Utah State vs. BYU 2013 game preview: A blossoming rivalry

Douglas C. Pizac-US PRESSWIRE

Utah State comes into Friday's game looking to avenge two consecutive years of three point road losses to Brigham Young. The Aggies are 6 point favorites against the visiting Cougars in a game that pits two top-tier defenses against explosive offenses.

The BYU Cougars are coming to visit Utah State Friday night, and the Aggies can't wait for the visit. The Cougars (2-2, 0-1 away) have beaten the Aggies (3-2, 1-0 home) the past two years, both games having been played in Provo, and USU is eager to remind them that things are different in Logan. And things are different in Logan.  The last three years have seen a rebirth of Aggie football, with too many accomplishments and records set to list them all.  But that's not what I was talking about. What's different in Logan is the memory the players have of the last time BYU played in Romney Stadium.

Let's rewind time a bit and take a look at that night.  When the Cougars visited Cache Valley three years ago, the quarterback for the Aggies was Diondre Borel, the main running back was Derrvin Speight, and Jake Heaps was still the Chosen One for Cougar Nation.  Both teams had had slow starts, going 1-3 in their first four games.   The Aggies hadn't beaten BYU in 17 years, a 10 game losing streak that the Cougars thought would never end.  Matt Wells had just been hired by Gary Andersen, and had gone to Texas to try to woo Chuckie Keeton, a basically unknown senior quarterback in high school who had committed to play for the Air Force Falcons.  He managed to convince him to check out the campus, and watch a game against BYU, which brings us back to that night.  With Chuckie looking on, the Aggies scored the first 17 points, were up 24-3 at halftime, and never looked back.

It was a defining point in the turnaround that Coach Andersen created for USU's team, changing the image of the Aggies in their own minds more than anything.  It also convinced Chuckie Keeton to withdraw his commitment to AFA and bring his game to Logan, where he has helped make the Aggie brand of football almost a household name in college football, and gotten plenty of recognition for himself as well.

The next two years, the Cougars hosted the Aggies in Provo.  Both games came down to the wire, with one or two plays meaning the difference between victory and defeat.  Both times, the Provonians salvaged a victory, winning by three points.  Two years ago, Riley Nelson, dubbed "The Traitor" by Aggie fans, stepped into the game in the fourth quarter and engineered a comeback drive that went the length of the field in the final minutes and ended in a touchdown pass tipped by an Aggie defender into a Cougar receiver's hands as the clock expired.  Last year was a game of dominating defenses, with the two teams combining for 623 yards but only nine points.  Kyle Van Noy in particular made his presence felt as he harried Keeton and the Aggie offense for the entire game.  The only solid drive was also the winning drive, as the Cougars scored the single touchdown of the game right before half, and then couldn't convert the PAT.  It was anticlimactic, grueling, and emotionally draining for everyone involved.

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It's now once again (finally) the Aggies turn to host BYU.  And USU is also finally starting to get the respect it's been working so hard to cultivate ever since that night three years ago.  They come into this game as 6-7 point favorites, the first time they've been the bettors' favorite during most current college students' lifetime.  It bears note, of course, that while part of it has to do with the Aggies' recent success, it is also influenced by BYU's less than stellar record of late.  The Cougars did beat Texas at home this year, but they also lost to Virginia on the road and Utah at home.

The visiting Cougs have had their moments on offense, but have struggled in the passing game.  While they have had success with the run game, racking up over 300 yards per game to rank fourth in the nation in rushing yards, they've struggled in the air, ranking 103rd with 185 yards per game.  Quarterback Taysom Hill, who played last year against USU as a true freshman, appears to be more of a wildcat-style weapon as opposed to a true quarterback, and is responsible for nearly half of the Cougar rushing attack.  His ground game is as amazing as his air game is scary (not in the good way).  If the Aggies can contain Hill, BYU's offense will most likely see a lot of time on the sideline.  And while Van Noy decided to stick around for his senior year instead of jumping to the next level, as most had expected he would, the defense has not been as dominant as it was a year ago, ranking 27th at 17.5 points per game allowed.  With a crew that returned a more than likely early draft pick (some mock drafts had KVN going as early as the middle of the first round), but so many other starters missing from last year's squad, the drop off (if 17 points per game can be called a drop off) isn't that surprising.

The Aggies have been off and on offensively this year.  Overall, they've been explosive and dangerous, averaging over 40 ppg, good enough to slip into the top 25 scoring teams in the country.  They were humiliated two weeks ago, however, by a singularly impressive defensive display by USC.  Defensively they've performed up to expectations, once again ranking in the top 25, holding opponents to 17 ppg to rank 23rd.  In the same game against USC two weeks ago, the Aggie D held the Trojans to 17 points, which was particularly remarkable given that, on 14 drives, the average distance to goal for USC was less than 60 yards; there were three drives that started inside the 35 yard line, and the Trojans were held to one field goal and two punts on those three drives.  This season is the first time that both the offense and defense have been ranked in the top 25 in the country.

Based on my own numbers-crunching, the anticipated outcome should be a 10 point Aggie victory, 21-11.  Defense will be king again this year, as neither team puts up the gaudy numbers that they have produced against other teams so far.  But in a rivalry game like this one, anything can, and probably will, happen.

Key matchups for this game:

Nevin Lawson (CB- USU) vs. Cody Hoffman (WR- BYU): While Taysom Hill has struggled, he can hit the broad side of a barn, and if Lawson doesn't shut Hoffman down, Cody has the talent to get barn-sized openings that may prove to be the biggest threat to USU this week.

- Kyle Van Noy (OLB- BYU) vs. USU's O-line: One of the most experienced lines in the country, USU looked under sub-par against a stellar USC front seven.  If KVN is able to get as much penetration as USC did, it'll be a long day for Chuckie Keeton.

The game kicks off Friday, Oct.  4 at 8 p.m. ET, and  It can be viewed on CBS Sports Network.

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