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Utah State football: Aggies motivated by close losses to BYU

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(Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars kicker Justin Sorensen (37) kicks a field goal that is blocked by BYU during the first half of the game at LaVell Edwards Stadium Friday October 5, 2012. BYU is winning the game 6-3.

By Kyle Goon

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Sep 30 2013 04:23PM
Updated Feb 14, 2014 11:35PM

Logan • On Monday, Matt Wells remembered his highest point against BYU as an Aggie.

He was on the sidelines, watching in awe as Utah State’s offense overpowered the Cougars’ D, and rang up points in a 58-56 shootout in Logan.

It was 1993, and he was a backup quarterback — still the memories were sharp. He talked about quarterback Anthony Cavillo, the drives, the feel of an offense that couldn’t be stopped.

"I had to write a lot of stuff on the clipboard that day," he quipped at his Monday press conference.

Wells can now look back on his playing career with some levity, but playing BYU (2-2) is serious business for Utah State (3-2, 2-0 Mountain West) and its head coach. He hopes when he takes the sideline Friday again at Romney Stadium across from the Aggies’ biggest rival, this time he’ll be presiding over a victory.

Since Wells joined the staff in 2011, the Aggies have fallen in Provo twice. Most of the team members who were around for the memorable 31-16 dismantling of the Cougars in Logan in 2010 didn’t play much, merely watching or contributing on special teams.

The losses of the past two years, each by three points, better capture the sour flavor of the rivalry for the current crop of Aggies.

"This is why you play sports, for rivalry games," junior defensive end B.J. Larsen said. "My dad actually went to BYU and I’ve converted him to an Aggie fan. I bleed Aggie blue, and I want this win more than anyone."

The game is only Utah State’s second home game, arguably the hot ticket of the season. Athletic director Scott Barnes said the single-game tickets sold out within 30 minutes of going on sale.

The Aggies are coming off a 1-1 road stretch in California, which featured a loss to USC and a pounding of conference rival San Jose State. In Friday’s victory against the Spartans, Utah State dictated the game with the run while successfully pressuring quarterback David Fales and limiting San Jose State’s run options.

Wells said the run will matter just as much against BYU, which features the speedy, physical Taysom Hill at quarterback. The No. 6 rusher in the nation, Hill has made the biggest difference with his feet in BYU’s games this year.

"We’re going to have to find ways to run the ball on offense, and we’re going to have to stop the QB run," Wells said. "Taysom Hill is an extremely talented young man. He’s a tough-minded kid and has a lot of intangibles you like to coach as a player, and you know that. He’s the key to this offense and he makes it go."

Utah State answered some big questions of its own on offense last week, bouncing back from USC with a 520-yard, 40-point outing at San Jose. Chuckie Keeton threw for three touchdowns, while the running game totaled 253 yards thanks to a stronger performance from the offensive line, even though the unit lost guard Kyle Whimpey to injury.

That will be tested against BYU, which ranks No. 23 in total defense (320.5 ypg) in the FBS this season and has allowed opponents to convert only 25.71 percent of third-down attempts. The leader of the unit is All-American Kyle Van Noy, a feared pass rusher and run-stuffer who helped hold the Aggies to only three points last year.

It was the last time Utah State has been held without an offensive touchdown.

"[Van Noy] is a really, really good pass rusher against running backs, against O-linemen — it doesn’t really matter," Wells said. "He causes major matchup problems. I’ll be happy to shake his hand Friday night and be done with facing Kyle Van Noy."

kgoon@sltrib.comTwitter: @kylegoon

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