The Wheel deal: Utah State routs BYU 45-20 to keep hands on trophy

Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah State Aggies celebrate the win after defeating BYU, 45-20, at Lavell Edwards Stadium in Provo, Friday, Oct. 5, 2018.

Provo • Utah State made its case to be considered the second-best college football program in the state of Utah on Friday night.

Maybe even the best.

The Aggies left little doubt that they are better than BYU, at least, pummeling the once-ranked Cougars 45-20 in front of an announced crowd of 58,087 at LaVell Edwards Stadium. Utah fans should be happy they aren’t on the Utes’ schedule.

The dominating victory follows a convincing 40-24 win in Logan last year and marks the first time since the 1973 and 1974 seasons that USU has defeated BYU in consecutive games. So the Aggies get to keep possession of the Old Wagon Wheel, and judging by the direction these programs are seemingly headed toward, they may have it for a while.

It was USU’s largest margin of victory over BYU since a 34-8 rout in 1968.

“Utah State played a great game, and they are a great team,” said BYU coach Kalani Sitake. “They came in here and gave us a great butt-whipping.”

Jordan Love threw four touchdown passes and ran for another and linebacker Tipa Galea’i returned an interception 56 yards for a touchdown for the Aggies, who improved to 4-1 and showed they probably should have been the first ranked team from Utah in 2018. USU’s only loss was a 38-31 setback at then-No. 11 Michigan State.

“The truth is, they stuffed us,” Sitake said.

Trailing 35-7, the Cougars found some life and drove 75 yards for a score with just more than three minutes remaining in the third quarter to make it a three-score game. But Skyler Southam’s PAT attempt banged off the upright.

It was that kind of night for BYU, ranked No. 20 two weeks ago but now 3-3 and staring at another high-scoring Mountain West team on the horizon, Hawaii.

Utah State forced three turnovers, two committed by BYU senior quarterback Tanner Mangum, and turned them into 21 easy points.

Mangum threw for 270 yards and two touchdowns with one interception, but fumbled the ball away at midfield after BYU had cut the deficit to 35-13.

Sitake said every position will be “evaluated,” including quarterback, when asked if Mangum’s starting job is secure.

Love’s 2-yard touchdown run with 12:03 remaining ended any hopes of a miraculous BYU comeback, and Dominik Eberle added a 47-yard field goal midway through the fourth quarter to remain perfect.

BYU rushed for just 39 yards and 25 of those came on its last possession when Zach Wilson relieved Mangum and drove the team 77 yards for a meaningless touchdown with just over a minute left. The freshman’s first career touchdown pass went to another freshman, Gunner Romney, for 18 yards.

“That was a rough, rough game,” Sitake said. “We didn’t have the outcome that we expected.”

The Aggies took a 21-7 halftime lead and extended it two 35-7 with a pair of impressive touchdown drives. Love threw short touchdown passes to Ron’quavion Tarver and Jalen Greene.

Actually, Utah State had dominated from almost the opening bell.

After committing seven turnovers in last year’s loss in Logan, the Cougars quickly rediscovered their giving ways. They gave the ball away twice in the first half alone after having committed just four turnovers in their first five games.

The Aggies capitalized on both.

Utah State got on the board first on Galea’i’s pick-six with 7:35 remaining in the first quarter. BYU was facing a fourth-and-1 after Micah Simon failed to turn up field and get a first down on a third-down catch, and Mangum threw the ball right to Galea’i when offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes inexplicably dialed up a pass play.

It was USU’s third pick-six of the season, after interception returns for TDs against Michigan State (40 yards) and New Mexico State (75).

“It was just disappointing from the start,” Sitake said.

The Cougars fell behind 14-0 at the end of the first quarter when Utah State drove 71 yards for a score. Love’s 2-yard touchdown pass to a wide open Gerold Bright on 4th-and-goal capped the drive.

For BYU, disaster struck again four plays later when USU linebacker David Woodward forced freshman tight end Dallin Holker to fumble. USU’s Chase Christiansen recovered at the BYU 35.

The Aggies caught a break when Zayne Anderson was flagged for grabbing a facemask on a third-down play that BYU had stopped, and scored two plays later. Love found Tarver for the touchdown from 6 yards out.

Having failed to score in the first quarter for the fifth time in six games, BYU finally started moving the ball midway through the second quarter, thanks in part to three penalties committed by USU’s secondary.

Mangum’s 4-yard touchdown pass to Lopini Katoa capped an 88-yard drive — 35 yards came on USU penalties — and cut the USU lead to 21-7.

The Cougars got the ball back with 2:01 left in the first half and drove to the USU 27. But three plays netted 1 yard, and Southam’s 43-yard field goal attempt was wide right.

Both teams gained 136 yards in the first half, but BYU had 12 first downs to USU’s six.

The Aggies committed eight penalties in the half, for 75 yards.