Provo • Utah State’s 31-16 win over BYU at Romney Stadium in Logan in 2010 not only changed the makeup of the BYU coaching staff — head coach Bronco Mendenhall fired defensive coordinator Jaime Hill the following day — it also changed the Cougars’ perspective on the rivalry.
That much was clear as the Cougars and their coaches turned their attention to Friday’s showdown with the Aggies after practices on Monday and Tuesday. Respect for Utah State and quarterback Chuckie Keeton flowed at the football office lobby where interviews are conducted.
“It is a different kind of rivalry. And I am not saying it is better or worse. But it is just different,” Mendenhall said, when asked to compare it to the football rivalry with Utah. “And I think it should be. Different teams, a little bit more distance, but still I think a great game, and it has been the past number of years, where it has gone right down to the end.”
The Cougars beat the Aggies 6-3 last year in Provo and 27-24 in 2011, and both games were as razor-close as the final scores indicate.
“Utah State has made itself a great program,” said BYU receiver JD Falslev. “It is one of the hardest places to play in the Western half of America, honestly, because the fans are so dialed in. The fans are so rigorous. The fans have bought in to what they are doing. So it makes it tough. They are going to be loud, they are going to be nasty, they are going to be all over the place.”
As for Keeton, who was mostly contained last year in Provo, BYU defensive tackle Eathyn Manumaleuna said he might be the best quarterback the Cougars face this season, and Mendenhall concurred, although he might be surprised to learn that Keeton is only a junior.
“He’s really hard to get on the ground, and then he can extend plays for a long time,” Mendenhall said. “If your coverage happens to hold, he’s a scrambling threat. So yeah, I am not sure how many times we have played against him, but it seems like he’s been there a long time.”
In two games against BYU, Keeton is 35 of 63 for 324 yards and two touchdowns, and has carried the ball 16 times for 43 yards.
Recruiting against the Aggies
Utah State’s recent success hasn’t gone unnoticed in Provo, but that doesn’t mean the Aggies are snatching up recruits that might have gone to BYU in the past, Mendenhall said Monday.
“I haven’t noticed [a change] whatsoever,” Mendenhall said. “Again, our [in-state] pool has been pretty much unchanging, if anything. I am talking locally. Then, it is really expanding out of state.”
Utah State has 59 players in its program from the state of Utah, while BYU has 42.
Familiarity breeds contempt?
Utah State defensive end B.J Larsen, a Logan High product, was apparently asked about being similar to BYU’s players on Monday.
His response: “A lot of them are from Utah and a lot of them went on [LDS Church] missions, as I did. It has a point of familiarity and similarity, but as soon as they put on that BYU uniform, I am not really looking at that at all. I’m just getting ready to play the Cougars.”
Utah has already clinched the Beehive Boot by virtue of beating both USU and BYU this season, but the Cougars and Aggies are still after the traveling Old Wagon Wheel trophy that goes to the victor. BYU holds a 37-22 advantage since the inception of the trophy in 1948.