2013 Utah State Football: Three Fall Camp Storylines

After posting one of their best seasons in program history, the Utah State Aggies enter the 2013 campaign with 18 returning starters but also with a new coach entering a new conference. Here are three fall camp storylines:

1. New head coach: Matt Wells goes from offensive coordinator to replacing the popular Gary Andersen who left for Wisconsin. The positive is that Wells is clearly familiar with the program and the personnel. The concern is adjusting to the pressures on and off the field as being the head coach and living up to filling the shoes of Andersen. In addition how will the players respond to new coordinators and coaches such as Kevin McGiven (OC/QB coach), Luke Wells (Co-OC/TE coach), Todd Orlando (DC) and Mark Weber (Assistant head coach/OL coach). All indications point that the transition is going smoothly. A win over Utah in the opener would do wonders to convince the fan base all will be well.

2. Finding playmakers: As long as quarterback Chuckie Keeton stays healthy big plays shouldn’t be a problem. But definitely some receivers need to emerge after losing top producers Matt Austin and Chuck Jacobs along with tight end Kellen Barlett. In addition can Joe Hill continue the run of Aggie 1,000 yard rushers following in the footsteps of Robert Turbin and Kerwynn Williams. With all five offensive linemen remaining intact from a year ago chances of that happening are good.

3. The secondary: Anytime you lose a cornerback that was taken in the third round of the NFL draft replacing that player is difficult. In addition to Willie Davis departing, the Aggies also must fill the shoes of free safety McKade Brady. Having corner Nevin Lawson back will definitely help matters.

National Letter Of Intent Signing Day Observations For BYU, Utah And Utah State

I’m not much of a National Letter of Intent Signing Day guy. As everyone knows it’s a very inexact science and difficult to project whether some 18 year old high school kid is going to become the next Heisman winner. With all that said, it is also the lifeline of a program so coaches have to hit a lot more than they miss if they want job security. Here are some quick observations on the state of Utah schools.

BYU: According to Scout.com the Cougars were the only program in the state to acquire a four-star recruit in offensive lineman Brayden Kearsley. Otherwise, according to most reporters who follow this stuff more closely, none of the other signees were really pursued by anyone else. Of course BYU has so many more layers than most programs considering the unique aspects of the school, but with the independent schedule toughening up in the future BYU better hope they don’t miss on many of these kids.

Utah Utes: At his signing day press conference Kyle Whittingham said he wanted guys with size and speed which he feels they accomplished. However their class is considered to be in the lower half of the Pac-12. In their past life in the MWC, Whittingham had the ability to recruit athletes with speed and coach them up. But that was MWC speed which is much different than what you need to compete in the Pac-12. Now if he accomplished that with this class the pressure is now on him and his staff to coach these kids to the next level to compete against the more talented Pac-12 programs. It’s a lot to ask but it needs to happen so Utah can be a consistent winning program which in turn will bring higher caliber recruits.

Utah State Aggies: Credit Matt Wells in holding on to most of the recruits the school was targeting before he was officially named to replace Gary Andersen. Much like BYU and Utah, time will tell whether the athletes they are bringing in can live up to the pressure of playing in a better conference. Fortunately for Wells though he has strong pieces and playmakers returning. He’ll have to hope the JC kids can step up immediately to assist at wide receiver and defensive back.

Video Of A Q&A With New Wisconsin Coach Gary Andersen

While Utah State was introducing their new head football coach Matt Wells, the University of Wisconsin website released a Q&A video with their new leader Gary Andersen. It’s the first interview for Andersen as Badgers coach. For Aggie fans it may seem strange seeing him in red but as I wrote in my KSL.com column you should not be bitter and should embrace him leaving.

Wisconsin And Utah State Coach Gary Andersen Are In “Serious Talks”

Here is the latest information according to my sources on Utah State coach Gary Andersen leaving to take the Wisconsin job:

12/19/12 (2:38pm):
-Sources tell me Gary Andersen is in Madison this afternoon. He is expected to meet with Barry Alvarez and members of the board of regents and athletics board. It was expected the regents would approve the deal Thursday morning and then a press conference would follow. Some reports now say that press conference will happen Friday.

-According to sources the contract is pretty much done and now needs to be approved by the regents. It’s a five year deal worth about $2 million per season. Andersen will make $1.8 million in year one, year two-$1.9 million, year three-$2 million, year four-$2.1 million and year five-$2.2 million. He also has modest incentives built in where he can make as much as another $500,000 per season. In addition, if certain minimum requirements are met each season the contract rolls over giving Andersen another additional year on the deal with an increase in the base salary.

12/19/12 (11:30am MST):
-Word is Utah State offensive coordinator Matt Wells wants the head coaching job and could be interviewing as early as today. That makes sense since I’m sure he’ll have to make a decision on whether to leave with Gary Andersen ASAP. Financially, Well will have an interesting decision considering the Wisconsin OC position would pay as much if not more than the Aggies head coaching position. Hiring within would help with the continuity of the program and definitely appease star quarterback Chuckie Keeton. However, Wells has only one year of experience as a coordinator and no experience as a head coach.

-As of this morning Utah defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake still had not been contacted by Utah State but it is known he’s on the short list. I had multiple sources last night tell me Sitake has very strong interest in the job. If he would get the position, Sitake would bring Aaron Roderick up with him as the offensive coordinator. He would also retain all USU assistants that don’t go with Andersen to Wisconsin.

-Source tells me Gary Andersen was up early this morning continuing to call his Utah State players to explain the situation. His goal was to talk to every single one of them. Not many coaches would take the time and effort to do that when leaving for another job.

12/18/12 (11:35pm MST):
-Interesting note. To get a reference on Gary Andersen, Barry Alvarez talked with Ohio State coach Urban Meyer. Meyer hired Andersen at Utah as defensive line coach and remain close friends.

12/18/12 (11:18pm MST):
-Have been told by a source close to the situation that discussions will continue Wednesday on contractual terms. The plan is then for Andersen to meet with Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez and members of the university’s board of regents and athletics board.

-Since it’s a state run university the board of regents needs to approve the deal. First step is to schedule an emergency board meeting which 24 hours notice must be given. That means the meeting will be scheduled first thing Wednesday morning. On Thursday morning the board will meet and approve the contract that Alvarez presents to them. A press conference should immediately follow.

-Had another source say that Gary Andersen has already reached out to Utah defensive line coach Chad Kauha’aha’a and plans to hire him once the Wisconsin deal is finalized. Kauha’aha’a is very highly thought of and would be a big gain for Wisconsin and a huge loss for Kyle Whittingham’s program.

12/18/12 (9:24pm MST):
-While multiple reports say the deal is done, I am told Gary Andersen and Wisconsin are in “serious talks.” No deal has been completed but most likely will get done in the next 36 hours.

-Most, but not all, of the current Utah State coaching staff would join Andersen. On the defensive side of the ball, coordinator Dave Aranda and associate head coach/special teams coordinator/safeties coach Bill Busch would definitely leave. I’m hearing linebackers coach Kevin Klune and defensive line coach Frank Maile would most likely be left behind. Word is Andersen would hire Utah defensive line coach Chad Kauha’aha’a who had served on his staff for two years before joining the Utes.

The majority of the offensive coaching staff would go as well although it’s unclear whether Matt Wells would stay if Utah State pursues him as their next head coach.

-Based on the information I have received my educated guess is the deal from Wisconsin will be in the $2 million per year range. The previous Badgers coach Brett Bielema was making around $2.5 million.

-As for candidates to replace Andersen, Wells would be one of the leading candidates if he chooses not to go to Wisconsin. Utah defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake, a Andersen protege would also be a strong candidate. In fact a source close to Sitake told me he would have serious interest in the position if contacted.

For more updates follow me on Twitter @KevinGrahamKFAN.

Utah State Aggies 41 Toledo Rockets 15: Three Thoughts On The Famous Idaho Potato Bowl USU Victory

Utah State Aggies fans rushed the field after their team posted a 41-15 win over the Toledo Rockets in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl and why not, right? Their team just won their first bowl game in 19 years and wrapped up an 11-2 season. From a laughing stock, to perhaps once the bowl season plays out a top 15 team in the country, the Aggies faithful had every right to blend into that blue Boise State turf. Here are three thoughts on USU’s victory:

1. Game Changers: Utah State had game changers in Chuckie Keeton and Kerwynn Williams while Toledo didn’t. Obviously the Rockets weren’t helped losing their top defensive player, middle linebacker Dan Molls on the opening kickoff, and their biggest offensive weapon running back David Fluellen early in the game. As for the Aggies, Keeton’s first half 62 yard touchdown run proved to be really the lone bright spot of the offense in the first half. Then with Utah State clinging to just a 13-9 lead early in the fourth quarter, Williams took the game over running for 198 of his 235 yards along with three touchdowns. Add in his 34 receiving yards the senior accounted for over 46 percent of the team’s offense. Definitely worth of him receiving the games MVP honors.

2. Defensive toughness: Surprisingly for just over three quarters this game was a defensive struggle. While the offense seemed lost for the first three quarters, the defense is what kept the Aggies in the lead. As has been the case most of the season, this unit stepped up when needed and made plays. Senior outside linebacker Bojay Filimoeatu had a huge game with 11 tackles, a sack and tackle for loss. The regulars stepped up including Will Davis, Jake Doughty, Zach Vigil and Kyler Fackerell who had an interception. The defense was particularly nasty in the red zone.

3. The future: It’s bright for Utah State but this will be a test to see if coach Gary Andersen has built up the talent pool to replace key players and keep the program at this high level. While several impact players return, starting with Keeton, others will need to be found to replace Williams, Filimoeatu and Davis. Andersen will have some coaches he may have to replace as well including Mike Sanford who is leaving for Indiana State. In addition, as I reported, defensive coordinator Dave Aranda will be making a decision over the next couple days on whether to accept jobs at either California or Texas Tech. Add in moving to a more difficult conference along with a nonconference schedule that features road games at Utah and USC plus BYU at home it will be interesting to see if the Aggies can duplicate the success of this season. Although for a fanbase that has had nothing to be excited about for so many years, isn’t it nice to actually have big expectations?

UPDATE 12/16/12: @FootballScoop is reporting that Cal has hired Wisconsin linebackers coach Andy Buh to be their defensive coordinator. This is good news for Aggie fans that were hoping Aranda would stay at Utah State although he still has to decide on whether he will take the Texas Tech job.

Utah State Aggies Trainer Mike Williams Talks About Saving The Life of Basketball Player Danny Berger

Utah State Aggies trainer Mike Williams joined Gunther and Graham on 1320 KFAN Monday to talk about saving the life of basketball player Danny Berger. Williams explained what he did to revive Berger, what he was thinking and whether his heroics have set in yet. I have interviewed countless individuals over the years but this may have been the most important and touching one yet.

Reggie Dunn, Gary Andersen, Tommy Connor, Kerwynn Williams, Brady Poppinga, Randy Foye: The Best Of Gunther And Graham Interviews

It was a great week of interviews last week on Gunther and Graham on 1320 KFAN. Here they all all are in one convenient post:

Reggie Dunn–Utah Utes All American Kick Returner: Dunn talked about his success as well as record breaking season and career. He also talked about what it was like growing up in Compton.

Gary Andersen–Utah State Aggies Football Coach: I think it’s safe to say this may be the most entertaining and unique coach interview you’ll hear across the country. Andersen also shared insight on bowl preparations for his opponent Toledo.

Tommy Connor–Utah Utes Assistant Basketball Coach: Connor shared his unique perspective as he played and coached under the late Rick Majerus.

Kerwynn Williams–Utah State Aggies Running Back: Williams talked about his great senior season and what the future is in store for the USU program.

Brady Poppinga–BYU, NFL Analyst and Dallas Cowboy: Poppinga share his insight on the BYU program and what it’s been like playing for the Cowboys.

Randy Foye–Utah Jazz Guard: Discussed how the team is progressing and his short-lived acting career:

Gary Andersen Announces He Will Stay As Head Coach At Utah State

As reported first on 1320 KFAN Gary Andersen announced that he will remain as head coach at Utah State. This comes after he had been reported as a candidate for both the California and Colorado jobs and previously mentioned for the Kentucky opening. Sources tell me that Andersen met with Cal and had several very good discussions but in the end he felt more comfortable and wanted to stay at Utah State. He had also been contacted by Colorado but sources tell me no official interview took place despite the fact that some reports said he was their No. 1 candidate.

Next year the Aggies should be strong once again with quarterback Chuckie Keeton returning as the team moves into the Mountain West Conference. Add in the family element with three of his sons playing for him next year and the stronger commitment from the university to pay competitive wages so he can keep his assistants, the rational behind his decision makes sense.

As Andersen told Gunther and Graham in the interview below, “It’s a good day to be an Aggie.” For Utah State fans, it definitely is.

Full interview with Andersen:

Pac-12 Power Poll Plus BYU Plus Utah State–Week 14

It’s the Week 14 and final regular season edition of the Pac-12 Power Poll plus BYU plus Utah State. For those wondering why BYU and Utah State are in this poll, our radio show Gunther and Graham originates in Salt Lake City so we include the local teams to spice things up. The poll is compiled by the 1320 KFAN afternoon show team of Gunther and Graham featuring hosts Kyle Gunther and Kevin Graham as well as producers Will Smith and Ben Anderson. Send all complaints to the producers! This week we were all in agreement with the poll below and honor our new No. 1 team heading into the Pac-12 Championship game with a few pic’s of their cheerleaders. Why they are dressed in Wonder Woman uniforms that’s for you to decide. Enjoy!

PAC-12 FOOTBALL POWER POLL PLUS BYU PLUS UTAH STATE:

1. STANFORD (2): David Shaw loses one of the top QB’s in college football and still leads his team to the Pac-12 South title and a chance at the championship. Deserving of the league’s coach of the year honors.

2. OREGON (3): A missed overtime field goal against Stanford keeps the Ducks from the national championship game. Don’t feel too bad–they’ll still be in a BCS bowl.

3. UCLA (1): After a reporter basically accused Jim Mora of throwing the season finale against Stanford to play them again in the title game a dominant win would make you wonder.

4. OREGON STATE (4): Even though they lost to the Ducks, only three L’s this season is a huge accomplishment. Oh wait, they still have to play Nicholls state. Like I said…

5. USC (5): A 7-5 record puts Lane Kiffin squarely on the hot seat.

6. ARIZONA STATE (9): Devils end the regular season on a high note with a comeback win over arch rival Arizona.

7. UTAH STATE (7): WAC champs, BCS ranked, 20th in the AP poll, Potato Bowl bound–it was quite the year. Now will Gary Andersen be coaching a true Pac-12 team in this poll next year?

8. ARIZONA (6): Disappointing loss to the Devils in the season finale but still an impressive first year for Rich Rodriguez making this team bowl eligible.

9. WASHINGTON (8): How do you beat Stanford and Oregon State but lose to Washington State?

10. UTAH (10): Without kick returner Reggie Dunn this team may have only three wins this year.

11. BYU (11): The Cougars finally have a quarterback in James Lark. Uh, if Riley Nelson is healthy he will start the bowl game? Scratch that previous sentence.

12. CAL (12): Coaching search continues. A landing spot for Utah State’s Gary Andersen?

13. WASHINGTON STATE (14): Cougars beat their rival and already rumors of Mike Leach leaving? Did anyone look to see he finished 3-9 this year?

14. COLORADO (13): Buffaloes fire Jon Embree after just two years and then let him hold an emotional press conference just before the AD is to speak. Yeah, not so bright.

Is Gary Andersen Staying At Utah State?

After a weekend in which Utah State won the WAC title, their first outright championship since 1936, moved up to No. 20 in the AP poll and 22nd in the Coaches poll and made their debut in the BCS standings at No. 24, you would think their head coach Gary Andersen would be atop many lists for the several vacant coaching jobs. I’m guessing he is or after talking with him on Gunther and Graham on 1320 KFAN–he was.

Andersen admitted that he had been contacted by schools but said the opportunities didn’t fit him. Unless he has a change of heart (and if a school comes waiving large amounts of dollars that could happen), in my opinion that means he’s staying at Utah State. Knowing the jobs that are now open and with reports that he was on a short list for the Kentucky and Cal positions with Colorado as another possibility it’s pretty clear that he didn’t feel those were the right opportunities.

That is good news for Aggie fans as this team should be strong again next season as it moves into the MWC. Of course that means more rumors next year but for now enjoy the continuity and success he has brought to the program. The full interview is below. He addresses the coaching rumors at the 12:58 mark.