Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
LOGAN — Each of the last three BYU-Utah State games has produced pivotal moments for Cougar coach Bronco Mendenhall and his program — moments that have transcended the outcomes.
Maybe it’s coincidence that these seismic events happened against the Aggies. Then again, maybe it’s not.
As for this year's in-state showdown, for the first time in years, Utah State is favored Friday (6 p.m. MDT, CBSS) at Romney Stadium.
The Aggies are playing at home, they are in their first season in the Mountain West Conference (the one BYU used to belong to), and they boast a dynamic, play-making quarterback, Chuckie Keeton.
Meanwhile, the underdog Cougars have struggled throwing the ball, are riddled by injuries, and trying to avoid a 2-3 start to the season, with plenty of tough games remaining on the schedule.
Could Friday’s battle, once again, have long-term implications for BYU?
Here's a look at the last three memorable meetings between the Cougars and Aggies:
In 2010, a humiliating 31-16 loss to Utah State in Logan resulted in Mendenhall firing defensive coordinator Jaime Hill the next day. Since then, Mendenhall has called the defensive plays. He served as defensive coordinator up until Nick Howell was promoted to that position last spring.
“I don’t remember much about that (2010) game,” Mendenhall recalled this week. “I remember talking to (then-Aggie coach) Gary Andersen after. He waited for a long time to visit with me after the media stuff. It was fun to congratulate him and wish him success and see their program take a positive turn. Then I knew there were some tough decisions I had to make.”
Mendenhall opted to take over the defense, and it has paid off in big ways. The Cougars have been among the best nationally in defense over the past couple of seasons.
But the bitter memories of that loss in Logan linger for those Cougars who played in that game.
“It left a bad feeling in my stomach,” receiver Cody Hoffman said this week.
In 2011 in Provo, the Cougars were unable to do much offensively against USU until quarterback Jake Heaps was replaced by backup Riley Nelson. Nelson, a former Aggie, staged a dramatic, fourth-quarter comeback that lifted BYU to a 27-24 victory.
Nelson became the Cougars’ starting QB, while Heaps, the most highly touted recruit in school history, ended up transferring to Kansas.
In 2012, also in Provo, Taysom Hill was making his second start at quarterback after replacing an injured Nelson. Even though Hill and the offense scored just one touchdown, it was — thanks to the Cougar defense — enough to defeat Utah State in a sloppy defensive struggle, 6-3.
However, in the waning moments, Hill suffered a season-ending knee injury after a bizarre miscommunication with coaches on the sideline.
Hill said this week he has thought about that devastating setback.
“This is the time of year I was injured and it was a tough time in my life,” he said. “It’s allowed me to reflect on that and think back on that game.”
Hill, whose development was interrupted by that injury, added that it’s reminded him of the importance of sliding when necessary, and protecting himself.
BYU’s offense continued to sputter throughout the rest of the 2012 season. In January, Mendenhall replaced the entire offensive coaching staff, which included bringing back Robert Anae as offensive coordinator.
Which brings us to Friday night’s contest.
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