Dick Harmon: Ute emotion may be key in hosting Aggies

Published: Thursday, Aug. 29 2013 12:04 a.m. MDT

Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham leaves the field at half against Utah State in Logan Friday, Sept. 7, 2012.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Picking Utah State at Utah is an interesting exercise. How much of what happened last fall in Logan do you throw away?

The Utes would like to think 2012 was a fluke.

The Aggies would like to consider it an upward trend.

A year ago, the Utes were fiddling with things on offense, the O-line was suspect and in that game, after Ute defensive end Joe Kruger got kicked out for allegedly throwing a punch, it kind of took the life out of Kalani Sitake’s defense.

These things should not be issues Thursday night.

Yet, the Aggies have established a level of respect in the state that must be acknowledged. Gary Andersen worked himself into the ground to get USU football in a position to pull off the wins we witnessed against the Utes in Logan in 2012 and BYU in 2010. Then, he left.

By all accounts, Matt Wells has not allowed a dip in Aggie prowess since Andersen left for greener pastures and a bank vault.

The Aggies have put running backs into the NFL. This could be the best USU defense we’ve seen in years, if not ever. It is a big deal that USU won 11 games and ended the 2012 season ranked.

But that was then. What have they got now?

Well, to start with, Chuckie Keeton is a great reason to pick the Aggies. He’s a veteran and he’s got talent. The game has slowed down for Keeton, and if veteran quarterbacks that are actually very good are such a big plus on a prognostication sheet, then the Aggies have a huge advantage. Place a veteran offensive line in front of him and USU makes a great case to beat Utah again.

After all, this is a team that should have defeated Wisconsin, Auburn and BYU with Keeton.

On the Ute side, Utah should win because it is a Pac-12 program. The Utes recruit to that standard, they should have depth accordingly and they are at home where their crowd has proven to be a huge emotional resource.

Utah’s offensive line should be improved. If the investment in Dennis Erickson brings the leadership, knowledge, consistency and development of Travis Wilson everyone expects — and the Utes are just a little bit better on that side of the ball — Utah should win this one.

Most games come down to turnovers. In this area, Keeton is a proven talent who can hold on to the ball and keep it away from the enemy. On the other hand, big turnovers in crucial situations have killed Utah the past two seasons. Advantage may be to USU.

But the emotion and motivation factor favors the Utes. They come in as neck vein busters.

The loss to USU in overtime a year ago cast a shroud of disappointment over the Utah players all season. It has eaten at coaches and players all year long. It has created a bite, an edge, an attack point for the Utes, kind of like what Andersen whittled for the Aggies the past few years.

Utah needs this victory because the schedule soon turns into a radioactive playground.

The predictions:

Utah 24, Utah State 21: The weight of thousands of Pac-12 banners and a new football facility weigh heavy on this one. History alone favors the Utes. The home-field advantage and emotion is the difference.

USC 37, Hawaii 17: Lane Kiffin needs a quick start, and the Trojans will find it in Aloha Stadium if his players can avoid sunburns.

Arizona 45, Northern Arizona 10: Nice scrimmage for Rich Rodriguez.

Oklahoma State 38, Mississippi State 34: The Big 12 favorite finds itself in one of the opening week’s most interesting matchups. Cowboys hold on for the win.

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