LOGAN — After a brief speech from head coach Matt Wells following a practice this week, Utah State broke a team huddle with a cheer of "Mountain West champs" that reverberated throughout an empty E.L. Romney Stadium.
The Aggies (3-3, 2-0 MWC) can take a huge step toward their preseason goal of winning a Mountain West Conference title on Saturday night against Boise State (3-2, 1-1). USU is encouraging fans to wear their "fighting white" as part of the second-annual "White Out" game and is expecting a near sell-out crowd for the crucial conference match-up.
With an offense that has endured season-ending injuries to quarterback Chuckie Keeton, running back Joe Hill and offensive guard Kyle Whimpey in the last two weeks, it will be up to the defense to step up its game.
Just who will replace Keeton is still up in the air. Craig Harrison and Darrell Garretson split the starting quarterback reps in practice this week, but a starter will not be announced until game time.
“Injuries are going to happen. Unfortunately it was to our best player and one of the best players in the country,” defensive coordinator Todd Orlando said. “Guys have to understand that you have to take the approach that you have to prepare every day to be elite. It can’t be just because a guy gets hurt. I’d expect for a veteran defense to prepare to be great all the time. I’d be disappointed if they aren’t trying to do that, regardless of who is with us or who will be out.”
Boise State made a name for itself with a wide-open offense and trick plays in big bowl games. The occasional gadget play is still in head coach Chris Petersen’s bag and has given the USU defense a few extra things to prepare for during film work and practice this week. What concerns Orlando most, though, is Bronco quarterback Joe Southwick and his smart and talented offensive teammates.
“They are talented. There is a reason they have won so many games,” Orlando said. “(Southwick) runs the show there. He distributes the ball and has a great football IQ.”
The Aggies and Broncos have met 10 times since 1998, with Boise State winning all 10 contests. USU has not finished within 24 points in the last five games, including a 50-14 loss in Boise the last time these two met in 2010.
“I said the minute we got into the Mountain West that they are the program we all want to model ourselves after,” Wells said. “From a consistency standpoint, from an effort standpoint and a toughness standpoint, I think they do a great job.”
A win would give Utah State a two-game advantage over the preseason favorite Broncos and put the Aggies on the inside track to winning the Mountain Division and playing in the conference title game in December.
“Our goal is to win the Mountain West, and we’re 2-0 and in a great position to do that,” tight end D.J. Tialavea said.
Kraig Williams is a 2010 Utah State University graduate and regular Deseret News sports blogger. He can be followed on Twitter @DesNewsKraig.
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company