Utah State’s bowl eligibility, conference hopes on a collision course with University of Wyoming

New life will be breathed into the tired saying “one game at a time” this week when University of Wyoming rides into Logan on Saturday to face Utah State.

One more win will make the make the Aggies bowl eligible. One more win will advance them one step closer to winning the Mountain West Conference Mountain Division. Plus, one more win might give USU some extra momentum in its drive to claim the overall MWC title heading into a pivotal game against No. 19 Boise State, the conference title favorite, next week.

“We talked about it way back when in January, then we talked about it again in spring ball, then we talked about it again in fall camp to get yourself to meaningful games in the month of November,” USU coach Gary Andersen said. “That’s exactly what this group of guys has done. They have battled and battled and battled.”

Exhibit A: The Aggies rallied last week for a pivotal 37-35 win over Fresno State. Clinched on a last-minute field goal by Dominik Eberle, who on Sunday was named the MWC Special Teams Player of the Week, it ended a two-game skid for Utah State (5-4, 4-1) and kept its goals for the season from being swept off the table.

Next the Aggies enter the 2 p.m. game at Maverik Stadium against a Wyoming team tied for second to last in the division. The Cowboys’ only conference wins have come against Nevada, New Mexico and UNLV, three teams that are a combined 3-13 in MWC play.

With so much hanging in the balance, though, the Aggies will be remiss to look past the Pokes (6-3, 3-2) and onto next week’s marquee matchup against Boise State.

“It’s been a battle the past couple of years playing those guys, and I have a lot of respect for them,” senior defensive end Jacoby Wildman said. “It’s power football, it’s running down your throat. They say, ‘You’re going to have to stop us, you’re going to have to make those stands when you need to.’ This week, it’s going to be much more crucial for us to do our assignments and be where we’re supposed to be, because if you’re not, they’ll exploit it.”

Sophomore running back Xazavian Valladay is the battering ram in the Cowboys’ run-oriented offense. Valladay turned in his third-straight 100-yard game and fourth this season against the Broncos, carrying the ball a career-high 37 times for 124 yards. Wyoming’s 5.1 yards per carry is second in the MWC and its 21 rushing touchdowns ranks third. When the Cowboys do throw the ball, they turn to sophomore Tyler Vander Waal. A solid game manager, Vander Waal recorded a career-high completing percentage (65%) against Boise State, going 15-of-23 for 160 yards.

The Cowboys’ calling card, however, is their physical defense, which ranks first in the MWC in keeping opponents out of the end zone. At its center is senior linebacker Logan Wilson. Wilson went off against the Broncos, recording 10 tackles, a sack and an interception.

“They are going to walk up there and they’re going to want to smash you in the mouth and if you fall on the ground, they’re going to want to kick you in the face as they walk away from you. That’s who they are, and that’s awesome,” Andersen said of the Wyoming defense. “That’s a tough-minded team. I like that, too. We have to match that as we go through our preparations and understand that’s who they want to be. Football is a physical game, and, again, I’m all in for that kind of physicality activity that goes in and the physicalness. We need to play that way, also."

That will be a lot to ask of an Aggies defense that features a considerable number of young players due to a rash of injuries. That includes the loss of junior linebacker David Woodward, who ranks second in the nation with an average of 13.2 tackles per game.

The pressure, then, will fall on the offense. The Aggies will be hoping junior quarterback Jordan Love and USU’s long-struggling offense can build off its performance last week and perhaps return to the success it found in 2018, when it finished second in the nation in scoring. Against Fresno State, Love connected on 30 of 39 passes for 388 yards and two first-half touchdowns, both to wide receiver Siaosi Mariner.

Sophomore offensive lineman Alfred Edwards said despite the Aggies’ struggles, the future is full of potential.

“We’ve just done a great job of sticking together through the tough times and not falling apart, and just pushing through all the bad times,” he said. “We just keep looking forward to our goals. Our leaders did a good job of keeping the team morale up. Through the bad times, we still practiced hard, we still worked hard in the weight room, we still kept our same principles as a team, so that’s really just helped us stick through everything.”


At Maverik Stadium, Logan

Kickoff » Saturday, 2 p.m.


Radio » 1280 AM, 97.5 FM

Records » USU 5-4 (4-1 MWC); Wyoming 6-3 (3-2 MWC)

All-time series » USU leads 39-26-4

About USU » The Aggies are a win away from becoming bowl eligible for the eighth time in the last nine years. … A win over Fresno State on an Derek Eberle field goal stopped USU’s losing streak at two straight. … Jordan Love is 59-of-88 (.670) passing for 782 yards (391.0 ypg) with three touchdowns and three interceptions over the past two weeks. … More than a third of the Aggies’ roster (43.12%) is made up of freshmen.

About Wyoming » The Cowboys have the second-best scoring defense in the MWC behind San Diego State, allowing 17.9 ppg on average. … Wyoming has only made five turnovers on the season, tied for second in the nation. … Sophomore running back Xazavian Valladay tied a school record with 37 rushes against Boise State and had his fourth 100-yard rushing game this season. … The Cowboys and Aggies are playing for Bridger’s Rifle, a relatively new trophy in a 70-year rivalry. USU leads the series 4-2.