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Kragthorpe: Utah State’s great season could be even better

Aggies had close losses but are potentially making history.

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The football left Utah State kicker Nick Diaz’s foot and floated through the air in the fourth quarter Saturday afternoon, hitting the crossbar squarely and bouncing away, landing in the Romney Stadium end zone.

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Diaz’s 50-yard field goal would have been merely a bonus in the Aggies’ 38-7 victory over Texas State, a performance punctuated by big offensive plays and a dominating defensive effort. Yet that miss served as a reminder of just how remarkable USU’s season could have become.

The Aggies (8-2) already have their most wins in any season since 1974, they’re positioned to play for the Western Athletic Conference title in two weeks and they’re likely ticketed for another Famous Idaho Potato Bowl appearance. That’s good stuff, lacking only the national impact a 10-0 record would have merited.

Not that USU coach Gary Andersen is dwelling on those losses at Wisconsin and BYU, where winning or tying field-goal attempts — from the kicker whom Diaz subsequently replaced — sailed barely wide.

"We had our opportunities," Andersen said.

The tradeoff is that the Aggies have responded well since those defeats and are making the coach’s life far less agonizing than in 2011, when they needed fourth-quarter rallies to claim five of their seven victories. "After what we went through last year," Andersen said, "it truly is refreshing."

So another fourth quarter was left to the USU reserves. By halftime, when quarterback Chuckie Keeton already had thrown four touchdown passes, there could be only one explanation for the scene in Logan in November: climate change.

The weather was nice too. Yet the real measure of how Andersen has altered the look of Aggie football was registered on the scoreboard, as USU held a 35-0 lead over a conference opponent. Cache Valley residents unfortunately seem to have reservations about exactly what USU’s record means in a weakened WAC that includes schools they’ve never heard of — how else to explain a crowd of only 17,222 (leaving about 8,000 empty seats) on a perfect afternoon?

Certainly, there should be more appreciation and enjoyment of Andersen’s work with an Aggie team that’s playing entertaining football and winning, to a potentially history-making degree. After a week off, USU can validate its season by beating No. 22 Louisiana Tech and winning the last WAC football title, before the Aggies move to the Mountain West.

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Among all of their available uniform combinations, the Aggies went with an old-school look of white pants, blue jerseys and white helmets — like the early ’70s, the last time the program was consistently this good.

Just to make things more interesting, the Aggies staged a remarkable series of big plays that somehow failed to produce touchdowns.

Matt Austin caught a 61-yard pass and was tackled at the Texas State 2, Kerwynn Williams ran 60 yards to the 6, Chuck Jacobs’ 64-yard reception went to the 5 and Austin took another 61-yard pass to the 8.

Texas State managed only 158 total yards to USU’s 593. New to the Football Bowl Subdivision, the Bobcats have performed reasonably well in the WAC, but the trip to Logan revealed that they’re really not in USU’s league.

As for the Aggies, they clearly are as good as any opponent they will meet in 2012. Of course, it’s too late to do anything about those tough losses to Wisconsin and BYU, but a conference championship, a bowl victory and 10 or 11 wins would further reward Andersen’s efforts this season, after USU’s administration already gave him a new contract.

Maybe next year, those 8,000 missing fans can add their own expression of support.


Twitter: @tribkurt

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