utah State came into this season with renewed optimism after its abysmal 3-8 last year.

The Aggies had good reason to be excited, too, as they were returning 33 lettermen, including seven offensive starters and five defense starters.

USU returns its top two rushers, top passer and top two receivers on the offensive side of the ball, while also returning three of its top four tackle leaders on the defensive side of the ball.

In the opening weeks of the season, though, that optimism slowly turned to pessimism as the Aggies dropped their first two games.

USU head coach Brent Guy enters his second season coaching the Aggies and is frustrated with his team’s lack of offense thus far.

“The biggest thing that has us in a bad spot is we’re not scoring points because we can’t finish drives,” Guy said. “We have got to score points. We have got to start faster, score points and give ourselves a chance to be in the game in the fourth quarter.”

The Aggie offense struggled tremendously in its opening game against Wyoming, amassing a mere 129 total yards and never scoring in the 38-7 loss.

Utah State scored its only touchdown of the game on a 45-yard interception return by Antoine Taylor late in the second quarter. The three-point deficit that resulted (10-7) was the closest the Aggies ever got as the Cowboys ran off 28 consecutive points to win the game.

The Aggies tried to bounce back last week against Arkansas, but the offense once again proved to be their Achilles’ heel, and they failed to score in a 20-0 loss.

The offense managed to move the ball slightly better against the Razorbacks, racking up 18 first downs and 249 total yards.

“If you look at the stats, we had 18 first downs and so did Arkansas, but the difference was their ability to make big plays. They made some big throws and a long run,” Guy said.

That run was a 72-yard jaunt up the middle by running back Darren McFadden, who scored twice and ran for 184 yards on 20 carries.

Junior running back Marcus Cross was the one bright spot for the Aggies, rushing 29 times for 103 yards.

But Cross’ rushing yards are the only positive statistic for Utah State. The Aggies have been thoroughly dominated the first couple weeks in points (58-7), rushing yards (250-95 per game) and total yards (459-189 per game). The Aggie passing game has struggled significantly thus far, averaging a mere 94 yards per game and completing only 41 percent of passes.

Utah State will try to improve upon those statistics tomorrow when it plays its first home game of the season against the Utes.

Quarterback Leon Jackson III will lead the Aggies in their home opener after gaining a total of 188 yards in his first two games this season.

“He (Jackson) is doing what we are asking him to do,” Guy said. “He is not playing perfectly, but I think he understands and knows what we want to do with our offense and will help us win.”

Coming off of his stellar performance against the Razorbacks, running back Cross will attempt to slice through the U defense, which has only allowed 2.7 yards per rush this year.

Countering the running attack is a highly touted receiving corps that has not quite lived up to expectations this year. Otis Nelson and Kevin Robinson have combined for a total of 99 yards receiving and have dropped numerous balls in the two losses. Tony Pennyman was kicked off of the team earlier this week because of a violation of team rules.

Middle linebacker Jake Hutton leads an Aggie defense that has allowed 29 points a game. Hutton has 17 tackles and two forced fumbles in two games this season.

Devon Hall starts on the outside and has accounted for another 17 tackles for the Aggies.

Utah State’s secondary has been the cornerstone to the Aggies’ defense this year, only allowing 209 passing yards per game.

In-state rivalries are never taken lightly, so it is no surprise to find Aggies psyched for their home opener.

“We are looking to come out and get our first win of the year. It will be our first home game and we want to defend our home turf,” safety Terrance Washington said.

The Utah-Utah St. match-up is the 12th-most played rivalry in the nation: the two teams have met 105 times. The Utes lead the series (73-28-4) and have won the last eight meetings. Last year, Brian Johnson carved the Aggies’ defense for 268 yards and two touchdowns en route to a 31-7 Utah win.

The Aggies will look to erase history and get their season back on track tomorrow when they take on the Utes at Romney Stadium in Logan.