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Utah State Coach Matt Wells & Players Talk MSU!

Utah State Coach Matt Wells  (PHOTO:  USU SID)

Utah State Coach Matt Wells (PHOTO: USU SID)

LOGAN, Utah – Utah State head football coach Matt Wells, along with senior offensive lineman Rob Castaneda and senior safety Gaje Ferguson, held a press conference Monday to recap fall camp and preview the Aggies’ season-opener at No. 11 Michigan State on Friday night. A complete transcript of the press conference can be found below.

Head Coach Matt Wells

On fall camp and Michigan State:

“It’s game week. I’m really looking forward to this opportunity watching our guys play against one of the best teams in the country. This is a team that has Big Ten championship and playoff aspirations, and they certainly have the talent coming back to do that. They’ll be in the hunt for both of those at the end of the year. It presents a tremendous opportunity for us to play in front of a great crowd, in Big Ten country and a storied program that is well-spoken about and very well deserved. They are a perennial power in the Big Ten. It will be a tremendous opportunity for our guys to go see right where we’re at, and our guys are excited about it. This is a team that I’m anxious to watch play as we come together. Camp has been good, it’s been physical and it’s been a grind as most camps are. Our guys are excited and prepared for this opportunity to play Friday night.”

On if Michigan State’s returning talent makes it easier to know what to expect:

“The thing you kind of look at is the consistency they’ve had in their coaching staff and their schemes. That’s the first thing you’re looking for. Then, as you see the players, certainly, there’s a lot of them coming back. It’s not hard to see LJ Scott all over the tape, especially at the end of the year. Their quarterback (Brian Lewerke) is extremely athletic and he can throw it on the run very, especially to his left. He’s very good. They have a very good receiving corps. They have the ability to high-point a ball. They’ve got speed. I keep hearing it’s one of the best in the Big Ten. It certainly is with the front seven on defense, and they have an extremely talented secondary, but that front seven is maybe the best we’ll see this year.”

On if Utah State has any advantages over Michigan State:

“The bull mascot may have an advantage. The first game is a lot about us. I would think that they would think the same thing. It’s how they do it and what they do. It’s the same thing for us for what we’re going to do, and how are we going to defend the run. It’s what we do on offense. We have to be who we are. If we execute and give ourselves a chance and don’t turn the ball over, that’ll help you be in the game in the second half. That’s what we did last year in the opener against another Big Ten opponent. We just broke down in the third quarter. Are we better this year and able to avoid that?”

On what it means to be in the Mountain West:

“It’s certainly the best conference we’ve ever been in. It gives us stability. It’s great for all sports. It gives us recognition whether it’s TV coverage or the opponents that we play. It’s the best thing to happen to our athletic department in a long time.”

On drawing from the experience from the 2017 Wisconsin game:

“It’s easy to draw comparisons only because it’s on the road, Big Ten, and Wisconsin and Michigan State are going to compete for the Big Ten championship and a playoff berth. That’ll probably be the case again this year. The difference with us is we don’t have nearly as many first-year starters going into the game as we did last year. The first snap was over the quarterback’s head. What a disaster. Hopefully, we can avoid that this year. We have more experienced players. Now, does that lead to better play and more points and all that stuff? Obviously, that remains to be seen. But, we’re not nearly as inexperienced going into the game as we were last year.”

On sophomore Ja’Marcus Ingram alternating between cornerback and safety:

“Ja’Marcus, all summer long, trained physically at corner and mentally at safety. The vast majority at the beginning of training camp he played safety. The emergence of Shaq Bond late in training camp has given us a little more flexibility to move him to corner. The other thing that leaving him at corner at the beginning of training camp did is help us evaluate corners a little bit better. You’ll see Ja’Marcus at both spots. Obviously, how the other corners are playing and how Shaq’s playing, how Gaje (Ferguson) is playing, comes into play. Do you have any guys getting banged up? He’s a guy that could go either way.

“He’ll play safety or corner going into each game. The guy sits in the same meeting room, so he knows what to do at both positions. Julius Brown’s done a great job at preparing him. His flexibility between the two positions give us more options at the back end for coach (Keith) Patterson.”

On Michigan State’s front seven:

“They are big, strong and physical. Hopefully, the pace can wear them out a little bit and get them tired. There’s no secret that we’re going to play with pace on offense. To see where they ranked coming out of last year against the teams they did it against is pretty impressive. They’re deep and they’re talented. It’ll be maybe the best we see all year.”

On wanting to create turnovers on defense again this season:

“That was a lot of turnovers. That was a lot of forced turnovers and recovered turnovers. We did a tremendous job last year doing that. Ball searching. That’s the goal again this year. Hopefully, we’ll get a little lucky and get some balls on the ground. You want to win the turnover margin. That’ll be a big key to win each and every week, not just in the first game. Not turning the ball over on offense and gaining turnovers on defense. That gives you a chance to win.”

On sophomore wide receiver Taylor Compton being put on scholarship:

“Taylor Compton is one of those guys as a coach you see come in here and he’s dreamed about playing for Utah State his entire life, and grew up in the shadows of what was Romney Stadium and it was a dream for him. But, he’s a player who has come in and earned it. He’s earned it on the field. He did it last year. Now, he’s going to play at receiver, he’s playing on special teams. To me, he’s absolutely earned it. He’s a tremendous teammate and has done everything we’ve ever asked him to do. He’s another one of those guys that has benefited from our developmental program with Dave Scholz and his staff. Our walk-on program continues to produce guys that have played, and when I say played, they played on the field and earned it. It’s a very rewarding thing for a coach to be able to do that. The walk-on program is a big reason why we’ve been successful at Utah State.”

On Utah State’s front seven being able to up the sack average:

“Some of that’s in recruiting and maybe a little bit developmental. The improvement along our D-line has been good over the last year. (Adewale Adeoye) has had a really good camp. Jacoby Wildman plays with a tremendous motor. You add Fua Leilua to that mix and those guys are better pass rushers than we’ve had, all three of those guys. Tipa Galeai coming off the edge, he’s got a quick twitch, he’s got speed, he’s long, he’s extremely long, and, hopefully, he can produce a few sacks.”

On what he wants fans to think about the team after Friday night:

“The answer that I would give you is not just Friday night, but every night: That this team comes and plays with a tremendous amount of passion. They play with a chip on their shoulder. They play extremely hard. They’re tough and they’re physical. On top of that, can we execute? Can we take care of the football? Can we be mentally disciplined enough to not have too many penalties. You’re going to have some. All of those things. Then, you have the chemistry and the leadership aspect that’ll be the third thing. If those aspects rise, then you’ll see a team that wins a lot of games. I would hope that the fans come out and say, ‘That team was well-prepared. They played their tails off. They’re tough. They’re physical.’ But, I want them to say that every week. Not just week one.”

Senior Offensive Lineman Rob Castaneda

On the offense during fall camp:

“Camp was truly a grind, but the biggest thing in camp was getting to embrace that grind with all of my brothers out there. It’s not easy waking up early every day and leaving the facility late. That’s the beauty of it, to prepare for the season. I feel like us, especially as an offense, really got to figure out who we are and who we want to be this season. I’m really excited about that and I’m also excited about the defense, as well. I thought that they came out to play and were ready every single day. Our defense and offense are better this year and I’m really excited for the season.”

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On the expectations people have had on this team this season:

“Everyone is going to have their opinion and based off of last season, it’s a tough call to make. We lost a lot of close games, but for us as a team, we set out expectations really high for ourselves. It’s a really big deal for us to go out there and focus on the task at hand and not worry too much about what people are saying. We need to focus on us as a team and what we have to do daily to get better for gamedays.”

On having many offensive linemen back and setting the tone for the offense:

“All of our guys are coming back. Sean Taylor, Moroni Iniguez, Roman Andrus, Quin Ficklin and some younger guys that are going to be stepping it up this season like Alfred Edwards and Demytrick Ali’ifua. All of us have embraced this grind together and us being big dudes on the field is sometimes not easy in the hot weather with all of those pads on, but we grind together and we work hard because we all have the same goal.”

On playing right tackle and guard, and is the technique close enough that it’s no big deal to change positions:

“They’re kind of close and in past games, our idea is to stay vertical and stay square. There are different positions we’re going against inside. I’m going against a way thicker dude, stronger guy on the edge. Our tackles are going to have go against a fast guy who can rip under you. Sometimes, they’re bigger, too, and they can bull-rush you. It’s kind of similar, but I wouldn’t say it’s so much. There are two different breeds of players in front of you on the field and it’s a little bit different.”

On preferring run or pass block:

“Personally, I like them both. I just want to get out there and get my job done and score touchdowns. That’s all I want and I’m going to do the best that I can on the field to make that happen.”

On playing Michigan State:

“My thoughts are to treat it how I would try any other game this season. I don’t want to get too nerved up about it. It’s a big deal and a big stage, but I love those type of moments. I feel like I don’t have a lot of pressure under my shoulders, getting the job done is my thing out there and make big plays. I’m excited to be on a big stage like that and it’s going to be a fun night for our team.”

On your scouting report of the Michigan State defense:

“The biggest thing is to trust our coaches. Coach (Steve) Farmer does a great job of game-planning, along with coach (John) Cannova. They do a fantastic job of teaching us what we need to do on the field and game-planning each week, especially for Michigan State. They have some big boys up front. They have some nice linebackers, so it’s going to be a war in those trenches come Friday night. I’m more prepared than I ever have been in my entire life.”

On what you want people to know about this team after Friday night:

“What I want people to see in our team is how hard we fight on the field. Regardless of the outcome, I want them to know that we’re going to give an all-out effort all four quarters and we’re not going to give up, no matter what the score is. That will set the tone for this season for any team we play when they watch us on Friday night and to show that we’re going to fight and keep going and going no matter what.”

On what you take from the season-opening game last season against Wisconsin:

“One of the biggest differences going into Wisconsin was we put a team together, especially as offensive linemen. All of us offensive linemen, it was our first game starting. We have a lot of experience now under our belt. We’ve played a full season, played in a bowl game and we’re used to that big environment as it is already. Even in practice when we’re with the offense, we’ll blast the music as loud as we can just so we can get the feel of how loud the crowd could be or probably will be. The big difference will be the experience we have from last year and then going into this year is the number of returners we have. It’s going to be really nice having all of that experience under our belt heading into the game.”

On the one player on defense you really don’t like having to see that you have to block for on a drill:

“Personally, I don’t really like to think like that. In my opinion, I don’t mind any person who is in front of me. I’m going to get better regardless of who it is. It can be Aaron Donald for the (Los Angeles) Rams or it could be a guy in front of me here. I’ll take any opportunity that I can get and try to beat him the best I can. If I can say some guys that have stood out to me in camp on the D-line, definitely Tipa Galeai and Devon Anderson. They’ve done a really good job out there. Galeai and I have had some tough battles going one-on-one. Fua Leilua, Christopher ’Unga and all of those guys up front do a good job. They’re going to be big time for us this year.”

On QB Jordan Love’s progress through camp:

“I’m really excited to play and block for him. His confidence has grown greatly. When he’s back there, you can see him reading all of his reads and doing a really good job. His leadership there has been a big difference from last season. You had a guy who was in the mix halfway through the season where he eventually started. He wasn’t that much of a vocal leader, but he went out and still made plays. This year, he’s out there with positive energy getting me hyped and other guys hyped. He makes me feel like this is a guy I want to block for and this is a guy who can get the job done.”

Senior Safety Gaje Ferguson

On the defense during fall camp:

“Camp was really good. I thought it was very competitive, especially as a defense, we really picked up where we left off in the spring. This summer, we really grew as a unit. We came together, we’re really close and I think we took another step forward through the summer and through camp. We’re still getting better and better, and I think camp put us in a good place to start the season this week.”

On Michigan State:

“As far as Michigan State goes, we’ve been watching film and preparing for them. They have a lot of returning players, as do we. I expect them to be good at what they do, be disciplined and a sound football team. We’re going in there to face a team that’s going to know they’re game plan and is going to know what they’re going to do against us. They’re going to be prepared just as we are. Their quarterback is a good player and he can make a lot of good plays on his feet and throwing. They have a good running back and a couple of good receivers that are coming back. It will be a competitive game. There is a lot of talent on the field and I expect them to be a disciplined group.”

On being able to corral Michigan State’s receivers and running game:

“As far as receivers go, just the way we prepared through camp, we have a lot of receivers that are very similar (to Michigan State’s receivers), guys like Jalen Greene, Ron’quavion Tarver, Aaren Vaughns and Jordan Nathan. We have some big bodies and we also have some very fast guys that emulate what Michigan State has on their receiving corps. The fact that we’ve seen that all camp, we’ve been competing all camp, that really prepares us for what we’re going to see and what we’re facing with Michigan State in their receiving corps. I feel very comfortable with that and very confident in our guys in the secondary to handle that as we’ll be able to handle that because it’s nothing we haven’t seen. The run game is going to be very tough. That’s just going to be something we’re going to have to face every play and something we have to bring in consistently, is hats to the ball, strength in numbers, which we’ve rallied to the ball really well. Weemphasizedthat in camp and that’s what we’re trying to make as our identity as a defensive unit. That’s the best way to handle the running game for us.”

On strides the defense has made as far as stopping the run as compared to last season:

“Our experience is a plus. We have a lot of guys back and we have a different game plan. We now have (defensive coordinator) Keith Patterson and he’s very run-stop minded. He’s going to bring a lot to our defense this year and helping stop the run. It’s going to be a lot different this year than it has been in year’s past.”

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