Utah State University’s offense seeks to answer the cowbell against BYU

Maybe what Utah State needs is more cowbell.

BYU defensive back Dayan Ghanwoloku said he expects Aggies fans to be clanging cowbells in the stands at Maverik Stadium during the teams’ rivalry game Saturday based on what he’s read on social media. The 8 p.m. game is scheduled to be broadcast on ESPN2.

“I actually seen something on Twitter like they’re going to come out protecting their dairy farm,” Ghanwoloku said Monday. “That’s how I feel, like they’re going to come out ready to protect their dairy farm, and we’re going to take over. That’s the plan.”

If USU’s offense plays like it did against Air Force Academy last weekend, Aggies fans would be unwise to bet the farm against Ghanwoloku’s prediction.

USU (4-3, 3-1) fell to host Air Force Academy, 31-7, in a game in which the Aggies’ offense accumulated just 128 yards compared to the Falcons’ 472. Yet the difference in yardage might not have been so vast if it weren’t for the team’s disparate times of possession. The Aggies’ offense held the ball for less than a quarter (14:17) of the 60-minute ballgame, while their defense toiled at altitude for nearly 45 minutes.

Though the loss was USU’s first in Mountain West Conference play, it continued a string of prosaic performances by the offense. The Aggies are averaging 405 yards per game on the season, good for 70th in the FBS. But it has been their defense and special teams that have done most of the scoring, digging them out conference wins against Nevada, Colorado State and San Diego State.

USU coach Gary Andersen said the offense’s woes have little to do with quarterback Jordan Love, who the coach indicated has unjustly shouldered the brunt of the blame. The junior has completed 147 passes in 246 attempts for 1,620 yards with nine interceptions and has a passer rating of 118.49. He was 14 of 23 for 123 yards and the Aggies’ only touchdown Saturday.

Andersen issued a rallying cry for the offense to do better.

“That's where we're at on offense is backed into a corner,” Andersen said Monday. “You better fight your way out of it and battle like crazy as a group to get yourself where you need to be. If you're backed into a corner and you start pointing fingers, then shame on you. Absolutely, 100 percent shame on you. You don't belong anywhere near this football program."

BYU (3-4), meanwhile, ranks 87th in the nation on offense after losing its season starter to injury. The Cougars have two solid choices to put behind center Saturday in Jaren Hall, their No. 2 quarterback who has been sidelined with a concussion and Baylor Romney. Romney, a freshman, was the team’s No. 3 QB but was also the man who led the Cougars to an upset of Boise State, 28-25, two weeks ago, the last time they were in action. The Broncos (6-1) were not only rated in the top 15 nationally at the time, they were unbeaten. They still sit atop the MWC standings with an unblemished 3-0 mark.

That puts a little more significance into an already typically rowdy rivalry game. If USU can beat BYU, which beat Boise State, then maybe the Aggies’ MWC title hopes didn’t get too roughed up in the loss to Air Force.

USU has won the past two meetings against the Cougars, posting back-to-back wins for the first time since 1971-74. Based on what he’s seen in the past, senior defensive end Tipa Galeai expects fans to come out in droves to see if the Aggies can three-peat.

“Having fans there, it most definitely helps us,” Galeai said. “It helps bring the energy that we want and that we need.”

A cacophony of cowbells coming from the stands may help, but Andersen said that won’t be enough against a physical Cougars squad.

“They want to grind it out on both sides of the line of scrimmage. That’s where we have to answer the bell,” Andersen said. “At the end of the day, we need to answer the bell with the offensive line and use our creativity to create plays. We have not been able to do that with any kind of effectiveness for weeks.”