The beat is catchy; the lyrics require some censoring. Every time rapper Lupe Fiasco’s “The Show Goes On” comes through the loop of music that plays during Utah State’s football practices, coach Gary Andersen’s mind returns to Hawaii.
That’s because USU recruiting coordinator Zach Nyborg’s weekly highlight package used that song as the backdrop for clips of the Aggies’ 35-31 victory at Hawaii in November 2011. That’s really when all of this started for Andersen and the Aggies — their first of 16 victories in 19 games, including Saturday’s 41-15 triumph over Toledo in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
There’s a deeper context to Andersen’s success at USU, and this season became its own story. Yet there’s no doubt that the turnaround truly took hold on that night in Honolulu, where a 2-5 Aggie team trailed Hawaii 28-7 at halftime.
Quarterback Chuckie Keeton was injured, so the Aggies turned to backup Adam Kennedy, who had virtually no experience. USU’s season was crumbling. “Wow, 28-7, Chuckie’s hurt … and then away we go,” Andersen said recently, recalling the unlikely scenario. “It’s been an incredible ride, and it’s fun to watch.”
The Aggies fell behind 31-14 before rallying with three straight scores. Kennedy threw two touchdown passes, then then Robert Turbin scored on a 1-yard run with 14 seconds remaining.
The irony is that Dave Aranda, the coordinator whose USU defense ranks 15th in the country this season, was coaching Hawaii’s defense at the time. USU’s comeback helped lead to the firing of Hawaii coach Greg McMackin, making Aranda available.
And the Aggies just kept winning, beating San Jose State, Idaho, Nevada and New Mexico State with second-half comebacks led by Kennedy, before losing to Ohio by one point in the Potato Bowl.
Mix in this season’s defeats at Wisconsin and BYU, and USU’s only losses in this 19-game stretch have come by a total of six points.
The unfortunate aspect of all this is that Kennedy’s contribution to the Aggies’ success basically ended last year. He ended up redshirting in 2012 after being injured early in the season. Andersen now is trying to help him transfer to another school for his senior season, with Keeton entrenched at quarterback.
Otherwise, the show goes on. Andersen is staying and so are his coordinators, having turned down nice opportunities. Of the 14 players who received All-WAC recognition, nine are returning.