LOGAN – It has been a rough go for the Utah State football team this year.
The team has suffered close losses players feel they should have won. It has also been flat-out embarrassed in other games. It is a completely different feeling than the last few years, when the Aggies were considered one of the Mountain West’s top programs.
A conference championship is out of the question. A winning season, at this rate, seems unlikely.
“It’s frustrating, but we’re not down,” senior linebacker Brock Carmen said. “We’re still ready to work this week and clean those things up.”
Head coach Matt Wells said he remembers those winning feelings and wants to get back to it.
“Talent only takes you so far,” he said. “We’ve got enough talent and there are other teams in this league that have similar talent as us, and when you get on a roll, you get confidence and you’re starting to win.”
Senior center Austin Stephens said the team has lost that winning attitude Wells described, but he believes it isn’t too late to find it and finish the season strong. He called it “mojo.”
When Stephens described that mojo, he coupled it with words like “confidence” and “swagger.” Mojo is something, he said, that happens when you win. It generates a belief you can win. It is also something he said USU’s next opponent already has.
“They have that mojo right now,” he said of the Mountain Division’s first place Cowboys. “That’s the biggest key is they’re playing with a lot of confidence and they’re believing in themselves.”
Like Utah State, Wyoming has been blown out by an early-season Power Five opponent and it ran the score up on an FCS school at home. It has also played a handful of close conference games. Unlike USU, it has won those conference games.
The Aggies lost to Air Force by a touchdown. Wyoming beat them by nine.
Utah State tried to hold on in Boise but eventually went down. Wyoming beat the Broncos with a go-ahead safety in the final two minutes.
USU took a lead into halftime against Colorado State, but never scored again and lost the game. Wyoming took a smaller lead into the half against CSU, and then it increased its lead in the second half to win.
“(Wyoming has) three or four wins that come under seven points and we have three or four losses that have come from seven points or less,” Stephens said. “So when you win those games, and that happens, you gain that confidence and that belief that you can do it.”
Wyoming will have added confidence playing where it feels most comfortable, 7,220 feet above sea level.
“We’re playing in front of a national television audience and a Saturday night crowd that will be loud in Laramie, which it always is,” Wells said. “It is a great environment to play in.”
<h2><em><strong>Scouting the Pokes</strong></em></h2>
Like San Diego State – the team that just humiliated USU at home – Wyoming boasts one of the nation’s top running backs. Brian Hill’s 1,156 yards ranks No. 3 in the country, but don’t expect the same type of back SDSU brought to town. According to Wells, Hill runs it differently than Donnel Pumphrey.
“He may not have as much lateral quickness as Pumphrey, but I don’t know if I’ve seen many in the country that do right now laterally,” Wells said. “They are just different types of backs. Brian is a slasher, he’s a one-cut guy and he’ll run through an arm tackle. He’s got really good speed, too.”
Cowboy quarterback Josh Allen is averaging 202.9 yards passing per game, which almost matches Aggie quarterback Kent Myers’ 208.2-yard average. Wells used the same word to describe Allen that Stephens used to describe the Cowboys: mojo.
“Part of playing quarterback is making the 10 around you play a whole lot better,” Wells said. “I think (Allen) has certainly got that.”
Wyoming’s passing defense is its weak point, but it is much stronger against the run. The Pokes allow 141.9 yards on the ground and 303.9 through the air. The pass defense average ranks last in conference.
Wells said he thinks his team will be able to move the ball, but sustaining drives concerns him.
“Can we finish it?” he said. “Can we make plays on third down? Can we finish drives for touchdowns? We didn’t make any plays on third down against San Diego State.”
The winning team in this annual football game keeps the Bridger Rifle trophy, a .50 caliber Rocky Mountain Hawken rifle. The trophy started in 2013 and has been won by Utah State every year since.
Utah State has played Wyoming 66 times since 1903, with the Aggies holding a 38-24-4 advantage.
The Aggies were able to take down Wyoming 58-27 in Logan a year ago. Hill had 201 yards on 26 carries while Aggie running back Devante Mays ran 22 times for 181 yards and two touchdowns.
In 2014, the last time the teams met in Laramie, USU picked up a 20-3 win when former Aggie JoJo Natson returned a kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown and scored again on a 66-yard run.
This year’s game will kick off at 8:15 p.m.