Sensing that everyone was just getting too tired to absorb much more knowledge or physical pounding, Utah State football coach John L. Smith abruptly called a halt to two-a-days and held the final scrimmage of the preseason Wednesday afternoon rather than Saturday morning, as scheduled.
The new Smith coaching staff was using films of Wednesday's scrimmage today to determine its final two-deep roster, and the Aggies now turn their attention to preparing to meet Arkansas State in the season opener Sept. 2 at Jonesboro, Ark. That is also their Big West Conference opener.In place of a full scrimmage Saturday morning, the Aggie teams will go against scout teams imitating what they know of their first opponent's offenses and defenses.
"You can't get blood out of a turnip," said Smith of his reason for changing the practice schedule Tuesday night. "You can only pound them for so long. We're not making headway. We need more than four or five days to get our legs back."
Smith said he's actually pleasedwith what's been accomplished, and he was much happier with Wednesday's attitude than he was with the demeanor of last Saturday's scrimmage, when players simply went through the motions.
He was also happy to learn late Tuesday that cornerback Terrence Gaines has been granted another season of eligibility by the NCAA, which had questioned how many years he'd already stemming from a junior-college mixup.
Wednesday, the defense, especially, showed some spunk, and Smith said the club's on the way to gaining the mental toughness it needs. He figures last week's three-a-day practices and the few two-a-days this week taught players that nothing in games can be more grueling than practices, so they can make it through games.
Arkansas State, he says, will likely use simpler offenses and defenses than the Aggies do - "vanilla," said Smith - so USU can cut down its play package and make things mentally simpler now, which should help weary minds recover from the new staff's information blitz.
Offensively, the Ags had problems against their own more-involved defense. "We run to the ball (defensively) a little bit better now. I think (the defense) has learned something," Smith said.
The offensive line looks forward to the expected return today of starting sophomore strong tackle Brandon Dyson who sat out Wednesday with a stomach virus. And Smith expects an improved arm from starting quarterback Patrick Mullins, who was sore enough to have taken Tuesday off.
Players who made some strides Wednesday included third-string quarterback Griffin Garske, a true freshman, and redshirt freshman running back Ernesto Ramos, who's moved back offense from linebacker and made some nice plays running and receiving.
Smith wants to redshirt Garske but will take him on trips for insurance, and the sly grin on Smith's face when Garske was mentioned made it obvious he thinks this youngster from Spokane is a real find. Ramos, a walkon last year, ran well enough Wednesday that Smith indicated he could barge past Corey Peters for the No. 3 running back spot.
Scrimmage numbers found Aggie rushers making 87 yards on 29 carries, led by Abu Wilson's 10-for-25. Smith kept Wilson's reps down to save him for the season. Ramos made eight carries for 15 yards, Melvin Blue four for 23 and Peters four for 7. Kevin Alexander caught six passes for 114 yards and a 30-yard touchdown from Mullins on the first play of a possession, tight end Shawn Griswold hauled in two passes for 15 yards and a TD, and Jason Bandy got open for a scrambling, opposite-corner 28-yard scoring throw from Garske, who avoided a sack.
Micah Knorr kicked several field goals, including a 59-yarder.
Utah State targets Wasatch Front fans
Utah State's athletic department made two announcements Wednesday affecting its Wasatch Front fans.
First, the Aggie football and basketball games will be heard in the Salt Lake area on KAPN-AM860 - the contract was signed Wednesday.
Second, all Aggie fans are invited to visit with football coach John L. Smith and various other USU athletics personalities each Tuesday of the football season, starting next week, from noon to 1 p.m. at the downtown Olive Garden. Meals will be $6 to $8, and parking is free.