The BYU football team acknowledges that a decade and a half of dominance over the Utah State Aggies came to an unceremonious end last October. Each returning player remembers the 31-16 loss to Utah State as the low point of the 2010 season.
However, BYU players are doing their best to balance their mindset between adding extra motivation against the Aggies and putting last year behind them.
“It stays in the back of your mind but really we focus on us,” junior linebacker Brandon Ogeltree said. “We try not to worry about what happened last week or last year.”
Senior linebacker Jordan Pendleton, who was injured for the season against the Aggies last year, admitted his frustration with last year’s game. Pendleton, who also missed the second half against Utah and all of last Friday’s game against UCF with an ankle injury, hopes he can find some redemption in this year’s rematch.
“I’d love to be able to play against them and get the bad taste out of my mouth, but if I can’t I know my team is going to be ready,” he said.
After being gashed by the Aggies last season for more than 400 yards, including more than 200 on the ground, coach Bronco Mendenhall fired the defensive coordinator and took over the position himself. The Cougars have endured their fair share of early season struggles this year, but Mendenhall’s players feel BYU football has been changed for the better since that day.
“The defense is more hard-nosed, more gritty [than last year],” Ogletree said. “I think we’re smarter and we play harder and more physical. It’s been about a 180 [degree] turn since the last Utah State game.”
The Aggies look much improved from the last few seasons despite opening the season just 1-2. In the first week of the season, Utah State nearly defeated defending national champion Auburn, losing in the last minute. After trouncing the Weber State Wildcats in week two, the Aggies lost in heartbreaking fashion to the Colorado State Rams in double overtime Saturday.
“With the positive job [coach Gary Andersen] is doing and the improvement in their program, it just makes for a better game,” Mendenhall said, “and I think it will continue to be that way, to where [the in-state rivalry] won’t only be BYU-Utah, it will be BYU-Utah State and Utah State-Utah and that will be good.”
Utah State’s backfield contains arguably the two best players on the team in freshman quarterback Chuckie Keeton and junior running back Robert Turbin. Keeton, known primarily as a mobile quarterback, has thrown for 465 yards and hasn’t been intercepted this year.
Turbin, meanwhile, already has eight rushing touchdowns on the season and the full attention of Cougar defenders.
“He’s a great runner,” Pendleton said. “He runs hard, he’s physical, he’s patient, he finds his holes and when he hits his holes he runs hard, so [I have] nothing but respect for [Turbin].”
Ogetltree agreed and gave high praise to Turbin.
“He’ll probably be the best running back we play all year,” he said. “We respect him a lot. The front seven are getting pretty hyped for it.”
The Cougars and Aggies will meet for their grudge match tonight at 6.