A lot of people are praising Gary Andersen and what he’s done and what he’s doing at Utah State. What the Aggies have done and what they are doing at Utah State.
He and they deserve it.
Foremost among the lessons Andersen has taught his players is one that’s among the most difficult to learn: how to win.
“It was going to be hard,” the coach once told me. And it was going to be sweet. And it is.
Before he took over four years ago, back when USU football had a few nice athletes sprinkled in amid a thousand losses, who would have believed a sentence like this one to be even imaginable?
The Aggies are 9-2, WAC champions and ranked 25th in the national polls.
Quit bobbing your head. All the elasticity in the world wouldn’t have allowed you or any sane or even insane person to stretch the imagination that far. Utah State hadn’t won nine games in a single season—- which ties a school record — since 1961. Now, it has won 14 of its last 17 games. And those three defeats were there for the taking, too.
Even after Andersen arrived, he went 4-8 in each of his first two seasons, before the winning took root. Last year, there was a lot of adversity to overcome — namely, heartbreaking losses — that seemed to fire the resolve of Andersen’s young players more than discourage them. They went on to qualify for the Aggies’ first bowl game in 14 seasons.
And, now, here we are, seeing more than mere bowl qualification, rather winning for winning’s sake, all of it with our own eyes, though they’ve been rubbed a time or two in disbelief along the way.
Not that the Aggies have completely abandoned their penchant for doing things the hard way. Saturday’s win over Louisiana Tech, Utah State’s first-ever road win over a ranked opponent, was won, then won again, then lost, then lost again, reminiscent of last year’s frenetic struggles at the end of big games.
But this time, the Ags hung on, showing the maturity that’s now in place in Andersen’s program. USU is 2-50 all-time against ranked teams, and that second win shows the collective growth of a football team that now expects to win.
Still, leading 41-17 in the third quarter and then allowing La. Tech to tie the game at the end of regulation tested that growth. The win in overtime, though, was five steps advanced over what once happened too frequently. It was USU’s third straight overtime win, going back to last season. Andersen’s teams have won six straight games in November and are 10-3 in that month since he took over.
The offensive prowess Saturday was stellar. The Aggies picked up a total of 646 yards of offense, with near-perfect balance — 306 rushing yards on 45 carries and 340 passing yards on 34 attempts. Led by quarterback Chuckie Keeton, who had all those passing yards, plus 121 yards on the ground, that offense conjured big plays and steady drives. It had zero turnovers.
There were mistakes committed by the Ags, such as allowing a 98-yard kickoff return at the end of the third quarter, which jumpstarted Tech toward its spirited comeback. But, ultimately, USU hammered home the victory, one of the biggest in school history.
And, because of that, they are conference champions. They are winners. Believe it or not. And they are taking the spoils they deserve.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 1280 AM/97.5 FM The Zone. Twitter: @Gordon Monson.