It's rivalry week. Now, before our esteemed Ute brethren (and sistren) get themselves all hot and bothered under the collar, please understand that I'm not the one who called it a rivalry. Coach Whittingham is.
In an interview with KSL News, Whittingham said, "It's been a heck of a rivalry. It's been very competitive; I can tell you that, especially as of late," said Whittingham. "Our guys look forward to it. We better be at our best if we're going to have a chance to win this football game."
If Coach Whitt calls it a rivalry, who am I to argue? Rivalry on.
The respect payed USU by the Utah head coach is certainly warranted. The Aggies have played the Utes extremely well the past couple of meetings, winning at home in 2012, then losing a very close game in 2013 (we all remember Chuckie's Shoeless Run of Destiny from that game, right?). A special teams play here, a defensive stop there, and both of those games could have gone either way.
Once again, I can hear the whiners and the complainers starting to rev their engines... before you get into second gear, let me assure you that I have not forgotten about last week's performances by either team. USU's dismal performance on offense and Utah's dominant performance on defense are certainly enough to discourage even the most faithful of Aggie fans. I have acknowledged it, and I now choose to ignore it (mostly).
Don't get me wrong, I saw injuries, bad play calling, bad passes, awful protection, lazy blocking, and unimpressive routes. The entire offense stunk. The thing you need to understand is, I don't care. The reasoning behind my lack of concern is this: the players individually are not bad players. They are, in fact, very talented; some are recognized commodities like Keeton and WR Devonte Robinson, while others are less renowned. But Utah State has become a factory for turning unknowns into all-stars over the past few years, and has also developed a habit of overcoming injuries, odds and obstacles in a way that can only be called inspiring.
Is it possible that we will see a repeat performance of last week's nightmare? Possibly. This Utah defense is legitimately dangerous. Is it probable? I think not. We saw about the worst it could possibly have been, and I think we will see a marked improvement overall this week. The two biggest issues, aside from the overly general "they didn't play well" issue, were these: 1- there was little chemistry among the players, and 2- there was little to no passion, no fire from the players in week one. With regards to the first, they will have improved chemistry this week through practice after a more intense focus on that area; and with regards to the second, they will be absolutely burning with a desire to come out and shut up the naysayers on the biggest stage possible.
It's a little reminiscent of an unrelated rivalry game the Aggies played last year... after losing an embarrassing road game at Arkansas State, no one was giving USU a snowball's chance in Mount St. Helens of going into Provo and pulling off the win. The Aggies will similarly receive very little respect going into this game. In my mind, that's a good thing. I really, truly hope the players hear the media, hear the fans, hear everyone disrespecting them. I hope it makes their blood boil a little bit, and puts a fire under them, because that fire has been the motivation for a great many upsets. If they play with fire, they may just burn the Utes today.
Location: Rice-Eccles Stadium, Salt Lake City, Utah (45,017 capacity)
Date/Time: Friday, September 11th, 2015 (7:00pm MT)
TV Channel: ESPN 2
Radio: Salt Lake City: 700AM, 1280AM; Logan: 610AM, 102.1FM, 95.9FM; Vernal: 920AM; Price: 95.3FM; Southeastern Idaho: 105.3FM