After two straight losses to Utah State, BYU is eager to take back the Wagon Wheel from the Aggies

(Chris Detrick | Tribune file photo) Utah State Aggies football players and students celebrate with the Old Wagon Wheel after the game at Merlin Olsen Field at Maverik Stadium on September 29, 2017. Utah State Aggies defeated Brigham Young Cougars 40-24.

When BYU and Utah State started facing off in football in 1922, the Aggies won six of their seven first meetings — the other ended in a 0-0 tie.

Utah State went on to dominate the in-state rivalry series until the mid-1970s, when they handed BYU four consecutive losses, but the script changed after that. Since then, the Cougars have gone 31-7 against the Aggies, allowing just for a few interspersed wins. That is, until the last two seasons.

Utah State has been in possession of the Old Wagon Wheel since 2017, and the Aggies are looking to extend their winning streak and turn the rivalry firmly back in their direction on Saturday night at Maverik Stadium.

It has been painful for the Cougars, to say the least, to watch Wheel slip out of their hands. It has also steeled their resolve to get it back.

“We haven’t been able to compete with them, to be honest,” BYU safety Austin Lee said. “They’ve been able to exceed and able to put up those numbers and beat us. So, it’s been really frustrating to be on that side of the ball, where we’re losing against them constantly. We’re hungry for a win. We’ve been hungry.”

That said, Lee knows the Cougars will have to solve their consistency problems and start stringing solid games together.

BYU this season has wins against Tennessee (on the road) and USC (at home), but also losses to Toledo and South Florida. BYU got a much-needed boost in beating nationally-ranked Boise State, then got a week off to fine-tune for USU.

Good thing, too, because as big as the win over the Broncos was, this game may leave a bigger mark on BYU’s season.

Why? The Boise win revived the Cougars’ postseason hopes. BYU needs three wins in its last five games to become bowl-eligible. A loss to the Aggies wouldn’t be fatal to those bowl hopes, but would greatly reduce the Cougars’ margin for error.

Then there’s the matter of the Wagon Wheel. BYU may have taken it for granted during its run of dominance over USU, but having lost it for two years running, it’s important for the Cougars to get it back.

“A trophy represents something tangible of an accomplishment, so that's a big deal for us to compete for that,” assistant coach Ed Lamb said.

To pull it off, the Cougars’ will have to put a stop to the Aggies’ quarterback Jordan Love, who is having a disappointing junior season, but is still a potent weapon. Love has thrown for 1,620 yards with eight touchdowns and nine interceptions on 59.8% passing.

Air Force stymied the Aggies last week in Colorado Springs, and that has the Cougars feeling confident.

“It's just another team, another quarterback,” safety Dayan Ghanwoloku said. “We play against great quarterbacks, and he's a good quarterback, but we feel like we can stop him and do what what we need to do to win the game.”

BYU’s own quarterback situation is more unsettled, with the coaching staff playing coy about Saturday’s starter. Redshirt freshman Baylor Romney was superlative in the win over Boise State, but fellow redshirt freshman Jaren Hall could get the nod if he has been cleared after going through concussion protocol.

Because of that 31-7 loss to the Falcons, BYU is expecting USU to come in hot on Saturday. But mostly, the Cougars just want to avoid the problems that have sunk them against the Aggies during the last two meetings.

“You look back and you don’t want a repeat of what happened in previous years, but you want to learn from your mistakes in the past years and move on to the next game, to make it better,” Cougar guard James Empey said. “This year — it’s a whole other year. It’s a whole different game. We’re just focused on getting ourselves prepared.”


At Maverik Stadium, Logan

Kickoff » Saturday, 8 p.m. MT


Radio » 1160 AM, 1280 AM, 102.7 FM, 97.5 FM

Records » BYU 3-4; USU 4-3 (3-1 MWC).

All-time series » BYU leads 48-37-3

Last meeting » USU 45, BYU 20 (Oct. 5, 2018)

About BYU » The Cougars are coming off their second bye week of the season after upsetting Boise State 28-25. … The Cougars are 1-3 after a bye in the Kalani Sitake era. … BYU hasn’t announced the starting quarterback, but redshirt freshmen Jaren Hall and Baylor Romney are both up for the job. … Matt Bushman had a career-best performance against the Broncos with 101 yards and two touchdowns on five receptions.

About USU » The Aggies have won the last two consecutive games against BYU. … USU is coming off of a 31-7 loss at Air Force, but has yet to lose at home so far this season. … Against Air Force, the Aggies were limited to just 128 yards of total offense and seven first downs. … Utah State is currently fourth in the Mountain West Conference’s Mountain Division.