New coach, same look for Utah State football

Published: Friday, March 29 2013 12:40 a.m. MDT

USU head coach Matt Wells during Utah State Aggies football practice Thursday, March 28, 2013, in Logan

Tom Smart, Deseret News, Tom Smart, Deseret News, Tom Smart, Deseret News

LOGAN — If you didn't know any better while watching Utah State football practice, you would think that nothing had changed since winning the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in December.

Quarterback Chuckie Keeton is still dissecting defenses with his arm and making plays with his feet. The defense is still flying all over the field and there is still a coach sporting a visor and barking out orders.

The difference, of course, is the coach in the visor is now Matt Wells, who is taking over the reins for Gary Andersen, who departed for Wisconsin shortly after season's end. Wells, the Aggies' offensive coordinator last year, has kept the same energy, culture and style fans have grown accustomed to under Andersen.

If Thursday afternoon's first scrimmage of spring is any indication, Aggie fans should have few worries about the change and plenty to be excited about this fall. Both sides of the ball made big plays in the first simulated action of spring.

"I really thought before I've seen the tape that there was a lot of give and take," Wells said. "Offense took the ball from the one-yard line, but didn't finish. On the flip side we had some defensive lineman stand up when they had played seven, eight or nine plays and that's the mark of a great defense."

Wells is still adjusting to his new role as the head man, at one point referring to the offense as 'we' before correcting himself, but is getting a grasp on the defense in a hurry. Instead of watching defense on tape from a schematic standpoint, he has now moved to an evaluator.

"It's not real hard. The one's that create havoc and show up are the ones who continue to play well," Wells said.

The defense, led by Wells and new defensive coordinator Todd Orlando, racked up three interceptions, five sacks and a fumble recovery during the scrimmage. They narrowly missed out on a few additional turnovers as the USU running backs were all too happy to lay the ball on the turf.

"We have to have running backs that will hang on to the dadgum football," Wells said of the fumbles. "If you are going to lay the ball on the carpet you are going to watch right next to me. "

The first team offense looked like the high-powered machine that dominated the WAC last season. Keeton finished 17-for-28 passing for 186 yards and a touchdown despite no longer having security blankets like Matt Austin, Chuck Jacobs or Kerwynn Williams to throw to.

"We have got to find the guy who is our number one go-to-guy. Last year it was Matt Austin and this year we definitely have to find who it is," Keeton said. "We have some good candidates but nobody has really defined themselves completely."

The new crop of skill players looked just as formidable as their predecessors. Bruce Natson caught six passes for 69 yards to lead the receivers while Brandon Swindall hauled in Keeton's touchdown toss to finish with four catches for 44 yards.

On the ground, Joe Hill carried the ball 10 times for 41 yards with the first team, while Abou Toure had 10 carries of his own for 43 yards.

Wells will go back and look at the tape to find things for the team to work on, but was pretty happy with the way the team looked in its first step towards their 2013 campaign.

"Saturday's in the fall are only an accumulation of what you've done during the week and what you've done during camp. Here we are in spring ball, scrimmage No. 1 and practice No. 6, it's just a culmination of the first five practices," Wells said. "How you perform out here is usually how you perform in practice."

The Aggies have eight more scheduled practices this spring leading up to the annual Blue vs. White Spring game on Saturday, April 20.

Twitter: @DesNewsKraig

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