LOGAN – The Utah State football team came up short in the Mountain West championship race and nothing can be done to fix it now. The bowl eligibility question is also settled, after winning its sixth game last week the team will most likely be receiving an invite somewhere. The Aggies’ football season is winding down and a lot has already been settled, but that doesn’t make Saturday’s rivalry game against BYU any less anticipated.
“This logo is important to them,” USU head coach Matt Wells said. “The culture of this program is important to them and how they’re going to be remembered is important to them. We have a lot to play for Saturday.”
The last time the Aggies met the Cougars, quarterback Chuckie Keeton watched teammate Darell Garretson throw for 321 yards and a touchdown in a 35-20 win in Provo. Keeton helped roll the Old Wagon Wheel trophy off the football field and into the Aggie locker room.
Keeton experienced the joys of the victory, he just didn’t play.
The redshirt senior has faced BYU three times in his career (2011,2012, 2013), but has never won. The last time he took a snap against the Cougars he sustained a season-ending injury. He might get one more shot to beat the rivals from Provo during his last game on Merlin Olsen Field, but he might not.
Quarterback Kent Myers – who has started all but the first three games – could still be the starter. The sophomore left last week’s game against Nevada with a shoulder injury that gave Keeton the chance to orchestrate a comeback win. If Myers is healthy, Wells said he could “absolutely” be the starter. BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall has most likely been preparing his team for both, but said it would be “fitting” if Keeton started.
“He’s thrown his heart and soul into that program,” Mendenhall said. “He’s seen some of the hard things and he’s seen some of the great things, and he’s been right at the epicenter of all of that. I think he’s a really good player and a good leader, and he should be given a ton of credit for what’s happened at Utah State.”
Whatever quarterback is under center could have a challenge with the 8-3 Cougars. Keeton described the defense as being unique and hard to prepare for.
“The names of the players change every single year, but their defense has been pretty consistent the past few years,” he said. “They throw a lot of different looks at you. With some teams, one formation means one specific coverage that the defense is going to run, but with BYU it could be three or four different things.”
A major part of BYU’s defense is defensive end Bronson Kaufusi. Wells said he isn’t sure if Kaufusi is the best linebacker his team has faced this year, but said “he may be.” The senior is responsible for 53 tackles and a team-leading 10 sacks this season.
“That has to be what Goliath looked back in the day,” Wells said of Kaufusi. “He’s intimidating, he’s huge and he’s athletic. The guy is really good. He can drop in coverage, he can rush the passer, he can hold a double-team and he just flips running backs off of him when they try to block him. The guy is a beast. That’s beast-mode in my opinion.”
On the other side of the ball, the Cougars are led by freshman quarterback Tanner Mangum. Mangum made a name for himself the first week of the college football season by connecting on a last-second Hail Mary pass at Nebraska. The game-winning completion came after starting quarterback Taysom Hill left the game with injury. Mangum has a set of receivers that Wells said were long and athletic.
“They are really good and the quarterback knows how to find them,” he said. “The quarterback has got confidence and moxie. You can see him fitting balls in tight windows and that, to me, is a sign of a confident quarterback. He’s confident in his wideouts and he’s ripping balls in windows and giving them chances to make plays.”
If the Aggies are able to pull off the win it would be the first time since 1971-1974 that USU won consecutive games against BYU.
“It’s been a long time since we won back-to-back games against BYU,” Wells said. “The odds are stacked against us.”
The two teams will take Merlin Olsen Field at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.