BYU football: Cougars, Aggies have plenty in common this time around
Michael Brandy, Deseret News
PROVO — Sporting identical 1-3 records, and saddled with a spate of injuries, BYU and Utah State have plenty in common these days.
Both programs are hoping to halt their respective downward spirals Friday (6 p.m., ESPN) at Romney Stadium.
Cougar coach Bronco Mendenhall called this year's in-state contest "an intriguing matchup with two teams fighting and struggling to get a win. This is probably the most captivating game BYU and Utah State have played at least since I've been the coach."
The Cougars have won 10 straight games over the Aggies — dating back to 1994 — and 20 out of the last 21. In three games under Mendenhall, BYU has beaten USU by an average score of 35-10.
But the Cougars, who have lost three consecutive games, won't be overlooking the Aggies.
"Playing Utah State hasn't been a big deal to me in the past," said BYU sophomore linebacker Austen Jorgensen, a North Sanpete High product. "But this week, it's definitely huge for us to go out there and get a win, because it's a turning point for us for this season."
On the other side, a victory over the Cougars would be huge for the Aggies, who are coming off a 41-7 defeat at San Diego State.
"Being from Utah County, all that is talked about and all you see around there is BYU," said USU freshman defensive end Jason Fanaika, who hails from Pleasant Grove. "It's a big game for me because I have friends on their team and a bunch of family coming to watch the game. It's a big game, and I'm excited to play BYU. I didn't grow up wanting to go (to BYU), but I didn't hate them, either. Now that I am here at Utah State, it's a big deal for me now, and I'm going to leave my heart out there."
Redshirt freshman Tyler Larsen, a Jordan High product, is also looking forward to facing the Cougars.
"I would always see BYU play growing up and I would always think, 'Man, I want to play for them,' " he said. "In this case, I get to play against them and that's even better for me ... It's been a long time since Utah State would dominate and win these games. Right now, we need this game to bounce back. Obviously, it's an in-state rival and we want to start winning these games."
Mendenhall values games against Utah State and said it's an important series.
"It's part of what I consider the Beehive Boot. It links three parts of the state together, which is good for the state," he said. "I'm a proponent of this particular game.
"Utah State is a hostile place to play. I've only been up there one time (in 2008), but I think their fans did a really nice job supporting their team. I think it adds an intrigue and a pretty unique setting on a Friday night before (LDS General Conference), which is just good for college football."
Both teams have been snakebitten by injuries this year. The Cougars have seen two starters — quarterback Riley Nelson and nose tackle Romney Fuga — go down with season-ending injuries. Safety Steven Thomas will be out for a second straight week with a concussion, while linebacker Jameson Frazier is out 3-4 weeks after breaking his thumb against Nevada last week.
The Aggies have had 11 starters, and projected starters, sidelined at different times due to injuries. Star running back Robert Turbin is recovering from an off-season knee (ACL) injury.
Even coach Gary Andersen hasn't been able to avoid the injury bug personally. Andersen suffered a neck injury at his home Monday morning and is recovering. USU team physician Dr. Trek Lyons said Andersen's "prognosis is good, and he will be fine."
Andersen will be wearing a neck brace as a precaution and will be coaching the Aggies on Friday night against BYU.
Mendenhall is impressed with the job Andersen, who's in his second year at the helm, has done at Utah State.
"He's reinvigorated the program," he said. "There's a different belief, in that they are capable, that they can compete and that they can win. He's hired a good coaching staff and they're matching their schemes to their personnel. I think he's re-invigorated the community about Utah State football. I think he's on the right track."
Cougars/Aggies on the air
BYU (1-3) at Utah State (1-3)
Friday, 6 p.m.
Merlin Olsen Field at Romney Stadium, Logan
TV: ESPN Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM, 1320 AM, 610 AM, 102.1 FM, 95.9 FM
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