Cougar fans are looking forward to another rivalry game tonight. But don’t expect to see any red at LaVell Edwards Stadium this week.
BYU hosts the Utah State Aggies tonight as the two teams meet for the 81st time. In the past, Utah State and BYU have played on Friday nights to avoid playing at the same time as General Conference for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is held the first weekend of October.
BYU leads the series between the two teams 43-34-3. The Cougars have not lost to the Aggies in Provo since 1978. But after beginning a season with talks of winning a national championship, the Cougars are focusing on winning one game at at time, and the team can’t afford to take preparation for the Aggies lightly.
“We have another difficult test coming in, a great game in terms of an in-state rivalry,” BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said. “I’m looking forward to the game.”
The Cougars learned the preparation lesson the hard way when the Aggies trampled the Cougars in a 31-16 victory in Logan last year. The loss dropped BYU to 1-4 for the season. Just after the loss, Mendenhall fired defensive coordinator Jaime Hill and took over the reins of the defense.
“[The loss to Utah State] was the low point of last year,” senior linebacker Jameson Frazier said. “Everyone is really motivated to do better. I hope our guys still realize we have things to fix … and push to improve instead of settling.”
BYU showed signs of growth in last week’s win against UCF. For the first time this season, the Cougars scored more than 20 points in a game. On the other side of the ball, the defense held UCF to just 81 total yards rushing.
“I would say we’re making progress,” Mendenhall said. “We’re certainly not playing to our potential yet, which is the goal and is my goal as the coach. But it’s fun to see them win, fun to see them smile, fun to see them celebrate.”
The Cougars benefited from a strong performance from the special teams unit, including a 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by wide receiver Cody Hoffman, who was recently named National Kickoff Returner Performer of the Week by the College Football Performance Awards. Punter Riley Stephenson also made big plays in BYU’s win as he pinned the Knights deep in their own territory with several well-placed punts.
“Special teams was the critical improved area in the game,” Mendenhall said. “I thought the defense was solid again with the offense making some improvement.”
After almost being non-existent in the previous three games, BYU’s running backs made visible strides and even scored two touchdowns last week. They also combined to run for more than 100 yards for the first time this season.
“We simplified the run game last week [and] I think we saw signs of that improvement,” Mendenhall said. “It’s going to have to keep doing that. … I would now like to see the physical component of the run game take some more traction than we’ve had.”
The winner between BYU and Utah State is traditionally awarded the Old Wagon Wheel, a wheel from a pioneer covered wagon which has traveled between the two schools since 1948. BYU hopes to receive it this year.
“We just have to go out there and do our best,” junior defensive back Joe Sampson said. “If we play our best we’re hard to beat.”