It’s been a very busy fall football camp for the Aggies as they have held 12 practices and two scrimmages over the past 16 days.
As a result, perhaps fatigue was a bit of a factor during Saturday’s annual Aggie Football Family Fun Day at Maverik Stadium. It was a mixed big for Utah State’s offense, which only turned the ball over once during the two-plus-hour scrimmage — four fewer times than it did during the first scrimmage. Conversely, there were several more dropped passes and a few more missed opportunities than a week ago.
“It has been two weeks of grinding and I thought we looked tired today,” USU head coach Blake Anderson said. “There was good and bad on both sides. We are not ready to play yet. We need time, and luckily, we have a little bit more of it. The days are going by quick. We will get back to work on Monday and see if we can get better this week.”
It was another solid performance by the defense, which racked up 16 tackles for loss, including 4.0 sacks, broke up eight passes and consistently swarmed to the ball.
“Effort is one of the main things we emphasize (as a defense) every single day," sophomore defensive tackle Hale Motu’apuaka said. "Every single time when we're watching film, we're always seeing if everyone's running to the ball and if we're not, we pay for it. And that's the only way we can make a good, solid defense is by running to the ball because at the end of the day, luck follows effort. And as long as we can get 11 hats to the ball, we know we'll be good."
The Aggies didn’t throw the ball as well as they did during the first scrimmage, but their rushing attack was more efficient, plus they were able to experience the high of reaching the end zone. Every promising drive from last week’s scrimmage was shut down once the offense approached the red zone, thus there were no touchdowns.
There were several touchdowns Saturday, and once again wide receiver Kyle Van Leeuwen spearheaded the offensive charge. The sophomore hauled in 11 receptions for 131 yards last week, and caught a touchdown pass from three different quarterbacks Saturday on his way to 81 yards on four catches.
Van Leeuwen got behind the secondary on the second possession of the scrimmage and was the recipient of a lovely 51-yard TD strike from Cooper Legas. No. 9 showcased excellent concentration while snaring a 20-yard fade pass for a score from Logan Bonner. Van Leeuwen’s third touchdown was a 8-yarder from Andrew Peasley on a slant pattern.
Van Leeuwen’s second and third touchdown receptions took place during red zone scenarios, which is something the team worked on a lot this past week of camp. A fourth TD through the air also took place in a red zone scenario and was a really nice play by Box Elder product Parker Buchanan, who was well covered when he snagged Bonner’s 9-yard pass over the middle.
The other passing touchdown of the scrimmage was a well-executed trick play that would have been an easy scoring run for Savon Scarver on the double reverse, but the All-American kickoff returner flipped the ball forward to Peasley like a softball pitch for the six points.
“The offense played pretty well,” Van Leeuwen said. “There are things that we need to continue to work on and fine-tune, but it helped being able to be in the red zone and score some touchdowns today, since we didn’t get that opportunity last week. We have the potential to be very dangerous, we just have to keep on improving every day.”
The offense found paydirt five times on the ground while operating in red zone situations. Peasley showcased his speed on scoring runs of 21 and 11 yards, respectively. No. 6 did a good job of going through his progressions before taking off on his 21-yarder.
Oregon State transfer Calvin Tyler Jr. powered his way into the end zone on two short scoring runs, while fellow tailback Elelyon Noa and Legas also crossed the goal line on rushes inside the 2-yard line. Tyler Jr., Noa, John Gentry, Devonta’e Henry-Cole and Peasley all gained between 30-39 yards on the ground.
Arguably the most exciting play of the scrimmage was a short route by wide receiver Derek Wright that turned into a 34-yard gain. The senior caught a pass from Bonner and soared through the air while hurdling outside linebacker Patrick Maddock.
“I was running my route and then (Wright) caught it, I looked back and I was going to go block, and I saw him hurdle, and I was just in awe,” Van Leeuwen said. "I didn't think he could jump that high, but, I mean, he proved himself today as well and it's fun playing alongside D-Wright."
Brandon Bowling also made an outstanding play with a one-handed catch on a pass from fellow Arkansas State transfer Bonner that went for 40 yards and advanced the pigskin to the 1-yard line. The offense scored one play later. It was a moment of redemption for Bowling, who alligator armed what would have been an easy 38-yard TD reception on a well-thrown ball from Bonner earlier in the scrimmage.
There were several dropped passes Saturday, plus all three signal callers underthrew an open wide receiver on a potential touchdown at least once. Penalties were also problematic for the offense, plus there were at least four bad snaps — two of which proved costly inside the 10-yard line. The offense was without last year’s starting center, Falepule Alo, who was out with an injury.
“Offensively, we were sloppy with our snaps and sloppy with penalties, and we had a couple of drops,” added Anderson. “The good thing is we didn’t turn the ball over like we did a week ago and you have a chance to stay in games if you protect the ball.”
Bonner, Peasley and Legas teamed up to complete 24 of 46 passes for 308 yards and four touchdowns, vs. zero interceptions. Bonner led the way with 194 yards on 14 of 25 attempts.
The three signal callers completed passes to 14 different targets. Van Leeuwen led the way with four catches, followed by Justin McGriff and true freshman NyNy Davis with three apiece. The 6-foot-6 McGriff was bottled up during the first scrimmage, but made a couple of nice plays in traffic Saturday.
Junior safety Dominic Tatum is having a good fall camp and he led the defense with eight tackles Saturday, plus he also broke up a pair of passes. Troy transfer Monte McGary broke up a team-high three passes and did a great job recovering when a receiver got behind him. Standout linebacker Justin Rice finished with four tackles for loss, including ones on back-to-back plays late in the scrimmage.
“Defensively, we played well early," Anderson said. "We didn’t do a great job in a couple of our situations. Our goal line was poor and we need to get the offense off the field in the four-minute drill, but we finished with a good two-minute stop.”
The defense got its lone takeaway late in the scrimmage when true freshman defensive end Enoka Migao pounced on an errant snap. Enoka and his twin brother, offensive lineman Elia, starting practicing with the Aggies this week. Both athletes were recruited by several Power 5 Conference programs and signed with BYU last December as part of the Cougars' 2021 recruiting class.
"They signed letters of intent with BYU this past December and for whatever reason there were some issues for them starting with everybody else on time (for fall camp), and ultimately they were given the opportunity to step out of those NLIs (National Letter of Intent) and we were happy to recruit them and pick them up," Anderson said. "They've been great additions. They're both freshmen with great futures ahead of them. It's fun to see them just kind of get acclimated this first week. It was really good to see our guys how they responded to them coming in, and they've got I think really bright futures ahead of them. And who knows, either one of them or both could step in and get involved in the two-deep this year if they can pick things up in a hurry, and I think they both have the capacity to do that."