Stakes high for annual Wagon Wheel matchup

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Oct. 5 will feature the 88th Wagon Wheel showdown between BYU and the Utah State Aggies. Due to bowl-game implications, it could be one of the most crucial contests in the rivalry’s history with several BYU players calling it the “game of the year.”

Corbin Kaufusi goes up to block a field goal in last year’s 40-24 loss to the Aggies. (BYU Photo/Jaren Wilkey)

“This game is huge, it means a lot to everyone not only because of what happened last year (40-24 defeat) but also for just this season in general,” said senior defensive lineman Corbin Kaufusi. “This is the biggest game of the season so far. (Washington) is in the books, and everyone is just excited for Friday. I keep saying it over and over again but this is really such a big game for us.”

The Cougars are currently at a crossroad in the season, sitting at 3-2 and looking to get back on track following a 35-7 loss this past weekend at No. 10 Washington. With a 3-1 record coming off a bye, the Aggies have had two weeks to prepare for battle, while the Cougars have had just six days.

The Aggie offense has been dominant this season, ranking fourth among FBS teams with an average of over 51 points per game.

“They play well together as a team, so when the defense gets a turnover the offense capitalizes, and they play so aggressively that they’ve been able to force turnovers,” said Offensive Coordinator Jeff Grimes. 

Grimes said the aggressive Aggie defense is full of challenging weapons. 

“There are a number of challenges we’ll be facing,” Grimes said. “Their defensive line is really good, they do a good job up front with eating up blocks and keeping their linebackers free. They’ve got a really good pass rusher in (linebacker Tipa Galeai) who brings pressure off the edge, their secondary covers well on third downs and they’re not afraid to play man and bring pressure.”

BYU is eager to avenge last year’s loss in Logan, where the Ty Detmer-coordinated offense coughed up seven turnovers. 

Matt Bushman records a reception in the Cougars’ 2017 matchup against the Aggies. (BYU Photo/Jaren Wilkey)

“We have to forget about what happened last year, this really is the game of the year for us,” said sophomore tight end Matt Bushman. “We didn’t come out last year and play our best football so this will be a big deciding factor (for the season).

Utah State has won just twice in Provo over the past 40 years and has not won consecutive games against the Cougars since 1972-73. 

“One of our biggest goals this year is to protect LaVell’s house, so this will be a great time for us to prove that we can reach the goals we set,” Kaufusi said. 

Tension within the rivalry has boiled up in recent years, with BYU’s starting quarterback being knocked out of the game due to injury in four of the past six meetings against the Aggies, including three season-ending injuries for Taysom Hill. 

Last year, a physical altercation broke out between players on both sides during warm-ups. Following the game, the Aggies would not shake hands with the Cougars until after they had received the Wagon Wheel trophy. 

“If that’s how they want to do it, that’s OK. They have their opinions on how they want to do things but we like to do things our way,” Kaufusi said. “The big dogs are going to have to show their bite.”

BYU and Utah State will kick off at LaVell Edwards Stadium Oct. 5 at 7 p.m. MT. The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN2.

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