When the latest episode of this crazy rivalry ended, Utah State players sprinted off the sideline toward the north end zone, where they grabbed the Old Wagon Wheel.
Score that successful mission as the Aggies’ eighth takeaway of the night.
This game changed for good when a pass thrown by BYU’s fill-in quarterback, who soon would exit with an injury of his own, bounced off the back of a Utah State linebacker. Aggie cornerback Jalen Davis grabbed the first of his three interceptions and scored the first of his two touchdowns.
If anyone wondered what else could possibly happen when these teams got together, the answers kept coming Friday night at Maverik Stadium. Utah State’s 40-24 victory came with the usual plot twist of quarterbacking misadventures and wild sequences.
BYU’s mild offensive revival came at a cost, in multiple ways. The Cougars (1-4) lost quarterback Beau Hoge to a second-quarter injury, after his two touchdown passes helped BYU top the 20-point mark for the first time this season. And the Cougars’ 24 points were not nearly enough, considering Davis produced 14 points.
After his second score, Davis was flagged for a throat-slashing gesture that was appropriately punished and should not be glorified. The punctuation, though? That part is inescapable.
In the end, the Aggie offense stopped refusing to capitalize on the defense’s seven takeaways and three fourth-down stops long enough to score a critical touchdown via quarterback Kent Myers’ 19-yard run early in the fourth quarter.
Thanks partly to Davis, the Aggies (3-2) converted a modest 288 offensive yards into 40 points. “It’s a unique rivalry, and there are crazy things that happen,” said USU coach Matt Wells.
There’s no overlooking how BYU’s season is crumbling after an 0-4 September and the loss of another quarterback, after Hoge left in the second quarter with the Cougars leading 21-14.
But that story line disregards the role of USU’s defense in forcing a bunch of BYU’s mistakes, and the value of the victory to the Aggies. “We just pride ourselves in forcing turnovers,” said Davis, whose group produced only 10 takeaways in the entire 2016 season.
The Cougars and Aggies always make it interesting, that’s for sure. Friday’s first-half craziness included a pick-six for each team and another quarterbacking injury, for the fourth time in five seasons in this rivalry. BYU lost Taysom Hill against the Aggies in 2012, ‘14 and ‘16; USU lost Chuckie Keeton against the Cougars in ‘13. The only time both teams’ starters stayed healthy was in 2015. BYU’s Tanner Mangum survived that day, but he didn’t dress Friday.
Hoge left in the second quarter after being hit on a keeper play. He threw two touchdown passes just before Davis return an interception 30 yards for a USU score, when the Aggies trailed 21-7. Third-string QB Koy Detmer Jr., a nephew of BYU offensive coordinator Ty Detmer, took over and produced only three points.
The Aggies deserve full credit for this win, and they needed it. Since an October 2015 rout of Boise State on a Friday night, Wells’ record was 7-15.
This sure looked like a job-extending performance, with the Aggies’ follow-through becoming important now. “Three more wins,” Wyatt Wells, the coach’s young son, reminded his father.
“He knows what bowl eligibility is,” Matt Wells said.
USU overcame the Cougars in the LaVell Edwards Bowl, likely the first game in college football history when both teams memorialized the same person. The Aggies’ helmet stickers, in tribute to the USU graduate, rose above the the Cougars’ uniform patches, honoring BYU’s legendary coach.
BYU’s offense made Edwards famous, but he was a defensive guy, at heart. He would have appreciated USU’s defense, the group that made the music play Friday night. The Aggies lingered on the field, as the loudspeakers blasted Darius Rucker’s “Wagon Wheel.”
It sounded good to Wells, who labeled the victory “a long time comin’.”