At the mid-point of Utah State football’s fall camp, the pieces are starting to come together. With one true scrimmage under the team’s belt, the coaching staff has overseen a lot of hard work on the field and in the meeting rooms, designing what they expect to be a successful program.
As the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Kevin McGiven is using fall camp to find the Aggies’ strengths, define roles and create a cohesive, successful offense. We met with McGiven to discuss spring practice and the goals he has for the USU offense heading into the 2014 season.
Overall, how has fall camp been for the offense?
“It’s been a work in progress. The first scrimmage was kind of the culmination of week one. It was nice to see them come out and do some things. The biggest things we were looking for were clean play, in terms of not turning the ball over, substitutions getting lined up right and penalties. We got that for the most part. That in and of itself is a big step at this point. The chemistry and execution are starting to come.”
Both quarterback Chuckie Keeton and running back Joe Hill are returning from ACL injuries. How are they doing and what do you expect from them?
“They’ve made progress as well. It was nice to see them out in a game-like situation. To see them running around, making plays in a live situation with not a lot of hesitation. It was good to see Chuckie in that role. Joe is the same way. He held back a little bit through the first days of fall camp, trying to figure out what his limitations were. He let it loose and was feeling really good in the scrimmage. It was good to see him open up and make some cuts and have some confidence.”
Of the newcomers, who has stood out to you or shown the most promise at this point of camp?
“Offensively, the guy who keeps impressing me is LaJuan Hunt. He’s worked his way up the ladder a little bit as far as running backs go. In certain personnel groups, he was getting some time with our ones. He continues to impress me with his toughness and how he’s grasped the offense. He’s one of the newcomers that has definitely caught my eye.”
The wide receiver position appears to be one of the deepest areas on the team. What have you seen from them as they progress through fall?
“That’s another position that was good to see in the scrimmage, seeing them make some plays. We know they’re capable of that. Sometimes practices aren’t always geared toward that. It’s a deep group, we feel like we’re really talented. We have some new additions there. Hunter Sharp had a really solid scrimmage. We’re excited for him rounding out our receiver corps with some of the veterans that are back and doing a nice job. Ronald Butler has really stepped up his play the last few days of camp. Brandon Swindall and JoJo Natson have been impressive too. It’s a position that we’re really excited about.”
You are starting an almost completely new offensive line this fall. How are they growing and developing?
“We’re still kind of tweaking things there to find the best recipe for starting a game, playing within a game and finishing a game. They’re working really, really hard. They’re starting to communicate better, both in the run game and in the pass game with the quarterback. It’s tough playing against our defense every single day with all the front recognition and movement that’s going on. It’s one of the toughest defenses that we see from an identification standpoint. They really have to be on their toes, the center especially. They’re starting to communicate and gel. They’ve picked up where they left off in the spring and we’re starting to see some good things.”
How do you feel about the running backs as a group?
“They’re doing a good job. It was nice to see Joe Hill running around. We didn’t know how long it would take for him to get to that point. We’re excited about the emergence of some of the young backs. We’re excited to get Rashad Hall back since he was a little dinged up. Hopefully he’ll resume his role and his progress. There’s a lot of depth and talent at that position. We’re going to have to figure out roles for those guys. We need to see if we have guys that can handle a full game, how many snaps they can handle, personnel packages, things like that. That will all solidify itself in the next couple of weeks.”
What is it like from your perspective to coach a Heisman candidate quarterback in Chuckie Keeton?
“It’s fun. Heisman candidate or not, he’s a great individual to coach. With his work ethic and passion for the game, anyone is fun to coach who has those attributes. He’s a lot of fun to work with.”
Has there been a specific area of focus on the offensive end during fall camp?
“We installed a lot of our offense the first four days and you could really see where the install was catching up, especially with some of the young guys that hadn’t been involved. All of a sudden their heads were swimming and they had no clue what’s going on. The last couple of days we spent reviewing and then the day before the scrimmage we kind of backed off. We tried to allow them time to regroup mentally. This next week we’ll put a little bit more of the offense in. I wanted to see guys through that install and be able to play fast and with high effort. We knew there was going to be some breakdowns on assignments, but we’re just teaching them how we want to play the game overall. We knew our execution would come as guys get more comfortable in their assignments and roles.”
How does having the same offensive staff as last season benefit both the coaches and the players?
“I think any time you don’t have turnover in a staff, it benefits both the staff and the players. We have a year under our belt of guys knowing the system. We had a bunch of guys going into the meeting room in spring ball last year that had no idea what the offense was or what things were called. Getting on the same page in our verbage, terminology and coaching points takes a little bit of time. There were days last spring that we were coaching on the fly, learning something that day then having to go out and coach it. Everyone has a better feel for the offense and the personalities in the room. We can focus more on some of the finer details of coaching our kids and not be so focused on just teaching them the scheme. We can dig in on how to do things, not just what to do.
With the return of Chuckie Keeton, what will fans see from him? Has his style or the offensive goals changed at all?
“Not right now. We’ve installed the offense the same way we would have whether he was coming back from an injury or not. I called the first scrimmage the same way I would under any circumstances. We haven’t really held him back. We want to see how he handles the install and the concepts. He’s done it fast. If the knee gets sore then maybe we’ll back him out of a little bit of running, just for precautionary reasons. As far as what he’s doing on the field, it’s no different. I expected him to play well in the scrimmage. That’s just the type of kid he is. He’s going to be mentally and physically ready for those situations, that’s something you don’t need to coach him in that.”
Is there anything from last season that you are specifically hoping to see improve in 2014?
“We’ve got to maintain a high level of offense throughout the year. There was a lot of adversity and a lot of injuries last year, but we have to continue to play at a high level and find ways to put our kids in a position to have success. We played really good offense early in the year. Regardless of what we do offensively, it’s about scoring more points than the other team. We’re fortunate to have a great defense on our side, but we have to go out and out score everyone we play, regardless of what it looks like.”
What can Aggie fans expect from the Utah State offense this season?
“Hopefully a lot of points and a lot of wins.”
Utah State opens the 2014 season Sunday, Aug. 31, at Tennessee and plays its first home game the following weekend against Idaho State on Saturday, Sept. 6 at 6 p.m. USU's first Mountain West game will be at home against Air Force on Saturday, Oct. 11, and the Aggies conclude the regular season at MW foe Boise State on Saturday, Nov. 29. The Mountain West Championship game will be held Saturday, Dec. 6, at the home stadium of the divisional champion with the highest College Football Playoff Committee ranking.
Megan Allen is the assistant media relations director at Utah State University.