No. 19 BYU football readies for rivalry clash with Utah State on short rest

For the first time all year, BYU won’t be working for the weekend.

The No. 19 Cougars face a unique challenge in a midweek meeting with Utah State Thursday evening, being forced to recover from a bruising affair with Wyoming and prepare for the Aggies at a more accelerated pace than usual.

“It’s always going to be hard on the guys and it’s going to be hard on both teams, but I’m excited for it,” head coach Kalani Sitake said of this week’s quick turnaround. “We’re going to play two games in less than a week, that’s awesome.”

Less awesome, however, has been BYU’s lack of consistency thus far in September, particularly for the run game, defensive efforts and on special teams. “I’m frustrated that we haven’t played our best yet and we haven’t seen it consistently.. we don’t have a lot of time to figure it out,” Sitake said.

Despite the short week, BYU likely won’t have a better opportunity to clean itself up than Thursday against the Aggies, who are arguably the weakest opponent on the Cougars’ schedule.

It’s been a surprisingly disastrous campaign up in Ogden — whoops, I mean Logan — for the defending Mountain West champions, who are 1-3 thus far and even suffered a 28-point loss at home to Weber State. The Aggies are 102nd nationally in total offense, 100th in total defense and perhaps first in fans booing their own quarterback.

Even so, a longtime rival such as Utah State can never be discounted, no matter how tempting it may be to overlook the Aggies.

“Everyone is dangerous when they’re in this position,” Sitake said of Utah State. “They have great effort and you can see it on film.. Those guys work really hard, they’re well coached, the scheme works really well for them and they’re always dangerous. I’ve played in these types of games before, so I know they’re going to bring their best and we need to make sure that our best shows up.”

Dangerous may be an understatement— Utah State has been the king of punishing BYU passers. The Cougars have been forced to change quarterbacks against the Aggies in eight of the past 10 Wagon Wheel contests, with six of those substitutions coming in the injury department.

BYU leads the rivalry series 10-4 since 2002, but Utah State has won twice in its past three visits to Provo, smacking the Cougars 45-20 in the most recent matchup at LaVell’s house in 2018. It’s a game the Aggies love to win and the Cougars hate to lose, with this year’s victor holding the Wagon Wheel indefinitely as no further plans have been made to extend the series beyond this season.

“It’s always fun to play in-state rivals, and that’s something we may miss for a couple of years,” defensive end Tyler Batty said. “I’m a little bit conflicted. I’m bummed because you may not play them for a couple of years, but at the same time, we’re going into a new era where we get to play a lot of new teams in the Big 12 and that’s really exciting.”

With a demanding stretch of Notre Dame, Arkansas and Liberty immediately following the Aggies, time is ticking for BYU to play “clean enough” for all 60 minutes, which Sitake said he expected the team to finally accomplish Thursday. “That is going to be the huge emphasis for us.”

“We need to focus and stay true to our identity,” Batty said. “I think this week and the rest of the season we’ll be able to play at the really high level that we know we can.”

Let’s hope that “high level” includes keeping Jaren Hall in one piece.

The Cougars and Aggies kick off Thursday at 6 p.m. in Provo. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.

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