Utah State football: Aggies implementing triple threat to replicate 2011 rushing attack
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
LOGAN — The lasting legacy of the 2011 Utah State offense will be this: USU had one of the greatest running attacks ever to play in Cache Valley.
Behind backs Robert Turbin and Michael Smith, Utah State ran for a school record 3,675 yards last season and 37 rushing touchdowns, good enough for second all-time.
Turbin and Smith are gone to the NFL now — Turbin drafted in the fourth round by the Seattle Seahawks and Smith in the seventh round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — but that doesn't mean Utah State won't be trying to duplicate their efforts.
This season it is up to a trio of backs in Kerwynn Williams, Joe Hill and Robert Marshall, who are charged with building upon what Turbin and Smith began.
"I look at us as being the resurrection of those guys," Marshall said. "It's our time to shine, to push ourselves to do better than those guys have done and leave the legacy of Joe, Kerwynn and Robert. Those guys did a tremendous job, but now it's our time to step up."
Williams has been an all-purpose threat for the Aggies for three years while awaiting his turn to be the featured back as a senior. Hill came virtually out of nowhere this offseason after carrying the ball just seven times in 2011. Marshall, the biggest of the group, provides a punishing change of pace.
While Turbin and Smith have moved on, their legacy lives — not just in the record books and with the fans, but with what they taught the next class.
All three running backs remarked how much they learned just standing on the sidelines and watching them take care of business day-in and day-out.
"Watching them over the years prepared me," Williams said. "You have to be mentally prepared for anything. You have to run hard all the time and run downhill."
"They taught us everything," Hill added. "I just want to go out there on the field and take everything they taught me and play hard."
The lessons Turbin and Smith imparted is most evident in the physical nature of the Utah State running attack. Despite different sizes and skill sets, all three backs run downhill, break tackles and fight for extra yards on every carry.
"We knew (Hill) was an explosive kid," quarterback Chuckie Keeton said after Thursday night's win over Southern Utah. "One big thing is now he can break tackles. He wasn't doing it as much the past year. Now he's taking hits."
While the talk out of fall camp often focused on how Utah State will be more balanced and will air things out more, the Aggies will still be a run-first team as long as head coach Gary Andersen has his way. Against Southern Utah last week the Aggies rushed the ball 52 times compared to just 26 passing attempts. Even after racking up 265 yards on the ground, Andersen lamented in the postgame press conference that he wished they would have run the ball more effectively.
To prove they are just as good as their predecessors, this year's threesome will need to show they can be successful against their next two opponents. The Aggies face Utah on Friday before traveling to Wisconsin next week. If they can grind out the yardage against Pac-12 and Big Ten opponents, it would show they can take up the mantle.
While carrying on the legacy of running the ball is important, for this triumvirate of Aggies it's about more than that.
"I want Utah State to be known as a place where they run the ball well. Where they pass the ball well, where they block, where they play defense, where they take the ball away," Marshall said. "I just want everyone to know that Utah State is a great place to play football."
Aggie backs at a glance
5-foot-8, 189 pounds
Sr., Las Vegas
Caeer stats: 179 carries, 1,068 yards, 7 TDs
All-purpose back ran for 542 yards on just 81 attempts last season behind Smith and Turbin and set a then-NCAA record for kickoff return yards in a season with 1,444 in 2010.
5-11, 185 pounds
Soph., Fullerton, Calif.
Career Stats: 18 carries, 140 yards, 4 TDs
Only carried the ball seven times in mop-up duty in 2011, but busted out for 116 yards and 3 TDs in the opener against Southern Utah.
6-0, 223 pounds
Career Stats: 55 carries, 260 yards. 2 TDs
Physical back getting his chance after being buried on the depth chart in years past. Ran for 53 yards in just nine carries against Southern Utah, nearly equaling his 2011 total of 61.
Battle of the Brothers
Utah (1-0) at Utah State (1-0)
Friday, 6 p.m. MT
TV: ESPN2 Radio: 700 AM, 97.5 FM
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