Logan • When Matt Wells and his coaching staff were watching film of their next opponent, Fresno State from time to time managed to steal their attention.
A Derek Carr throw. A Davante Adams catch. Fresno State is the kind of team that makes highlights anyone would watch over and over.
Utah State at Fresno State
O Mountain West Championship
Bulldog Stadium, Fresno, Calif.
Kickoff » Saturday, 8 p.m.
TV » Ch. 2
Radio » 1280 AM
Records » Utah State (8-4, 7-1); Fresno State (10-1, 7-1)
Series history » FSU leads, 16-10-1
Last meeting » Oct. 15, 2011; FSU 31, USU 21
About the Aggies » Utah State enters the game with one of the top-rated defenses in the nation, ranking No. 7 in scoring defense and No. 11 in total defense. … Senior linebacker Jake Doughty enters the week averaging 10.8 tackles per game, good for No. 9 in the nation. … Sophomore punt returner Jojo Natson averages 11.3 yards per return, No. 22 in the country, and has two return touchdowns. … Senior center Tyler Larsen leads the team with 50 career starts, and will play in the East-West Shrine game on Jan. 18 next year.
About the Bulldogs » Senior quarterback Derek Carr leads the nation in touchdown passes (45), passing yards (4,462) and completions per game (35.3) entering the week. … Sophomore receiver Davante Adams leads the nation with 22 touchdown receptions, which is as many or more than 80 FBS teams entering the week. … Fresno State has not lost a home game at Bulldog Stadium since the 2011 season. … If the Bulldogs win Saturday, they will tie a school record for most wins in a year with 11.
"You catch yourself saying, ‘Let’s rewind that,’ " Wells said. "’Let me see that again.’"
That’s what Utah State (8-4, 7-1) is up against this week in Fresno State (10-1, 7-1): a highlight-making machine. The Bulldogs score like cheetahs run and like rivers flow. And they do it with a style that beckons the eye, even if you find yourself on the opposing sideline. They’ll get a chance to do it again Saturday night on their home field, where they’ve won 12 straight.
But the Aggies’ season is one of resilience: They’ve overcome losses and injuries to win the Mountain Division and have one of the top defenses in the country. On Saturday, Utah State aims to finish what it started by winning the Mountain West championship.
"I knew we had a group of guys who weren’t going to lie down, and we had to have things fall right for us and they have so far," junior linebacker Zach Vigil said. "We’re happy to be in the position we are, but we’re not done yet and we have one more game left to prove that we are a very good football team."
The Aggies have their work cut out for them. To counter the top-ranked defense in the conference, Fresno State brings the top-ranked offense. Carr enters the week leading the nation in touchdown passes and passing yards, and he has three quality receivers to target in Adams, Josh Harper and Isaiah Burse. The Bulldogs’ running game hasn’t been especially potent, but Josh Quezada and Marteze Waller have done the job when called upon and each have more than 600 yards on the ground.
Utah State’s No. 7-ranked scoring defense will have its hands full. The Aggies will look to shut down Fresno’s run game completely — Utah State has only allowed 66 rushing yards in its last two games combined — while trying to do something no one has done consistently this year: sack Carr. He’s only been wrapped up eight times behind his beefy offensive line.
"They’re very good in their pass sets," freshman linebacker Nick Vigil said. "They’re really good on their feet. We’re going to have to get them off-balance and get to the quarterback."
The matchup on the other side of the ball has less hype going in but could be equally important. Fresno State’s defense surrendered 62 points and 736 yards of offense last week in the team’s first loss of the year against San Jose State.
The Aggies’ passing game has been limited in the past few weeks, although freshman quarterback Darell Garretson threw for three touchdowns against Wyoming. Offensive coordinator Kevin McGiven has said the offense isn’t where he wants it to be yet, and he’d like to see fewer penalties and find more ways to stretch the field this weekend. If cold weather and possible snow come to Fresno this weekend, the Aggies also will be leaning on senior running back Joey DeMartino chew up yards and clock to control the pace of the game.
"We are overlooked a little bit as and offensive group but we’re going to step up our running game, protect Darell as best we can," senior center Tyler Larsen said. "We know our defense will play great and put us in position to win but we want to do our part as well."
On the line: a second straight conference championship, a chance to play a Pac-12 team in the Las Vegas bowl and a potential signature win with coast-to-coast exposure on CBS.
They’ve come too far to stop now, they said.
"Even when we were down, we still had our hopes up," Larsen said. "We still all thought something special could happen for us. Just having everyone supporting us now, jumping on the bus, it’s going to be great."
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