Once in a blue moon. It’s a common phrase, meaning something that rarely happens. When the phrase was first coined in the 1500s, the meaning took a step further and actually referenced something that was considered to be impossible. Only in the 1800s did the meaning of the phrase change to the definition we recognize today.
Either way you interpret it, however, Utah State faces a blue moon task this Saturday at LSU. A 10:00 am Mountain Time kickoff in Death Valley poses an extremely formidable challenge bordering on the impossible. Led by senior QB Joe Burrow and an offense far more electric than we’re accustomed to seeing from LSU, the Tigers are ranked fifth in the AP poll and a legitimate contender for one of the four spots in this year’s College Football Playoff. They rank first in the country with 57.8 points per game and have topped 60 in each of their last two contests. And while the defense fails to strike the same fear in opponents as previous iterations, the Tigers still allow only 26.3 points per game and holds opponents to under 100 yards rushing per game. NFL prospects litter LSU’s roster and the Aggies will be at a talent deficit at almost every position on the field. It’s fair to wonder if LSU is the best team Utah State has ever faced (though Oklahoma and Nebraska fans may remind Aggies of their national championship campaigns in the 1970s).
On paper, Utah State emerging from Death Valley victorious appears impossible. USU’s own history would reinforce that sentiment. The Aggies came up short in each of their first two meetings against the Tigers, losing 31-14 and 38-17 in 2001 and 1993, respectively. Versus AP top-five teams, the Aggies are 0-10. Stretch that sample to the top 10 and USU is still 0-21. Of those 21 games, the Aggies have kept only two within 10 points. The highest-ranked team USU has ever beaten was a 35-20 victory over 18th-ranked BYU in 2014. In short, defeating highly-ranked opponents has been incredibly difficult for the Aggies.
But while that marquee victory has eluded Utah State, they do happen in the rest of the college football landscape. Everyone remembers Appalachian State toppling Michigan in the Big House. Oregon State upending USC is basically the reason Thursday night football still exists. It can be taken for granted, but unranked teams do occasionally steal a game versus top five teams. For that to happen, however, the situation has to be ideal. During a volcanic eruption, particles in the air can cause the moon to appear blue. Likewise, App State had Armanti Edwards and a revolutionary spread offense. The Beavers had James and Jacquizz Rodgers.
Utah State has Jordan Love. David Woodward is one of the nation’s best linebackers. Tipa Galeai has already wrecked several games in his Aggie career. Dominik Eberle just kicked a 48-yard field goal in weather that was one step short of becoming an aquarium. Gerold Bright still might be running over Colorado State’s defense. If the Aggies are to ever pull off a major upset, they will need a plethora of players to give gargantuan performances in multiple areas of the game. Currently, that potential exists on USU’s roster.
Even with talent, you need several breaks. Appalachian State probably doesn’t shock the world if Michigan’s star running back Mike Hart played 100 percent of the game. While you never hope for injuries to happen, LSU’s defense is stretched thin at this point of the season and could be without five starters for Saturday’s game, including four starters among the front seven. Starting linebacker K’Lavon Chaisson is still questionable with a lower leg injury, as is safety Todd Harris. LSU’s two starting defensive ends are likely both out, with Glen Logan doubtful and Rashard Lawrence questionable to play, and Michael Divinity, last season’s fourth-leading tackler for the Tigers, is also doubtful to play. While plenty of talented recruits are available to replace injured starters, LSU’s defense is far from running all cylinders.
All of this could be for naught (and frankly, probably is), if QB Joe Burrow continues to play at a Heisman level. The senior signal-caller has already thrown for over 1,500 yards with 17 touchdowns and only two interceptions while completing a gaudy 80 percent of his passing attempts. The Tigers haven’t averaged over 36 points per game since winning a national title in 2007. Burrow’s currently led LSU to over 57 points per game, more than enough to compensate an injury-plagued defense.
If USU is to have any chance in this game, a secondary that ranks 103rd in the country with 263.5 passing yards allowed per game will need to improve dramatically. To do so, Utah State’s stellar front seven will have to generate consistent pass rush against the Tigers. Woodward, Galeai, Devon Anderson, and many others will need to play the games of their lives. Eberle, Savon Scarver and the rest of the special teams unit will need to dominate the third phase of the game, and possibly find the end zone for the third game this season. Lastly, and possibly most importantly, Love will have to prove the hype and deliver an NFL-worthy performance.
That’s a lot to ask of a team of 18- to 24-year olds. The challenge facing the Aggies on Saturday is daunting. Few teams venture into Death Valley and come out unscathed, and nothing in USU’s history would lead us to predict a different outcome here. But there is potential here for the Aggies to produce their own shocking result. Love, Woodward, and others have the talent that gives USU a puncher’s chance against any opponent in the country. Landing that punch is infinitely easier said than done.
In all honesty, I wouldn’t expect the Aggies to do so (although I would expect them to cover the 27.5-point spread the game is currently given). LSU is a legit national title contender with playmakers at nearly every position, plus a QB that can go toe-to-toe with Jordan Love, and it’d be foolish to expect a victory against any opponent that can boast that.
The Aggies’ blue moon will have to wait.