Provo • The scene is still etched into the minds of every BYU football player who was there that balmy autumn night in Logan.
As the Cougars waited near midfield after committing seven turnovers and finishing up with a third-string quarterback to congratulate Utah State players on their 40-24 win last year at Maverik Stadium, a bunch of Aggies ran to the north end zone to get the Old Wagon Wheel, the trophy that has gone to the winner of the rivalry game the last 70 years.
“You know, if that’s how they want to do it, that’s OK,” said BYU defensive end Corbin Kaufusi, obviously still irritated at the perceived show of disrespect, but speaking diplomatically. “They have their opinions on how they want to do things. But we like to do things our way.”
Utah State has not been able to keep the authentic wheel, which is adorned with the gold-plated scores of every game in the series since 1948, for consecutive years since 1973-74. But many expect that to change Friday night at LaVell Edwards Stadium (7 p.m., ESPN2) in the 88th meeting between the instate foes.
BYU is a slight favorite, but that’s due to a perceived home-field advantage more than anything else. Utah State (3-1) is statistically superior to BYU (3-2) this season in almost every category imaginable. For instance, USU is fourth in the country in scoring (51.5 points per game) and BYU is 114th at 21.4 ppg.
The Cougars’ best argument is that they have played a much more demanding schedule, one that ranks No. 5 in the country according to Jeff Sagarin of USA Today. USU’s strength of schedule ranks in the 100s, but the Aggies are coming off a bye, and USU coach Matt Wells is 6-0 in games following bye weeks. Advantage, Aggies.
“They have an extra week — they will probably be a little bit more rested than we will be,” BYU coach Kalani Sitake said. “But that’s OK … It is just part of the game and it just happened that the bye lies for them with another week of preparation for us. It doesn’t really matter. We just need to be ready to play.”
The Cougars were seemingly ready last year (when they were coming off a bye) and jumped out to a 21-7 lead. But second-string quarterback Beau Hoge, filling in for Tanner Mangum for the second-straight game, was injured in the second quarter when a USU defender dove at his feet as he was running to the boundary and third-stringer Koy Detmer Jr. was clearly in over his head.
“Last year, Utah State took it to us and beat us pretty handily, and that was frustrating,” said Mangum. “That was tough to take. There is a lot of emotion that goes into these games and so it is exciting to have a chance to go out and play them again.”
Utah State linebacker Suli Tamaivena said the Aggies are always ready to face the Cougars.
“It’s a big game,” he said. “We’re fighting for respect and pride.”
In past decades, BYU players were often accused of looking past the Aggies and giving little respect to the scrappy team up north. But that has changed, and the Cougars clearly consider USU a bona fide rival. Safety Austin Lee said the Cougars “have noticed” USU’s marked improvement as a program and how it has started the season. Kaufusi said the rivalry “is a big deal” now throughout the state, not just in the Cache Valley.
“Oh, this is huge,” Kaufusi said. “This game means a lot to everyone, not only because of what happened last year, but just for the season in general. This is a big game for us. You know, biggest game of the season so far.”
BYU’s Sitake said before the Wisconsin game that it would be a barometer for how much the Cougars had improved after losing 40-6 to the Badgers in 2017. He’s been saying the same thing this week about the rematch with the Aggies after a “bad outing” last year in Logan.
“I know they will be ready to play, and so will we,” Sitake said. “I am excited to see us play our best game this year. … I know we made tons of mistakes in that game last year and didn’t play a full game. We feel like we’ve improved a lot more from last year to this year and we still haven’t played close to as well as we think we can.”
BYU’s sputtering offense suffered a blow in last week’s 35-7 loss at Washington when Cache Valley native Moroni Laulu-Pututau left with an ACL tear. The Cougars' defense should be bolstered by the expected return of linebacker Zayne Anderson and possible return of safety Dayan Ghanwoloku.
UTAH STATE AT BYU
At LaVell Edwards Stadium
Kickoff • Friday, 7 p.m.
TV • ESPN2
Radio • KSL 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
Records • BYU 3-2, USU 3-1
Series history • BYU leads 48-36-3
Last meeting • Utah State 40, BYU 24 (Sept. 29, 2017)
About the Aggies • They are coming off a 42-32 win over Air Force on Sept. 22. … They are 6-0 under coach Matt Wells after a bye week and are looking to start a season 4-1 for the first time since 2012. … Their win at BYU in 2014 snapped a 17-game road losing streak to the Cougars that dated back to 1978. … They are fourth in the country in scoring offense at 51.5 points per game.
About the Cougars • They have not lost consecutive games to the Aggies since losing four in a row from 1971-74. … They have won six of their last eight Friday night matchups. … They have allowed just five sacks though five games, ranking No. 15 in the nation that category. … They are No. 124 in the country in total offense, averaging just 295.0 points per game, and No. 114 in scoring offense, averaging just 21.4 points per game.