For the Utah State football team, this game on Saturday at Maverik Stadium means everything. In a season when everything has gone horribly wrong over the past several weeks following their upset win over Boise State, the Aggies are trying to do a number of things against rival BYU.
First off, Utah State is looking to win two straight rivalry games in the battle for the Old Wagon Wheel trophy for the first time in 41 years, a fact USU head coach Matt Wells knows all too well and has reminded his players and anyone else willing to listen.
To defeat BYU on Saturday would mean the world to a coach who watched his team implode for a few weeks after they knocked off previously unbeaten and ranked Boise State. This is a Utah State team that was thinking about bigger things, like a Group of Five bowl game on New Year’s Day before reality came crashing down around them back in October.
Now is the time for the Aggies to turn this season around at the end of November with a second straight win against their rivals and possibly still get an invitation to a January bowl game–as some Web sites are predicting–saving their season to an extent. Bottom line: Utah State is much better than its 6-5 record may indicate, losing all but one of these games by two touchdowns or less.
The Aggies gave Utah all it could handle before losing 24-14 in Salt Lake City, and went up to Seattle and lost 31-17 to Washington in a game in which they were threatening going into the third quarter. After those two though, Utah State obliterated its next three opponents–including shellacking Boise State 52-26–before getting whitewashed 48=14 at San Diego State and suffering two other crushing, narrow defeats to ruin its championship aspirations.
The most frightening aspect to Utah State is that it knows it can play better than it has in recent weeks and so coming into the BYU game, you have to think the Aggies will be on their A game–no pun intended.
“One thing they are is resilient and they’ll fight. This logo is important to them, the culture of this program is important to them and how they’re going to be remembered is important to them,” said USU head coach Matt Wells. “We have a lot to play for Saturday and here at the end.” Here then are three keys to victory for Big Blue.
Score more than 30 points
In games in which the Aggies have scored more than four touchdowns, they’re undefeated. Five wins, no losses. An average margin of victory of 23.6 points per game. Those are not numbers for any 6-5 team, that’s for certain. In fact, there are only two teams in Division I college football who have had a better margin of victory over the entire season. What a sobering thought if you’re an Aggie fan, right? Here’s even better news: the average margin of victory at home for Utah State is 19 points. So if the Aggies can get things rolling, chances are pretty high that things will go well for the home team.
Success running the football
It may seem like a broken record, but the same thing that ails BYU also hurts Utah State. A lack of a productive running game has hurt the Aggies on more than one occasion this season. Devante Mays, the JUCO transfer slated to take over, has done so at times and he has 788 rushing yards and nine touchdowns on the year. But, there have been other times when he hasn’t been able to get going. If Utah State is able to get rolling on the ground, its chances of having success will increase. Also: keep an eye on senior quarterback Chuckie Keeton, who will be playing his last game in front of the home crowd. While he isn’t the player or Heisman contender he once was due to multiple knee surgeries, he’s a winner and he’ll do whatever it takes to get Utah State a much needed victory with his legs.
When Utah State’s defense flusters opposing quarterbacks and forces them into mistakes (see Boise State) the Aggies become a nearly unstoppable force and overwhelm their opponents into the afore mentioned and ridiculous margins of defeat. The way Utah State’s defense goes is how its offense goes; if the D is creating opportunities to score for its somewhat maligned offense (let’s be honest; QB Kent Myers is not Keeton) the game becomes easier for all involved. This is precisely what happened in Utah State’s blowout wins over Boise State, Wyoming, Colorado State and Fresno State in which it scored 48 points or more in each contest.
If the defense can force BYU into bad decisions, this game could become a track meet in a hurry. That’s because the defense (23 sacks, 10 fumbles recovered) has the ability to change any outcome against any team at any time–even if its secondary has been rather underwhelming at times. Expect Utah State to throw everything it has at Mangum and try to frustrate the young signal caller–much like it did against Mark Rypien’s son in the shock win over Boise State.