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4 observations from Utah State's first open-scrimmage

New Mexico Lobos wide receiver Andrew Erickson (87) carries the ball against Utah State Aggies cornerback Cam Lampkin (6) and safety Jared Reed (36) during an NCAA football game at Maverik Stadium in Logan on Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020.

New Mexico Lobos wide receiver Andrew Erickson (87) carries the ball against Utah State Aggies cornerback Cam Lampkin (6) and safety Jared Reed (36) during an NCAA football game at Maverik Stadium in Logan on Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020. (Yukai Peng, Deseret News)

Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes

LOGAN β€” Utah State opened its fall camp to the public for the first time at Maverik Stadium Saturday, showcasing its team by running a scrimmage three weeks before the first game of the season at Washington State on Sept. 4.

The scrimmage, which began at 11 a.m. and wrapped up around 1:15 p.m., didn't have much of a game feel to it but gave a solid glance at how the team is shaping up. The score wasn't kept in 11-on-11 action, and when the offense reached the red zone, they switched fields and changed personnel.

At the line of scrimmage, there were two different units on each side of the ball that rotated in and out, while the skilled positions appeared to go three or four deep. Here are some observations from the scrimmage:

Quarterback play was sufficient

Both quarterbacks competing for the starting position, Logan Bonner and Andrew Peasley, had solid outings Saturday. Bonner finished the day 16-of-20 for 186 passing yards and an interception, while Peasley finished 11-of-21 with 127 passing yards and an interception. The quarterbacks appeared to split time between playing with the first and second unit.

Cooper Legas, who will most likely be the third-string quarterback, had a fair amount of snaps with the second unit and finished 14-of-17 for 153 passing yards.

Overall, Bonner appeared to be the most consistent in terms of throwing accuracy. He got picked off once by safety and Jordan High product Crew Wakely, but beyond that, managed to find his receivers.

A highlight was early in the scrimmage when Bonner connected with wide receiver Deven Thompkins with a back-shoulder catch down the sideline for a 33-yard gain. He also had several completions to Kyle Van Luewen, who led the way for the receivers with 11 receptions for 131 yards.

Utah State head coach Blake Anderson spoke highly of Bonner following the scrimmage. "I think he's getting his legs underneath him," he said. "He missed all of spring and most of the summer but he's starting to look better and better every day compared to, you know, to the group."

Peasley had some nice throws as well, including a perfect deep ball to receiver Savon Scarver, who was unable to reel it in.

Defensive line showed out

One noted concern at the beginning of the scrimmage was that the defensive line was without Texas transfer Bryon Vaughns, who was sidelined with a boot on his left foot.

"Just to be really safe," Anderson said about Vaughns being out. "Fully expect him to be ready going into Washington State."

Despite lacking his presence, the defensive front appeared to have control of the line of scrimmage. They were most effective in the rush defense, making it difficult for the Aggies offensive line to create big holes for the running backs. As a result, the Aggies backfield finished with modest numbers.

John Gentry had 26 rushing yards on 12 carries, Elelyon Noa had 7 yards on 14 attempts, and Calvin Tyler Jr. had 7 rushing yards on seven attempts. Devontae Henry-Cole mostly faced the second unit defense but performed the best with 44 rushes on 11 carries.

The defensive line was also effective in the pass rush, quick to shrink pockets and get to the quarterback. The defense as a whole finished with seven sacks. Defensive end and East High product Addison Trupp had three sacks on the day, while Poukesi Vakauta and Hale Motu'apuaka each had one.

Anderson mentioned Marcus Moore, Nick Heninger, Michigan transfer Phillip Paea and Motu'apuaka as playmakers that stood out upfront. "(They) all work really, really well together," Anderson said. "It'll be good to get (Vaughns) back. But that group is gonna play a lot of bodies to keep them fresh, but there are some feature guys that just tend to stand out."

Justin Rice was impressive

Linebacker Justin Rice, the former All-Mountain West linebacker at Fresno State and all Sun-Belt linebacker at Arkansas State, appears to be the gem of the defense.

Already receiving high praise from several, Rice lived up to the hype on Saturday. He finished the day with six tackles, one tackle for loss, a forced fumble and fumble recovery and an interception.

Arguably the highlight of the game was an interception Rice had off of Peasley in the second portion of the scrimmage. Planting himself just behind the defensive line, he lept up and snagged Peasley's throw from mid-air and ran it back for a would-be touchdown.

Anderson said Rice is in "the best shape of his life," and he certainly looks the part. He is a guy that will consistently bring a running back or receiver down on first contact, a basic yet vital skill from a linebacker that could go a long way for the Aggies this season.

Concerns offensively

Anderson admitted after the scrimmage that his team is "talented but really thin upfront." It's an accurate statement on the offensive line.

The current starters appear to be Jacob South, Quazzell White, Demytrick Ali'fua, Chandler Dolphin and Alfred Edwards; and while they are a solid group, there is a drop off in talent after them.

The unit looked in sync and well-equipped to handle the fast-paced offense on Saturday, yet it struggled to establish the run game and impose their will.

The Aggies' defensive front playing well certainly had something to do with it, but the Aggies' coaching staff would certainly be more comfortable if there was a better indication that a run game could be consistently established by the offensive line.

Another issue was the turnovers. The offense threw two interceptions and fumbled the ball to the defense three times.

"You can't have (five) turnovers in a game and expect to win very often," Anderson said. "So I'm fired about the defense for creating them, and I'm frustrated with the offense for having them."

The Aggies have two weeks left of fall camp, and then begin preparation for Washington State. They will have another scrimmage open to the public on Saturday, Aug. 21.

"Clearly, we have a lot of things to fix and work on to see where we stack up a week from now," Anderson said. "There was a lot of situational football that we did not plan today and we didn't do anything in the red zone. Those are all things we will start adding next week."


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