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Utah State football: Aggies tired of losing the big ones

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Auburn linebacker Jake Holland (5) celebrates with teammate defensive back Ryan White (19) after stopping a Utah State runner for a loss in the first half of their NCAA college football game in Auburn, Saturday, Sept. 3, 2011. AP Photo/Dave Martin)

By Lya Wodraska

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Aug 27 2014 11:03AM
Updated Aug 27, 2014 11:28PM

Logan • Zach Vigil hates going to the dentist, but not because he is afraid of the drill, doesn’t like shots or has an aversion to getting his mouth poked and prodded.

No, it’s because of the conversations he hears while trapped in a chair.

"You go there or anywhere and it’s almost always the same — you hear how we didn’t win the big game or how we came close but just not quite there," he said. "It’s so irritating. We know we can perform on a big stage and at the highest level. You want to win the big ones, and we get our chance to do that against Tennessee."

Do they ever. The Aggies’ opener against the Vols on Sunday will get plenty of exposure.

The only other game of the night is SMU at Baylor, leaving little TV competition for the Utah State-Tennessee game, which is being broadcast by the new SEC Network that will reach 87 million homes thanks to its agreement with DirecTV.

Many may turn in to see what the buzz is about with Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton, whose Heisman campaign will get a boost or a bust depending on the outcome.

But more than anything, Utah State’s players say they want to win just to prove they can.

"We’ve had some good seasons and good wins, but we just haven’t finished," Keeton said. "That is the next step we need to do."

Interestingly, USU coach Matt Wells has a slightly different view than his players, pointing out the Aggies have indeed won some big games, such as the 2012 WAC title, 2013 Poinsettia Bowl and a home win over Utah in 2012.

"Those are big games, too," he said. "We have to keep it in perspective. But we know we are going against a nationally known opponent in a historic stadium and it will be a tremendous challenge."

Wells is also attempting to keep Sunday’s opener in perspective, too.

"This isn’t a game that is going to make or break our season," he said. "We’ve come a long way as a program in the last several years."

Perhaps the difference in opinion between players and coach can be attributed to their sense of urgency. As a coach, Wells not only has to build the program but maintain it, with an eye toward success in the future.

Utah State’s players, particularly the seniors, know their chances for big wins are limited, and they’ve felt the sting of losses too many times.

They came close to beating Auburn in 2011, losing 42-38, came close at Wisconsin in 2012, losing 16-14, and came close at USC last year, losing 17-14.

Close can be comforting, knowing they can play against the Power 5, but it can be maddening, too.

"USU football has gotten better over the last five years," defensive end B.J. Larsen said. "But we haven’t stopped climbing. We want to continue to establish ourselves and put us on the map nationally. I feel like we have been knocking at the door and now we want to break it down."

Adding to the Aggies’ sense of urgency this week is the matchup with the Vols. Tennessee is young, with 19 newcomers on the two-deep. The Vols are also still learning second-year coach Butch Jones’ system.

The Aggies, on the other hand, feel they are a veteran-led, experienced team.

The time is ripe for a win, and Vigil said the team doesn’t want to let the opportunity pass them by.

"There have been a lot of team meetings where we’ve talked about being one drive away," he said. "We’ve had plenty of opportunities to get big wins. Hopefully we can start fresh this year."

The Aggies certainly have the motivation to get the job done, Wells said.

"We are the little brother and they are the Power 5," Wells said. "It’s always going to be that way and we’ll always play and train with that chip on our shoulder."

lwodraska@sltrib.com

Twitter: @lyawodraska

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