LOGAN – The Utah State football team is ready for another shot at Southern California. The last time the Aggies traveled to the Coliseum they left after another close loss to a Power Five team on the road.
The 17-14 score left a feeling like many other games: The four-point loss at Auburn in 2011. The 2012 missed field goal at Wisconsin. The narrow losses at Utah in 2013 and 2015. They all hurt.
Senior defensive end Ricky Ali’ifua was present for the last game at USC.
“We’re tired of coming close, we really are,” he said. We want to be able to finish games and finish teams. Sometimes it comes down to one or two plays in the fourth quarter and coach always tells us that that’s all we need. We need a chance to win in the fourth quarter. Make a few plays and we’ll come out victorious.”
Head coach Matt Wells said he remembers the 2013 matchup “like it was yesterday.” He remembers getting into the fourth quarter with a chance to win. He wants to put his team in that situation again.
“To do that you have to start fast and you have to play well in all three phases. You have to minimize your mistakes because your mistakes in this kind of game will get magnified quickly.”
The Aggies did win soundly last Thursday, but Wells said mistakes were made. He believes that those same mistakes will get turned into lost yardage on offense and USC touchdowns on defense.
USU need a near-perfect game.
<h3><em><strong>Troubles at Troy</strong></em></h3>
Even though Southern Cal was playing against No. 1 Alabama, the Trojans were supposed to look better than they did in week one. The 52-6 loss was USC’s worst season-opening loss – ever.
But there are more than just on-field issues at USC.
Linebackers Osa Masina and Don Hill won’t play due to sexual assault investigations. Jabari Ruffin, another linebacker, will be suspended for Saturday’s first half after groin-stomping a Crimson Tide player during the second quarter Saturday.
And then there is JuJu Smith-Schuster. After catching just one pass against ‘Bama the All-American wide receiver candidate got into a fight with safety Ykili Ross during practice Tuesday and then flat-out refused to participate in any drills.
According to the LA Times, USC head coach Clay Helton said he has “a mad football team right now,” but he seems to be feeling somewhat positive about his team’s situation.
“Wish we could play today, to be honest with you,” he said. “But it was ultra-competitive out here today, which is a good sign.”
Running back Justin Davis had similar thoughts about the scuffle.
“It got the team fired up after that,” he told the LA Times. “That’s something that we’ve got to have constantly. We’ve got to have the fire inside our belly.”
<h3><em><strong>USC stacked, but Aggies feel ready</strong></em></h3>
The Trojans did lose badly on national television and seem to have some issues, but USU isn’t overlooking anything.
“(Last week’s USC) game was a little blown out of proportion a little bit,” Aggie senior center Austin Stephens said. “They gave up a play here or a play there where it kind of hurt them, or they had maybe a miscue here or there, so I think that it’s a little skewed. As a defense as a whole, they’re very, very talented and they’re very good.”
USC is a team that returns an almost-completely-intact offense from last season. The only key loss is three-year starting QB Cody Kessler who was replaced by junior Max Browne. Ali’ifua recognizes what the Aggie defense is up against. He talked about the “huge body” of 6-foot-9, 360-pound offensive lineman Zach Banner that anchors the offensive line, the talented set of running backs and the difficult-to-cover wide receivers. Despite all of that, Ali’ifua is confident.
“We are physical enough to play with the best in the nation, which includes USC,” he said. “So we’re ready for those big boys.
“I think that there are some areas we can possibly expose against their offense. When a team that you are about to play plays Alabama the week before, I think they definitely show their hand as to what they want to do, their game plan, as far as the team that they want to be, their identity. I think they showed that a lot. We’re going to watch a lot of film and see where we want to attack from and where we can really emphasize and focus against their offense.”
The Trojans lost nearly every main part of the defensive line from last season. With the added missing linebackers this week, that could help Devante Mays and the Aggie ground attack. Alabama was able to pick up 242 rushing yards against the Trojan defense. Stephens called that stat “encouraging.”
“They’re probably just like our defense, where defenses don’t want to be ran on,” he said. “They’re going to have their emphasis on stopping the run, and so it just poses another challenge for us, and it just goes back to being consistent. We’ve got to be able to run the football. So for us being consistent with that and being able to run the football is going to be a challenge.”
<h3><em><strong>Bright and early</strong></em></h3>
Saturday’s game will be the fifth matchup between Utah State and Southern Cal and the Trojans have won all of them. The game will start at noon Mountain Time, which means it begins at 11 a.m. Pacific time and is the earliest home football kickoff time for USC since at least the 1950s.
Wells said the early kickoff won’t affect much. He said the Aggies are already an “early-morning team.”
“We’ll wake up at 6:30 a.m. and have a walkthrough, then go eat pre-game at 7:30,” he said. “Our kids will be fine.”