Utah State game preview: Weber State

LOGAN – Aggie fans don’t need to look back too far to remember the last time Utah State opened its football season against a Big Sky team at home. One year ago SUU came into town and gave USU just about all it could handle. The Aggies punted the ball 14 times and had just 250 yards of total offense all night, but escaped with a 12-9 win after Aggie junior Andrew Rodriguez returned a punt 88 yards for a touchdown.

It is a story Aggie fans would rather not relive Thursday night. Senior offensive lineman Jake Simonich said the team will be ready when Weber State comes to Maverik Stadium.

“We’re never going to underestimate another team coming in here,” he said. “We know that we’re going to get Weber State’s best shot when they come up here on Thursday. (The SUU game) is definitely in the back of our minds, but it’s not something we really dwell on. It was a year ago, I was last season and we’re a new team now, a new identity.”

Weber State is coming off its first season with a winning record since 2010. The team returns nine starters on offense and eight starters on defense from the 2015 6-5 team. The Wildcats’ last game against USU resulted in a 70-7 win for the Aggies in September 2013, but head coach Matt Wells knows that was a long time ago. Weber State has a new coach in Jay Hill, and according to Wells, a new way of doing things.

“You look back and they had a couple of key wins right in the middle of the season last year, and I think they got some mojo and some confidence and they played well down the stretch,” Wells said. “They walked into Corvallis last year in game one and played Oregon State really, really tough. They weren’t scared, this is a bunch that is confident, but I think it starts with their coaching staff, their philosophy and the culture that they’ve created, but they’ve also fed it.”

Weber State took pride in its run defense last year, allowing a conference-low 346.9 yards per game. This year’s defense will likely be led by a pair of juniors. Linebacker Emmett Tela and cornerback Taron Johnson were each named to the 2016 Big Sky Preseason All-Conference team, and are expected to contribute in big ways this year. Tela led last year’s team with 72 tackles, Johnson had 44 tackles and two interceptions.

“They are an experienced team, really good linebackers on defense” Wells said. “They have really good corners, skilled, in the back end with speed. I have a lot of respect for them and it’s a tough, tough game, and something that has had our attention since we started looking at them in the spring and then throughout the summer, and obviously now into game week.”

On the offensive side of the ball the Wildcats have a fifth-year quarterback leading the team. Jadrian Clark passed for 1,875 yards and 10 touchdowns last season.

“He’s a veteran guy that won’t be fazed in terms of atmosphere and things thrown at him,” Wells said.

Clark’s top four targets are also back. Wide receivers Cam Livingston, Darryl Denby and Drew Batchelor combined for more than 1,000 yards receiving. Tight end Tui Satuala added 228 yards and two touchdowns.

More experience comes back with WSU’s running game. Eric Wilkes and Treshawn Garrett combined for more than 1,000 rushing yards in 2015 and are back for more.

This game will be USU’s first in its newly-renovated stadium and will also be the first college football game ever live-streamed on Twitter. Aggie fans will attempt to “stripe the stadium” by wearing either blue or white in alternating sections.

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