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Utah State program on solid ground

Utah State program on solid ground

by Tom Scott

Bio | Follow: @thescottslant

KTVB.COM

Posted on October 10, 2013 at 7:30 AM

Updated Thursday, Oct 10 at 7:30 AM

Thursday, October 10, 2013.

After Utah State’s best season ever, the 11-2 campaign last fall, USU coach Gary Andersen said he was in Logan to stay.  Then the Wisconsin job came along, and Andersen was in Madison lickety-split.  What were the Aggies to do?  Well, not only did they promote offensive coordinator Matt Wells to head coach for continuity’s sake, they kept almost everything else in place.  “That transition from coach Andersen to coach Wells was as smooth as could have happened with a coaching change,” said Utah State linebacker Zach Vigil at Mountain West Media Days.  “The new coaches he brought in have learned what we do instead of the other way around.”  That means everything from terminology to practice regimen.  The result is a consistent culture that has carried USU into Mountain West title contention if it can knock off Boise State Saturday.

Vigil said something else that tells you a lot about Utah State’s mindset.  “Don’t tell Chuckie this (quarterback Chuckie Keeton was sitting next to him), but we’re a defensive team.”  The Aggies certainly are now with Keeton out for the season, and the Mountain West’s top defense professes to be ready to put the team on its back.  It’ll be interesting to see how that plays out as USU faces what you might call an “emerging” offense from Boise State.  “I think we’re in a really good spot,” said Bronco quarterback Joe Southwick Monday.  “We’re improving each week, which is awesome.  Everything’s still in front of us, and it starts with this game right here at Utah State.”

Boise State has a 10-game winning streak over Utah State dating back to 1998.  But coach Chris Petersen is quick to draw a line between the last time the Broncos saw the Aggies and now.  “They’re a completely different team,” said Petersen.  “They’re good—there’s no doubt about it.”  USU hasn’t played Boise State since 2010, but the Aggies have spent part of the holidays in the Broncos’ locker room the past two Decembers.  Utah State lost to Ohio 24-23 in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in 2011 before returning to the bowl last year and exploding past Toledo, 41-15.  The loss of Keeton has the Aggies as one-touchdown underdogs Saturday, while before the injury many had them pegged as one-touchdown favorites over Boise State.

Utah State isn’t beyond burning the redshirt year of true freshman quarterback Darell Garretson, if the Aggies deem him to be ready Saturday night.  Garretson has been doing what Southwick did at Boise State in 2009, traveling to every USU road game.  The Broncos had Southwick ready in case Kellen Moore went down that year.  Likewise, Garretson is prepared.  Some called him the top quarterback prospect in Arizona as a senior last year—over Boise State true freshman Ryan Finley.  Garretson threw for 3,065 yards and 27 touchdowns and rushed for 347 yards for Chandler High in 2012. 

No news is no news on the Chris Petersen-to-USC front.  A lot of people want to throw Petersen’s hat in the ring, though.  In case you missed this, former Oregon coach Mike Bellotti had a short list of names for the Trojans at OregonLive.com, the Oregonian’s website.  In a column by John Canzano, Bellotti said candidates USC must consider are Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin, Boise State's Chris Petersen, Vanderbilt's James Franklin, Louisville's Charlie Strong, and Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio.  "If they could somehow get Chris Petersen it would be the greatest get in the world."  By the way, a Scott Slant reader corrected me on Sam Petersen, Coach Pete’s son.  Sam is in ninth grade, not his sophomore year.

Idaho State had a game it knew it could win last week, and it looked like it could happen until North Dakota scored on an unthinkable fourth quarter fumble recovery in the end zone.  That provided the winning points as UND beat the Bengals in Holt Arena, 28-25.  Now ISU is home again, with another rare opportunity to win a Big Sky game as it faces Northern Colorado Saturday.  The Bears are 1-5 and are the only team coach Mike Kramer has beaten in conference play since taking over at Idaho State.  The Bengals won 50-20 in Pocatello in 2011 before UNC got payback last year in Greeley, 52-14.

Kentucky coach John Calipari really wants to beat Boise State in December, along with every other team on the Wildcats schedule.  According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, this is how Calipari paints opponents to his players: "I tell them, not only do they want to beat Kentucky.  They want to beat you as an individual player.  You know why?  They wanted that scholarship that you got, and they want to prove they're better than you."  Calipari bluntly says he wants to go undefeated this season.  That would be 40-0 with a team that features five McDonald's All-Americans as incoming recruits.  "Before I retire, I'd like to coach an undefeated team because they say it can't be done," Calipari said.  The Broncos take on the Wildcats December 10.

The Portland Trail Blazers’ hopes are high this season, very high for a team coming off a 33-49 record.  “I don’t want to shy away from the goal of making the playoffs,” coach Terry Stotts said Tuesday on Idaho SportsTalk.  “Last year was a success in that a lot of young guys got to play,” said Stotts.  “This year the roster was constructed to win.”  Stotts credited Portland president and general manager Neil Olshey with changing the look of the team, checking off a couple key additions: “Robyn Lopez as a starting defensive center, and Mo Williams with scoring off the bench and relieving (Damon) Lillard of his ball-handling responsibilities at times.”  Lillard, the 2012-13 NBA Rookie of the Year out of Weber State, is now the Blazers’ centerpiece.  Hopefully we’ll see a lot of Lillard in tomorrow night’s exhibition game versus the Jazz at CenturyLink Arena.

An Idaho Steelheads training camp nugget: At one point during drills yesterday, coach Brad Ralph had Connor Goggin in an Ivy League defensive pairing with Colin Dueck.  A pretty smart pair, don’t you think?  Goggin played for Dartmouth and Dueck for Yale.  While Dueck was winning a national championship last spring, Goggin was probably wondering where he was going to go next after his team, the Trenton Titans, ceased operations following the ECHL season.  Ralph snapped up Goggin’s rights and brought him to Idaho, the furthest west he says he’s ever been.  He’ll get to see the Cache Valley in Utah tomorrow night when the Steelheads face the Utah Grizzlies in an exhibition game.  The Steelies say all Bronco football fans are welcome, by the way.

Just like that, Troy Merritt makes his re-entry onto the PGA Tour.  The reconfigured tour season starts today with the first tournament of 2013-14, the Frys.com Open in San Martin, CA.  Merritt earned his tour card just 11 days ago when he completed a strong run through the Web.com Tour Finals.  This will be the former Boise State star’s first PGA Tour event since October of 2011.  If Merritt could make his return the same way he made his debut on the big circuit in 2010, he’d be more than happy.  He was in a six-way tie for the lead at the end of the first round of the Sony Open in January of that year and finished tied for 20th, earning $61,820.

This Day In Sports…October 10, 1953:

The birthday of one of the key components of Seattle’s only NBA championship.  Gus Williams led the Sonics in scoring with 28.6 points per game in the 1979 NBA Finals when Seattle won the title over the Washington Bullets, four games to one.  Williams, nicknamed “the Wizard,” had his No. 1 jersey retired by the Sonics in 2004.  Who knows from what rafters it hangs now?  Little-remembered fact: his brother, Dave, played hoops for Boise State.  Gus Williams…60 years old today.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment Sunday nights at 10:30PM on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 The Ticket.  He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)

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