Now the real work begins.
The Utah State Aggies, who went 1-1 to start the 2019 season with a narrow loss to Wake Forest and a statement win against Stony Brook, have set their sights on the part of the schedule that matters most: Mountain West Conference play. And with the team’s palpable hunger for an MWC title, the mood around the Aggies is one of anxious excitement.
"It's game time for real,” senior running back Gerold Bright said Monday at USU’s weekly press conference.
First up: the undefeated San Diego State Aztecs, who sit atop the MWC West Division. In their first three games, the Aztecs allowed just eight points per game, including an opening-night shutout of Weber State.
But Utah State could have an advantage heading into Saturday. The team had a bye last week, which gave the coaching staff the opportunity to work on several things. Coach Gary Andersen said the younger players got some time with the coaching staff, and the team broke down SDSU while also learning a bit about future opponents.
Andersen said that while it doesn’t necessarily matter when a bye week occurs in the schedule, getting one after Week 2, right before the start of conference play, comes at a good time for the Aggies.
“Now we’ll see how we come out and play and what takes place,” Andersen said.
The Aggies have won each of their last eight games following a bye week dating back to 2011.
USU went 11-2 overall last season and 7-1 in the Mountain West. Its lone loss was to Boise State in the final conference game of the 2018 season, costing the Aggies a shot at the MW title.
But this year, there seems to be a heightened focus on taking care of business against teams in Utah State’s conference.
“As a team, we're super hungry because we all understand in the Mountain West, all it takes is one game,” Bright said. "You lose one game, you might be done for in the running for the Mountain West Championship. We understand that we have to go out there and get this dub [win].”
USU hasn’t played SDSU in football since 2016. In that game, played on Oct. 28, the Aggies lost 40-13. The Aztecs have won 10 straight games against Utah State.
Andersen knows what kind of a challenge SDSU poses for the Aggies. But he’s looking forward to the matchup.
This will be a huge test for us going on the road, first conference game,” Andersen said. “I’m sure they’re looking at it as a great opportunity, as are we. It should be a great conference opener for both teams and for the Mountain West, quite frankly.”
The upcoming game, however, might mean more to the Aggies than it does for the Aztecs. There seems to be more on the line. This is the first opportunity that USU has to potentially send a strong message to the rest of the conference.
"Every break is 'Mountain West champs,’ ” senior defensive tackle Christopher ‘Unga said. “This week is big time for us starting with San Diego State.”