PROVO — Wade Denniston of the Herald Journal covers Utah State football and knows the team as well as anyone. Who better to give an insider's perspective on BYU's next opponent? We've asked him five questions about this week's matchup between the Cougars and the Aggies. Here's what he had to say:
1. Utah State has improved every year under Gary Andersen. USU certainly looks to have its best team this year. What has Andersen done to turn the Aggie program around?
"One key thing Coach Andersen has done to turn the USU program around is recruit better athletes, especially locally. Coach Andersen knows there is good talent in the state of Utah and he's not afraid to fight for some of the big-name recruits here. He wins some of those battles and he loses some, but no longer does the local talent immediately shut the door on the Aggies. He has also instilled a strong missionary program and recruited more Polynesian kids."
2. There is a lot of talk about Utah State being the best team in the state, and it can pretty much prove to be so with a win over BYU. Just how important is this game to the program, as a whole, and to Aggie fans?
"In-state games are very important to the Aggies, especially ones that appear on national television. Not only does it help in recruiting, but bragging rights are huge to any program. The Aggies are definitely looking for some payback after letting the game against BYU slip away last season. A victory over BYU would give USU a 3-0 record against in-state foes this season and ensure the Aggies with the Beehive Boot for the second time in the last three years and eighth time since its inception in 1971."
3. Chuckie Keeton has had a very good year so far and is certainly the engine that drives the Aggie offense. What type of offense is it and what are some of the key parts other than Keeton?
"Utah State runs a spread offense, but definitely loves to control the ball, so the Aggies don't mind keeping the ball on the ground. Senior running back Kerwynn Williams leads USU's rushing attack with 519 yards and three touchdowns on 89 carries. Keeton has completed 106 of his 155 pass attempts for 1,283 yards and 11 touchdowns. He is second on the team in rushing with 206 yards. Williams leads the team in receiving yards with 262, while Chuck Jacobs has caught 17 passes for 230 yards and three TDs. Fellow wide receiver Matt Austin has 15 catches for 238 yards and three TDs, as well."
4. Gary Andersen is one of the top defensive minds in the country. What type of defense does he run at Utah State, and who are some of the standouts on that side of the football?
"The Aggies run a 3-4 defense. Dave Aranda was hired in the offseason to be USU's defensive coordinator and the former Hawaii DC has done a great job in his short time with the Aggies. Utah State has tremendous team speed on defense and is a big reason why the Aggies are off to a 4-1 start. Safety McKade Brady, who began his career at BYU as a member of the Cougars track and field team, and linebacker Zach Vigil are tied for the team lead in tackles with 39 apiece."
5. What does Utah State need to do to come out of Provo with a win? What are the keys to the game?
"The Aggies just need to stay consistent and keep doing what they've been doing through the first five games of the season. USU is no longer fazed by big-time games and playing in hostile environments. In talking with McKade Brady earlier this week, he said the Aggies — defensively speaking — just need to do a good job 'of staying with our assignments and not let them get any big chunks of yardage.' Chuckie Keeton said if Utah State plays 'tough, physical and fast, and we execute our game plan, then we should be in good standing at the end of it.'"
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @BrandonCGurney
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company