USU football: Latest close call hurts most
Brian Suite stared aimlessly into the news conference lights while fighting back tears in the wake of Utah State's 16-14 loss to Wisconsin on Saturday night.
The sophomore safety just had played the best game of his young career that included 13 tackles, many of them stops of Badgers star running back Montee Ball. Yet Suite's voice cracked when he spoke. Yelling could be heard down the hall in the Aggies locker room while Suite spoke.
The frustration was more than evident in the moments following the Aggies' first loss of the season. USU not only thought it could beat Wisconsin, it expected to win.
"Do I think we're where we should be as a program? No," coach Gary Andersen said. "But we've gotten these kids to believe that they should be competitive in every game they play. They think they can win every game, and that's big. But we still have improvements to make, no question."
Saturday brought a defeat USU didn't need to endure. Special teams once again proved to be the Aggies' undoing. A shaky punt led to a touchdown return. A second shaky punt supplied the Badgers with a short field and another score. Lastly, a field-goal attempt that could've won the game sailed wide right.
In many respects, the loss to Wisconsin was as bad as the loss at Auburn a year ago. Certainly the same formula was in play: A double-digit second-half advantage, special-teams play that contributed greatly to the loss and a failed chance to make a statement nationally.
A closer look closer shows the Wisconsin loss could be the most hurtful of all. Utah State surprised Auburn with a great game plan, a rookie quarterback in Chuckie Keeton, who few thought would perform well under intense pressure, and the advantage of it being the season opener for both teams.
The Badgers were different. Wisconsin lost to Oregon State the week before then promptly fired its offensive line coach. The Badgers never were going to overlook the Aggies. And still, Utah State looked like the better team for large stretches.
"That's the really hurtful part," Suite said. "To play as hard as we did and to come up short, it's hard to deal with."
Utah State players and coaches also spoke of the need to put away the Wisconsin loss and move on to Colorado State. A road game with the Rams and a home game against UNLV both look like winnable games for the Aggies. USU could be 5-1 heading into a road game at BYU in three weeks.
"We know that we have a good team, so we have to keep our confidence up," senior running back Kerwynn Williams said. "That's important for us. We played well at times. We also have to clean up some of the other things that we did wrong."
The Utah State defense ranks 14th nationally in yardage allowed through two games. The Aggies also are 15th in the country in scoring defense. USU still could win a lot of games should those trends continue.
But will it be enough if the special teams play doesn't come around? Can the Aggies win the Western Athletic Conference without the benefit of a great field goal kicker?
Saturday night at Colorado State will provide a bit of insight.
2012 • Lost to Wisconsin 16-14
Utah State led 14-3 in the third quarter
2011 • Lost to Auburn 42-38
Utah State led 38-28 with four minutes remaining
2010 • Lost to Oklahoma 31-24
The Sooners were ranked seventh in the country
Utah State at Colorado State
P Saturday, 5 p.m.