Utah State’s offense had a less-than-stellar outing during Wednesday’s early-morning practice.
It’s safe to say the offense redeemed itself.
Running back Joey DeMartino scored three of the Aggies’ six touchdowns during their scrimmage, which was close to 100 plays, Thursday afternoon at Romney Stadium.
“They responded right out of the gate,” USU head coach Matt Wells said of the offense. “They drove the ball down, they had some good drives and I saw some guys step up. We’re always striving for perfection, but I thought they played pretty good today.
“... Again, the story of the spring has continued to be give and take because there was a turnover and the defense bowed up again in the red zone a couple of times. It makes me happy because I think that’s the mark of a good defense. But, I thought the offense did much, much better than Wednesday.”
While Joe Hill led all rushers with 49 yards and a touchdown on eight carries, DeMartino added 47 yards on eight carries.
“Joey is a guy that I’m really proud of because when I got here two years ago, a lot of people were putting him off,” Wells said. “He’s a guy that has just battled and battled and battled, and he’ll be a guy that definitely has a role for us this fall. He really came on at the end of last year in special teams and I’m happy for Joey because he continued to stay the course, and he played well today.”
DeMartino scored on touchdown runs of 8, 1 and 8 yards, respectively.
“It felt good to get out there and make more of an impact for the team,” DeMartino said. “I’m just trying to go out there and do my job and help the best way I can for the team no matter what I’m doing — special teams or offense.”
Quarterback Chuckie Keeton finished 12 of 18 for 127 yards and a touchdown. Brandon Swindall, a sophomore, caught a scrimmage-best six passes for 87 yards.
“The cream rises and Brandon is starting to make plays consistently,” Wells said. “... I continue to be impressed with Brandon and he’s another guy that has earned himself a certain role that will be solidified during training camp.”
Dwayne Lorick added five receptions for 100 yards, including a 64-yard touchdown pass from Jordan Brown. Quarterback Craig Harrison effectively ran the second-team offense as he completed 13 of his 16 passes for 119 yards.
Defensively, safety Frankie Sutera and linebacker Alex Marsaw had eight tackles apiece. Freshman defensive end Ricky Ali’ifua finished with three tackles for loss, including one sack.
In all, the Aggie D recorded three sacks, 10 tackles for loss, five pass breakups and a fumble recovery. Despite that, Sutera said USU still has plenty of things it needs to work on.
“We need to do better on third downs,” Sutera said. “That’s been a big focus for us all spring, is getting out of third-down situations. We haven’t been doing too well at it and we can always get better at things like that.
“You can stop them on first and second down, but if you can’t get (off the field on) third downs, you’re never going to be a great defense. That’s where we need to get better at.”
Just prior to hauling in his 64-yard touchdown pass from Brown, Lorick nearly found paydirt on a third-and-13 pass from Harrison. But, former Sky View standout Jordan Nielsen knocked the ball loose from Lorick at the 1-yard line, and Marsaw recovered the fumble in the end zone.
“Our defense is solid,” DeMartino said. “If we don’t come ready to practice every day, they’re going to get after us. ... You’ve got to come with your A game every day or something is going to happen — a fumble, an interception or tackle for loss.”
During the first three series of the scrimmage, the only points that were scored came off the foot of Nick Diaz, who booted a 24-yard field goal.
On the fourth series, Harrison drove the No. 2 offense 70 yards in seven plays, capped by DeMartino’s 8-yard TD run.
The Aggies’ first-stringers then marched 60 yards in six plays, capped by a 6-yard touchdown pass from Keeton to Travis Reynolds.
The defense regained its momentum during the next five series against the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 offenses, as it didn’t allow any points during that stretch.
Keeton then led the No. 1 offense on back-to-back touchdown drives in a pair of red zone situations, as DeMartino and Hill both scored on 1-yard runs.
“You could definitely see they came out a little bit stronger than (Wednesday),” Sutera said of the offense. “... That’s where we as a defense, if we have a good day we can’t slack off and then have a bad day the next day. We’ve got to fight harder to stay on top of the offense.”