Provo • As the evening edged into night, and an old, dusty rivalry, righteously stoked as it had been, moved toward complete renewal, Utah State thumped BYU in a stadium named for LaVell Edwards, the Cougars’ legendary coach, himself a former Aggie player.
From that standpoint, it was local college football perfection, wagon wheel and all, even if the play on the field on this occasion was as lopsided as a blown Michelin.
That was the glory in it.
And for the Cougars, the agony.
“It was a different outcome than we expected,” Kalani Sitake said, afterward. “[It was] a rough game for us. … I was disappointed from the start.”
He added: “Utah State gave us a good butt-whupping.”
And he added further: “We’ve got to recalculate and find out what we’re about.”
Either way, USU knows what it’s about, having dispensed with BYU, a program that for so many years had crushed it. But in this particular season, the Cougars had lacked so much of what the Aggies are now completely about — explosive offense. That attack was fueled by USU playmakers here, there, everywhere, and led by quarterback Jordan Love, set free by coaches, who wanted him to fling the ball as he pleased.
Fling, he did. He handed off effectively, too.
Love ended up with a modest 165 passing yards and an immodest four TD passes on Friday night. The Aggies also gained a whopping 223 yards on the ground.
BYU, in contrast, faltered on attack, able to pick up yards through the air (322), but unable to run the ball (just 39 yards), nor complete drives.
“We didn’t help ourselves up front in the run game,” Sitake said. “They stuffed us.”
At first, as has been their habit this season, the Cougars favored offensive conservatism, but after falling behind early, rediscovered the forward pass. Midway through the first quarter, on fourth-and-1 from the USU 39, Tanner Mangum threw an interception that was returned for an Aggie TD. As full-bore as Utah State’s offense was and is, enabling the defense to start the party was tough on the Cougars.
It was a jab to the mug from which BYU never recovered. Utah State followed with an 11-play touchdown drive that made it 14-zip before anyone could get on the phone to call Norm Chow for ideas. A subsequent Dallin Holker fumble set up the Aggies for another score, and … well, you get the idea.
USU rolled from there.
“They played a great game,” said Sitake.
BYU did not.
Edwards would have found great distress in the happenings, given the fact that he built his legend on spinning favorable numbers on the scoreboard, as though it were some kind of video game. Most especially, though, he would have been jolted at the final result, a 45-20 Aggies win.
In his time at BYU, he lost to his alma mater almost never.
It was Sitake’s and Jeff Grimes’ turn now, fielding an offense, one that is acknowledged by them to be somewhat limited, based on receivers and other skill-position players who struggle to make big plays.
“We’re not playing BYU football,” Sitake said.
Problem is, nobody seems to know what BYU football is.
The Cougars have wandered far afield from what they once were. No longer are NCAA passing records in peril in Provo.
Stylistically or otherwise, let’s say it all straight here: BYU is no longer BYU. The Cougars would prefer to land closer to Woody Hayes’ Ohio State teams than to LaVell’s. It’s been trending that way for years now, and the whole thing went warp speed in that direction this season, on account of a 4-9 collapse in 2017, and the installment of a coordinator whose first love is the offensive line, who would just as soon see bruises inflicted as passing yards stacked up.
On this occasion, however, they had to go to the air — in an attempt to keep up. As mentioned, they got nothing on the ground. Mangum had a decent night, throwing for 270 yards, but was replaced late by freshman Zach Wilson.
Keep up, they could not — much to the credit of Utah State, a team that had mostly heretofore beat up on crappy teams, after scaring the daylights out of a Big Ten opponent on its home field.
How good — or bad — the Cougars (3-3) are is yet unknown.
One thing is certain: They are nowhere near as good as the Aggies, a bunch that came into LaVell’s house and soundly beat them, embarrassed them, making fresh, for a second consecutive year, an instate rivalry worthy of the tag.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.