We're in a tunnel right now. We don't see anything but Hawaii. —Utah State coach Matt Wells
LOGAN — Two years ago it was a game at Hawaii that turned around the Utah State football team’s season and its fortunes. This year, head coach Matt Wells isn’t looking for a turnaround but for another step forward for his team when the Aggies (4-4, 3-1 Mountain West) take on Hawaii (0-7, 0-5) on Saturday afternoon at Romney Stadium.
“We're in a tunnel right now. We don't see anything but Hawaii,” Wells said about looking at the final month of the season. “I like the way our kids have responded to back-to-back weeks of adversity and with all the losses that we've had from an injury standpoint. I like the way all three sides played last Saturday. We have to continue that, we have to play with a great deal of confidence.”
Back in the first week of November 2011, the Aggies were still looking for a way to turn the program around. The team was 2-5 and had suffered last-minute painful losses to Auburn, BYU and Colorado State. At halftime, USU trailed Hawaii 28-7 and was without starting quarterback Chuckie Keeton, who left the game with a neck injury. Backup quarterback Adam Kennedy rallied the Aggies to a 35-31 victory and the team went on to win its final five regular season games, all in dramatic fashion, to achieve bowl eligibility.
“I think it was a springboard for us over the last two years,” Wells said about his memories of that game. “A lot of people do point to that game. It's hard to win over there. To do it in the fashion that we did was huge, not just for the program, but for our confidence on an individual standpoint.”
Just like they had to down the stretch in 2011, the Aggies will once again be relying on their backup quarterback to lead them to a victory. Darrell Garretson was efficient and effective in his first career start against New Mexico two weeks ago and got plenty of help for his defense and running game in a 45-10 rout of the Lobos.
Hawaii comes into the game without much to show for its season. The Warriors are winless this year under second-year head coach Norm Chow but have competed hard in every game down to the final minute. In the past four weeks, Hawaii has fallen to some of the better teams in the Mountain West Conference — Fresno State, San Jose State, UNLV and Colorado State, by a combined 22 points.
“I expect them to come in here and be very well prepared," Wells said about Hawaii. "I expect them to come in and play very hard. We have to match their intensity from our end. I don't have any doubt that we will and we'll be ready Saturday. It will be a good game in Romney Stadium, and we're looking forward to it.”
The Warriors will likely be delayed getting into Utah. Hawaii was scheduled to charter out of Los Angeles on Friday morning, but due to the shooting incident at Los Angeles International Airport, the team's flight was one of many that were delayed, and the team spent Friday afternoon stranded at a Southern California hotel. Despite the travel woes, the game is still scheduled to kick off at 2 p.m. in Logan.
Kraig Williams is a 2010 Utah State University graduate and regular Deseret News sports blogger. He can be followed on Twitter @DesNewsKraig.