Two months ago, I made a bold prediction:
Early prediction: After taking out Chuckie Keeton last year, the Cougars will be on the receiving end of some satisfying payback, as the Aggies defense completely shuts down Hill and Co., and Keeton comes back with a vengeance to recreate the scene that brought him to Utah State in the first place (watching Diondre Borel, et al, destroy the Cougs in 2010). USU wins in a big way: USU 38 - BYU 17.
With mixed emotions, I have come back to say: I told you so. Why, you might ask, am I saying something so obviously satisfying with mixed emotions? Because of the cost of said victory. There was vengeance, there was payback, and there was a crushing victory for USU. But the poetic justice of the details made it as much sad to watch as it was exhilarating.
For the fourth time in three years, an in-state rival left the game with a severe injury. It started with the Aggies ending Utah Utes' QB Jordan Wynn's career during an upset win in Logan in 2012. Later than same season, the Aggies took out Taysom Hill on a play that never should have been. Last year, of course, the Cougars destroyed Chuckie Keeton's knee. And in an unintentional, and tragic, bit of retribution, the Aggies once again took Taysom Hill out of the game tonight on a tackle that caused a fracture to Hill's left leg.
This internal, in-state attrition takes away from the excitement of an otherwise thrilling game. And Hill was not the only loss for the Cougars on the evening. Other losses for the home team included safety Dallin Leavitt, offensive lineman Brayden Kearsley, and linebacker Alani Fua. Aside from the obvious pain of losing Hill, these other injuries will set the Cougars back significantly across the field.
Now, after lamenting such painful events, let's examine the game itself. The Cougars took an immediate driver's seat in the contest when Hill led his offensive juggernaut 80 yards in 1:16, including a 53 yard pass on the first play of the game, capped by an impressive TD run by Hill himself. The Aggies held the BYU offense scoreless the remainder of the first quarter, however, and scored the equalizer as the first drew to a close. BYU scored another quick TD to start off the second quarter, but once again, the Aggies had the answer.
That was when things started going downhill for the home squad. A fumble on a miscommunication between Hill and running back Jamaal Williams gave USU excellent field position, which they capitalized on without too much difficulty. The following drive, disaster struck as Hill went down under the body weight of USU safety Brian Suite on a second down scramble. It was especially painful since BYU was driving down the field prior to the injury. The drive stalled, and the Cougars were forced to punt. A 72 yard TD toss from Darell Garretson to Hunter Sharp on the ensuing Aggie drive gave USU a 28-14 halftime lead, and the Aggies never looked back.
Garretson finished 19-25 on pass plays, accumulating 321 yards and 3 TDs through the air, in addition to 1 TD on the ground. Hunter Sharp led the Aggie receivers with 5 receptions for 173 yards and 1 TD grab. Devonte Robinson added 6 catches for 98 yards and 2 TDs.
The biggest story of the night, by far, however, was the Aggies new leading rusher; the top runner for the night was stellar at stopping the run, netting 16 tackles on the evening. Yes, you read that right. Linebacker Nick Vigil showed his absolutely astounding diversity and athletic awesomeness as he led the team in both tackles and rushing yards; I haven't looked up the record books, but I feel fairly comfortable saying that will probably be a record no one has yet set, and may not match again for a very, very long time. Vigil accrued 57 yards on 16 carries, and added a TD run on the night. His punishing run ability, combined with an uncanny speed and mobility for a runner his size, provided exactly what the Aggie offense was missing. The Cougar defense had to respect the run game, which allowed the deep pass to become a viable and effective option. And the deep throw was open often for the Aggies. Garretson had seven passes that went at least 15 yards, five that went at least 20, and two over 50 (56 and 72 yards respectively).
The win was bitter-sweet for Aggie fans in another way as well; while USU won a rivalry game against BYU on the road, it was with Chuckie Keeton looking on from the sideline. Keeton came to USU in part due to the environment he encountered in Logan during the Aggies' upset of BYU in 2010. During his four years at the helm of USU's offense, he had several very close chances to beat BYU, both at home and on the road. He was unable to capitalize on those chances, though, and having to sit through it tonight must have been disappointing as well as elating for him.
Overall, the Aggies have to be absolutely thrilled with their performance this evening. At the same time, thoughts go out to those who left the battlefield with wounds that may or may not heal. For Cougar fans, it probably doesn't mean much... but we know how you feel.