Like most Group of 5 football programs, the Utah State Aggies like to play prestige games against against Power 5 foes. They bring heightened attention, recruiting benefits and a nice paycheck in the aftermath.
Some of the names USU has faced in recent years? Michigan State, Auburn, Wisconsin and Oklahoma. All household names. On Saturday, the Aggies take on another one: No. 5 LSU in Baton Rouge.
“It’s a big challenge, obviously,” Utah State coach Gary Andersen said. “They’re a great football team. They’re battling like crazy to keep themselves in a top four playoff spot.”
The Aggies’ take-home pay for their visit to SEC country: $1.5 million.
That’s a lot of money, which will help USU’s bottom line going forward. An even bigger payday is on the horizon: Utah State will earn close to $2 million to face Alabama in 2022.
Something else the Aggies have been able to do in these money games is hold their own. In fact, they’ve had multiple opportunities to actually win, only to fall short at the end.
Only a month ago, USU had a chance to upset Wake Forest on the road in its season opener. In a back-and-forth game, the Aggies were in the middle of a fourth-quarter drive to win when Love threw an interception in the red zone with just 17 seconds left. Utah State lost. 38-35.
In last year’s opener, the Aggies lost to Michigan State, 38-31, despite taking a one-point lead with five minutes remaining in the game. And in 2011 — during coach Gary Andersen’s previous tenure — USU had a 10-point lead over Auburn with less than four minutes remaining, but ended up losing that game, too.
But the one that probably still hurts the most was in 2012, Andersen’s final season at Utah State. USU trailed Wisconsin in Madison by two points with six seconds left, and the Aggies set themselves up perfectly for a game-winning, 37-yard field goal. The kick missed.
The Aggies have won these games now and again. USU beat Wake Forest 36-24 in Logan in 2014, and in 2012 USU beat Utah 27-20 in overtime at home.
It remains to be seen how the Aggies will fare against the Tigers on Saturday morning. Given all their recent close calls, they certainly believe they can win. But LSU’s re-born offense under Ed Orgeron is averaging a stunning 58 points per game, which will put tremendous pressure on Utah State’s defense.
But LSU’s defense, talented as it is, has had its issues, the kinds of problems Aggie quarterback Jordan Love may be able to exploit.
“We’re not going to be intimidated by them or anything,” said USU tight end Caleb Repp. “we’re just going to go out and make our plays.”
UTAH STATE AT NO. 5 LSU
At Tiger Stadium, Baton Rouge, La.
Kickoff » Saturday, 10 a.m. MT
TV » SEC Network
Radio » 1280 AM, 97.5 FM
Records » USU 3-1; LSU 4-0
All-time series » LSU leads 2-0
Last meeting » LSU 31, USU 14 (Sept. 8, 2001)
About USU » The Aggies have won three straight after losing their opener to Wake Forest. … Ranks ninth in total offense at 533 yards per game. … Junior RB Jaylen Warren, freshman OL Jackson Owens and freshman DE Addison Trupp all attended East High in Salt Lake City, as did LSU junior LB Soni Fonua and freshman NT Siaki Ika.
About LSU » Averages nearly 58 points per game and are perfect in 2019 when reaching the red zone. … Final game of the non-conference schedule for the Tigers. … Coming off a bye week. … Scored 45 or more points in the first four games of a season for the first time in school history. … Coach Ed Orgeron is 29-9 mark in 38 games at the helm of LSU.