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Dick Harmon: Free-falling Cougars no match for Aggies

Published: Wednesday, July 1 2015 7:34 a.m. MDT

A despondent BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall and Austin Holt exit the field following the Cougars' loss to Utah State. (Brian Nicholson, Deseret News) A despondent BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall and Austin Holt exit the field following the Cougars' loss to Utah State. (Brian Nicholson, Deseret News)

LOGAN — It took Gary Andersen just five games into his second year at Utah State to deliver one for the ages to the original blue-and-white faithful.

Utah State 31, BYU 16.

It was decisive. It was complete. It was impressive.

In a game between a pair of struggling 1-3 teams, that both needed wins like oxygen, it was supposed to be the banged-up Aggies who had question marks.

It was supposed to be BYU with backs to the wall, who was supposed to come out scratching and fighting for life, to jump-start a season.

But Andersen's players took to the field with fire in their collective eyes and he got his men to come out swinging. The Cougars absorbed a couple on the jaw and then looked like Everlast punching bags with a jersey sign that said "come and get it."

The most impressive thing Andersen did is get his squad to control the line of scrimmage. With BYU's size advantage up front on offense, the Cougars should have been able to push and run. Not with the Aggies.

USU looked faster and more athletic. And more hungry.

BYU has become everyone's punching bag now. Longtime enemies smell blood in the water. And they relish playing the punchless, uninspired Cougars.

There will be more to come, starting next week with SDSU's Brady Hoke. The Aztecs ripped USU 41-7 last Saturday in Qualcomm Stadium.

Diondre Borel looked every bit the veteran, calmly looking over BYU's defense and picking on the weaknesses. When he passed, he was sharp. When he took off on a third-and-1 play from his own 12 in the first quarter, he quickly found the open field and sprinted 39 yards before BYU safety Travis Uale finally shoved him out of bounds or he'd have scored.

Piece of cake.

Borel, like all the QBs BYU has faced, looked as powerful as Superman's father, Jor-El.

That was a sign of things to come, an Aggie signal that they owned the Cougars on the line of scrimmage, in collective heart, determination, guts and execution.

The Aggies struck first on a 79-yard Borel bomb to Xavier Martin.

Slice of pie.

Meanwhile, the Cougars kept to a conservative offense and hung their defense out on a clothesline.

SDSU beat USU by going downfield, attacking he Aggies deep. BYU came out deciding to attack with mouse steps until USU owned them, then the Cougars let Heaps attack USU's second- and third-level defense. And then, and only then, he moved the ball.

The Cougars looked like they have all season, conservative to a fault, not confident in what they were doing, protective of freshman Jake Heaps. When Heaps missed, he missed badly (overthrowing a wide open Zeke Mendenhall for a sure TD), and when he was on, there were plenty of drops. The dink-and-dunk offense Robert Anae rolled out for most of the first half didn't work.

Andersen simply had 10 players move to within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage and shut things down.

Up 24-3 at the half, you got the feeling USU could do no wrong and it was never more apparent on the last Aggie touchdown before intermission.

You'd have thought the one thing BYU could do is stop kickoff returns. After a 23-yard Mitch Payne field goal, even that proud strength crumbled. BYU came in ranked No. 1 in the nation in kickoff return defense, a duty Bronco Mendenhall has personally coached this fall himself.

On that kickoff, Mendenhall's men abandoned him.

Aggie specialist Kerwynn Williams ripped through four would-be, alleged BYU tacklers and returned the kickoff 67 yards.

Surrender.

We saw it in Colorado Springs and in Tallahassee in September, the head down, half-effort dives and futile grabs.

For Andersen, things have to be looking up. His team could own a hospital wing. He even took a tumble this week and hurt his neck and stood on the sidelines with a bruise the size of a golf ball on his cheek. Yet, his Aggies soundly defeated a program that was ranked at the end of last year, a bowl winner over Oregon State.

For Mendenhall, he's had a tough time trusting the youth on his team. Trouble is, a big chunk of his team is young and with veterans falling like lob-wedge shots, it might have been well to invest in the youth movement last spring.

e-mail: dharmon@desnews.com

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