The Utah State Aggies have been a thorn in head coach Gary Andersen’s side since before the season opener at Oklahoma, in a good way.
A near-upset of the Top 10-ranked Sooners in Norman gave hope to a community that years of futility were behind them, but early on in the season, it wasn’t to be against the BCS giants in a 31-24 loss.
And what did Andersen do? He said it wasn’t a big deal; it was a loss to a team that was good, and that the Aggies deserved to win the game. He raised a few eyebrows, caught ESPN’s attention and moved on.
Next, a much anticipated game at home versus Fresno State started well and revved up a capacity crowd when the Aggies led 24-17 with six minutes to go in the third quarter.
That excitement was eventually replaced by disappointment when the visiting Bulldogs bulldozed their way to a 17-point victory, scoring 24 straight points to end the game.
Then on Sept. 25, another potentially program-turning game at Mountain West Conference contender San Diego State signaled the beginning of a new era, except nobody bothered to tell the Aztecs that, and besides, the game was played in San Diego.
The Aztecs–a much better team that people give them credit for–opened up a 28-0 lead and never looked back, using a combination similar to the Bulldogs, a little run, actually, a lot of run, to go with their passing.
It ended in a 41-7 blowout.
Friday night, however, the Aggies got their chance at home in front of their own fans, a do-over if you will, after watching its beloved team fall apart in three consecutive games.
And the do-over would be against none other than BYU, a team that has reeled off 10 straight wins in a 17-year span, 10 reminders that Utah State is at not at the same football caliber as the Cougars.
Yet there would be no self-destruction of any sort on a balmy October night in Cache Valley, as the Aggies–to borrow a saying fit for the month–exorcised 17 years worth of demons and sent BYU plummeting to its fourth straight loss and its worst start since 1973.
It was textbook football on Friday, October 1, the kind of ball that the teams that beat them played, a combination of running the ball to go with the passing, perhaps something you’d see from the Utah Utes.
A 31-16 win over a once-mighty BYU team signaled that things, they might be a-changing up north.
Playing freshmen is always problematic–and injuries since the season opener have forced Utah State to not only play but start eight true frosh.
The stress of a rough start combined with lack of sleep reportedly caused Andersen to black out, suffer a neck injury and spend the Monday leading up to his biggest game of his young coaching career in a hospital.
Luckily, Andersen only received neck pain from the fall, but it taught him a similar lesson that his protégé Urban Meyer learned with his panic attack last year as Florida’s head coach: moderation is a good thing.
“I am very proud of the coaches; they were extremely prepared. Bill Busch and the defense did an unbelievable job. I think Coach Dave Baldwin and the offense prepared very well for this game,” Andersen said in his post-game press conference.
In other words, he delegated responsibility; he even missed one practice to take care of himself. In turn, Andersen’s players and staff helped take care of him.
Hiccups along the way have caused the Aggies’ bitty baby football program to grow up in a hurry. They may have done just that in a program-changing game in Logan.
Andersen, even the football coach, cautioned that while it’s a great beginning, it’s not the end.
“We still have a long ways to go. Tonight we are going to enjoy this victory. This is a great opportunity for these kids to experience a victory like this, and especially at home, especially with the crowd like that in front of us,” Andersen said.
And behind their Aggies, all the way.