For the entire season, the Utah State Aggies have been building to this moment. The moment when they would get the opportunity to play for a chance to compete for the Mountain West Championship. The moment when they can do what few teams have done before and go undefeated in the conference.
But the road to those accolades goes through Boise. No more need to focus on other teams’ quarterbacks or pass rushes. No more need to take it one game at a time. This is the only game.
And some Aggies players welcome the idea that they get to key on only one opponent now.
“Any time you have a big game, it’s almost nice to just focus on that,” Aggies senior linebacker Doug Christiansen said Monday. “There’s not really anything else going on. It’s either we beat them and we go to the championship game, or we don’t. So it’s very cut and dry as to what we need to do. So there’s not a lot of distraction besides that.”
No. 14 Utah State will face No. 21 Boise State on the road Saturday night at Albertsons Stadium. It comes in to the final game of the regular season with a 10-game winning streak that put its record at 10-1 overall (7-0 MW). Boise State is right behind the Aggies at 9-2 (6-1 MW), and boasts a six-game winning streak.
The Aggies are coming off a win against Colorado State that came down to a last-second penalty that went their way. They didn’t play well and had to win in a less-than-desirable fashion, but the lesson of that will be valuable against the Broncos.
Historically, Utah State has struggled against Boise State. The Aggies are just 5-17 against the Broncos all-time, with a 2-9 mark on the road.
But this is not the Utah State of previous years. The Aggies have won six of its last seven road games. They are second in the nation in both scoring offense and forced turnovers. They lead the country in defensive touchdowns and kickoff returns.
The Aggies are so different in 2018 that even Broncos head coach Brian Harsin began the week somewhat confounded as to how his team would solve the Utah State puzzle.
“I don’t know really what area to tell you that we have to focus on,” Harsin said Monday in a conference call with reporters. “Special teams, I was hoping they weren’t very good there, but they are. Looking at their defense, I was hoping they didn’t have very many turnovers, but they do. And then offensively, they’ve been putting points up like it’s video games. … We have to go out there and be better in all these areas than they are.”
The Broncos are no slouches either. They are undefeated on the road against conference opponents. They rank second in the country in fumble recoveries. They lead the conference in sacks per game.
This could be one of the more competitive games between the two teams in their long-running series. Aggies senior linebacker Chase Christiansen is looking forward to not only the challenge, but also to the stakes.
“When you come here, in all reality, this is what you’re here for: to play for a chance to go to the Mountain West Championship game,” Christiansen said. “So, looking at the game on Saturday, it’s kind of all your aspirations and dreams coming to fruition as a player. You work really hard all year long for the opportunity that you have right in front of you, so it’s really exciting. For myself and all the other guys, we can’t wait to play.”
The winner of Saturday’s matchup gets to host the Mountain West championship game. Only one of them can do it. The other has to sit and wait for a bowl selection.
USU senior wide receiver Aaren Vaughns thinks the key to the game will be which team is most ready.
“Coming into this week, it’s down to the preparations,” Vaughns said. “You just have to trust the preparation and keep going. We’ve seen what they can do, but we know what we can do. We just have to keep believing in ourselves.”
UTAH STATE AT BOISE STATE
At Albertsons Stadium, Boise, Idaho
Kickoff » Saturday, 8:15 p.m.
Watch » ESPN
Radio » 1280 AM/97.5 FM
Records » Utah State 10-1 (7-0 Mountain West), Boise State 9-2 (6-1 MW)
Last meeting » Boise State 41, Utah State 14 (Oct. 28, 2017)
About the Broncos » Senior quarterback Brett Rypien has 28 touchdowns on 3,270 passing yards. … Average 37.4 points per game while allowing only 22.2. … Ranks second in the nation in third-down conversions. … Boise State has four defensive touchdowns this season, which ranks fifth in the nation. … Allowing opponents to 15.7 points per game in November.
About the Aggies » Lead the nation in scoring drives under one minute (24). … Quarterback Jordan Love has 25 touchdowns on 2,845 passing yards and just four interceptions. … USU has the third-highest average margin of victory (27.2 points) in the nation. … Can set a school record with an eighth conference win. … Will be without Deante Fortenberry, who was injured against Colorado State and is out for the season.