Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
BOISE — Christmas has come a little early for Utah State. The present under the tree is the Aggie football team facing Ohio in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl today (3:30 p.m. MT, ESPN), a welcome surprise for fans who are used to finding coal in their stockings this time of year.
"Logan is very excited. I never heard so many people come up to me and tell me how excited they are to watch a football game," running back Robert Turbin said. "I am excited for Saturday. I can't wait to see our fans. It will be a great day, and it will be a great game."
The bowl game is the Aggies' reward for their best season since 1997. The players have had the chance to go to awards banquets, race go-karts and do some actual bowling for charity while in Boise (Utah State beat Ohio 238-211 in the bowling match, earning 1,400 pounds of potatoes for charities in Boise and Logan.)
The fun and games of bowl week is all well and good, but for a Utah State team that has been determined to leave behind a legacy, there is still one more thing left to do: win a bowl game and solidify its place in Aggie history.
The task in front of them is not an easy one. Ohio finished the season with a 9-4 record and nearly won the Mid-American Conference championship this season. The Bobcats have a physical front seven on defense that Aggie center Tyler Larsen called the best they had seen all year and reminded him of Fresno State, the only team that was able to beat Utah State this season by more than seven points.
"Ohio's defense is very disciplined," said Turbin. "Their linebackers will come up and hit you; they will snap off the blocker. They will make the play. They have a knack of getting to the ball, and are a very disciplined defense. And they make plays. We have to be ready for them."
The Bobcats are more than just defense, though. Quarterback Tyler Tettleton leads the way for Ohio on offense. The sophomore is a do-it-all signal caller that set 12 school records this year throwing for 3,086 yards and 26 touchdowns, while adding another 627 yards and nine TDs on the ground.
"He is a good quarterback," said linebacker Bobby Wagner about Tettleton. "He can beat you with the throw or he can run the ball. I think a lot of teams flush him out of the pocket, and he has shown that he can run all over the place. I think the big thing for us is to try to contain him, and to make sure that when he does get out of the pocket there is someone there to tackle him, make sure that he doesn't get those extra yards or any first downs."
Even with a tough opponent in front of them, no task seems too monumental for this Aggie team. After nearly being declared dead at 2-5 and on the ropes at Hawaii, Utah State has rallied for five straight wins. No game has been decided by more than seven points during the streak and four of the five victories came after the Aggies scored a touchdown in the game's final minute or in overtime.
"The goal for this football team was to 'leave a legacy.' It is a bold statement for a team that has been where they have been and struggled the way they have struggled," said USU coach Gary Andersen. "They put it on T-shirts back in July. They have left a legacy, and because of that this season is a success — there is no question about it. We would love to have another brick in the foundation that we have laid for this football team which would obviously be a championship in a bowl game. That is what we are looking for at this point. They have left a legacy and what they have done for the last five weeks will be remembered for a long, long, time. And for me, forever."
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