Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Summer Filler #11: Utah State

The various conference realignments which have transpired over the last year have played out like a high-stakes game of musical chairs, with plenty of hemming and hawing from the athletic programs seemingly left without a seat. Nevada could've very easily been in that position, and it goes without saying that we sympathize with the programs and fan bases who will have to figure out how survive in the new Western Athletic Conference in 2012.

Unless, of course, those same fans claim to be morally and ethically superior to the rest of us. In that case -- pardon my French -- screw 'em.

Utah State Aggies

If the worst football programs in the WAC were contestants on "American Idol," the Aggies would have the best chance of moving on to Hollywood, i.e. getting to the .500 plateau. Granted, that's still not saying much when you haven't played in a bowl game since the Clinton administration and all of the other contestants might as well be named William Hung, but a little hope here and there couldn't hurt.


Scoring: 22.0 points per game (t-94th)
Rushing: 168.7 yards per game (41st)
Passing: 178.7 yards per game (93rd)
Total: 347.3 yards per game (84th)
1st Downs: 19.2 per game (t-65th)
3rd Down Conversions: 39.8% (64th)
Red Zone Conversions: 89.5% (9th)


Scoring: 33.8 points per game (101st)
Rushing: 179.9 yards per game (89th)
Passing: 249.8 yards per game (106th)
Total: 429.7 yards per game (101st)
Sacks: 13.0 (t-109th)
Tackles for Loss: 46.0 (118th)
Turnover Margin: -5 (t-80th)

Special Teams

Touchbacks: 2 (t-107th)
Kickoff Returns: 25.2 yards per return (13th)
Punts: 40.3 yards per punt (t-76th)
Punt Returns: 4.24 yards per return (107th)

Some Numbers to Ponder: 1,444 - Number of yards on kickoff returns junior receiver/return specialist Kerwynn Williams accumulated in 2010, a single-season FBS record; 11.08 - Number of tackles senior linebacker Bobby Wagner averaged per game in 2010, tied for seventh-best in the country; 6 - Number of winning seasons Utah State has had since 1975.

Whether it was the late kickoff, the sparse crowd or the Halloween parties that were no doubt on the minds of everyone who actually attended, Nevada's defense did not have a good second half against Utah State last year. After bolting out to a 35-0 lead while holding the Aggies to 71 total yards in the first half, the visitors exploded for 419 offensive yards and 42 points in the next two quarters. It completely soured what should've been an easy victory and gave another measure of hope to a fan base whose entire existence over the last year has been a series of hopes being cruelly/hilariously dashed one after another.

It also remains one of the two most baffling blemishes on Nevada's otherwise sublime 2010 season, with the other being the offense's (literally) offensive performance at Hawai'i. How in the silver and blue hell do you hold Hawaii and Boise State to fewer points than the Fighting Cow Milkers? Even second-string defensive players should be able to put up more resistance than what they showed in the second half of that game. It ultimately matters little in hindsight, as Utah State went on to finish 4-8, but it still mildly irritates me many months later like the lingering stench of cat pee in an old apartment.

It's easy to see why some followers of WAC football are predicting bigger things for the Aggies in 2011. The offense's only starting losses are quarterback Diondre Borel (our inaugural recipient of the Poor Man's Kaepernick award) and left tackle Spencer Johnson. Formerly injured running back Robert Turbin also returns, albeit with a newly healed ACL and as-yet-unknown effectiveness. The linebacking corps returns all three starters, but the defensive line and secondary lose five starters and four back-ups and will have to be nearly completely retooled. Vacancies at punter and place-kicker round out the losses.

The good news: the offense's potential for improvement and a more favorable schedule than in other years, both of which point to a possible breakthrough season for the Aggies. The bad news: all the replacements which must be found on a defense that was already poor and the slim margin of error the team will have in its toss-up games, meaning equal potential for another year of more of the same. Can they finish with more than four wins this year? I think so. Can they finish at .500 or better? That remains to be seen.

The very last Summer Filler entry is next Tuesday, and it's one of the only circumstances in which you'll ever see me legitimately happy to be talking about the Idaho Vandals.

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