Hunt’s ball control praised by USU coaches
Despite their fourth-quarter struggles last Saturday, the Aggies were only about 15 yards away from Dominik Eberle’s field goal range when running back LaJuan Hunt fumbled, and the Cowboys recovered at the 50-yard line.
It was one of several things that went wrong for Utah State’s football team in the second half, and Wyoming finished the Aggies off with a sack for a safety a few minutes later en route to a 28-23 victory at Maverik Stadium.
It was the first time Hunt has fumbled the pigskin in 81 rushing attempts this season, and the senior’s ball security was raved about by USU head coach Matt Wells and running backs coach Mark Tommerdahl during Monday’s press conference.
“LaJuan had good ball security in terms of the technique,” asserted Wells, who also said freshman tailback Tre Miller “had tremendous ball security” on his first-quarter fumble, but the Wyoming defender made perfect contact with his helmet. “Not much more you can teach. Not one time have we sat here for four years and talked about LaJuan Hunt coughing the ball up. He doesn’t do it. He hasn’t done it. It’s killing him. I feel bad for him. He’ll move on and we’ll move on.”
On the two plays prior to his fumble, Hunt powered his way for rushes of 10 and seven yards. No. 21 is USU’s leading rusher this season with 303 yards.
Wells’ comments essentially echoed what Tommerdahl said earlier in the press conference.
“I will say this in front of God and everybody, and I don’t think anybody will disagree with me, if there is one person on this team we want carrying the ball at the end of the game, it’s LaJuan Hunt,” Tommerdahl said. “That is not changing. He is rock steady, we trust him and he will be placed in that situation again next week.”
Special teams shined again
USU’s punt and kickoff return coverage units have been superb all season long, and the Wyoming game was no different.
The Aggies faced the daunting task of containing the FBS leader in kickoff return yardage (44.0 per return) and touchdowns (2) in Cowboy sophomore Tyler Hall. Additionally, Wyoming’s Austin Conway headed into the contest ranked second in the Mountain West in punt return average (12.8 yards a return).
USU limited Conway to just one punt return and he lost a yard on the play. Hall did bust out a 30-yard kickoff return, but for the most part the Aggies were able to keep him in check.
“Special teams played well, and really has played well all season,” Wells said. “... We basically limited those guys with our punt game and our kickoff cover team. It was a good job in the special teams.”
Eberle, punter Aaron Dalton and third-string quarterback DJ Nelson have received a lot of praise for their stellar special teams play for USU this season, and rightfully so. Tommerdahl also singled out several other Aggies for their efforts on special teams in 2017. Among these players were linebackers Dalton Baker and Louy Compton, defensive end Jacoby Wildman and safeties Baron Gajkowski and Chance Parker.
Tommerdahl especially spoke highly of Parker, who is also a sprinter on USU’s track & field team.
“Chance Parker is a special teams rock on our coverage unit,” said Tommerdahl, who is also USU’s special teams coordinator. “He’s got an expanded role on kickoff return and he continues to be one of our top graders and performers week to week.”
Tommerdahl saved arguably his biggest praise for Emmett Odegard, who has yet to make an obvious mistake in his 19 games as the Aggies’ long snapper. Tommerdahl referred to Odegard’s position as “the heart and soul or any special teams organization.”
“We’re going to sign a quarterback every year and we’re going to try to get a great tailback every year, but if you get a good deep snapper, you’re done recruiting for four years,” Tommerdahl said. “We have got a really solid deep snapper here in Emmett Odegard. You haven’t noticed him, and that’s good.”
The Aggies currently rank in the top half of the MW — the top three in most cases — in every recorded special teams category except for kickoff return average. USU is ninth with an average of 19.1 yards per return. Utah State’s longest return this season was a 34-yarder by true freshman Savon Scarver in the fourth quarter against Wyoming.
“Our kickoff return team sucks right now,” Tommerdahl said matter-of-factly. “That’s the one team that lags. ... We’ve got good people on the back end, we just haven’t popped one yet.”
MW weekly awards
Colorado State wide receiver Michael Gallup was selected as the Mountain West Offensive Player of the Week after hauling in 13 receptions for a career-high 263 yards and three touchdowns in the Rams’ wild 44-42 home triumph over Nevada. The senior leads the league in catches (58) and receiving yards (937) by a wide margin.
Wyoming defensive end Carl Granderson had a big game against the Aggies and was tabbed the conference’s Defensive POTW. The junior recorded six tackles, one sack for a safety and intercepted USU quarterback Jordan Love. Granderson is tied for the MW lead with 4.0 sacks.
Boise State’s Avery Williams was named the league’s Special Teams POTW after returning a punt 53 yards to the house in the Broncos’ 31-14 upset of then-No. 19 San Diego State on the road. The redshirt freshman also had a 43-yard kickoff return to open the second half. Williams is the MW leader in punt return average (15.9 ypa).