San Jose, Calif. • All week, the Aggies said they were looking ahead. The goal was to be 2-0 in the Mountain West, they said. San Jose State was their focus.
But in a way, Utah State never left California after falling to USC last weekend. Joey DeMartino acknowledged that losing at the Coliseum left a lingering ache that the Aggies worked all week to heal.
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They weren’t about to give up another chance to make an impression.
"It gave us a little fire, because we were on a big stage again, and it just hurts to not pull it through," the senior running back said. "We had a lot of fire under us from last week; we stomached it and played our hearts out tonight."
If the loss to the Trojans posed troubling questions about the Aggies, Friday night’s 40-12 dismantling of San Jose was their confident rebuttal.
An offense that had been off-kilter the week before rolled easily, gaining 520 yards, and just about half of it on the ground. A defense that had struggled to get turnovers in the secondary came up with its first three interceptions. Shaky special teams the week before were pardoned after kicker Nick Diaz booted four field goals, and Utah State pinned the Spartans inside the 20 three times.
The Aggies haven’t lost two games in a row since 2011. Losing motivates them, and narrows their focus to fix mistakes.
Or at least that’s how it seems: After its two losses this season, Utah State has outscored its next opponents by a combined 92-32. On the road against conference foes, no less.
"It is hard to win on the road in conference," USU coach Matt Wells said. "And those kids know it, and the veterans know it. If you’re going to have a chance to win the league or be in the race in November, you’ve got to win on the road early in the year."
Chuckie Keeton had a big bounce-back game, throwing for 260 yards and three touchdowns against the No. 13 pass defense in the country. And by running for 52 yards, he also looked more like the quarterback who played against Utah and Air Force than the one who couldn’t run on USC.
He was hardly the only one, as the run game put up more than twice as many yards this week, and the offensive line looked much more sound against the pass rush. Even when Kyle Whimpey was lost to an injury, the reserves took his place without much disruption, even going against a top-flight tackle in Travis Raciti.
The defense struggled with penalties and gave up big plays between the 20s, but when it mattered, Utah State stonewalled the Spartans. David Fales never found a way to squeeze a ball past the Aggies into the end zone. The only thing between Utah State and a touchdown-less performance was a stretching dive by Jason Simpson.
This is the team the Aggies think they are. They expect to play at that caliber for the rest of the year, but especially with BYU and Boise State coming to Logan on back-to-back weeks.
Friday night, they made their case.
"It shows our toughness, our blue-collar work ethic," cornerback Nevin Lawson said. "It just shows what type of team we are. We’re brothers. We take pride in what we do."
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