Aggie fans have seen this before.
For a fifth-straight year, the Utah State football team came this close to beating a good BCS team in what was the program’s first ABC appearance in 35 years.
For the second-straight year, the point difference was a field goal. USU’s offense, led by junior quarterback Chuckie Keeton, was stymied. Utah State's defense did all it could to keep the Aggies in the game, but USU ultimately came up short against USC, 17-14.
Rhett Wilkinson is a project manager for UtahPolicy.com and hails the true-blooded Aggies from Utah. The co-founder of magazine Aggie BluePrint.com, he's been an intern for the Deseret News and other publications. firstname.lastname@example.org | @wilklogan
In a battle between the eighth-best scoring offense and eighth-best scoring defense, the latter prevailed.
Chuckie Keeton (21 of 39, 179 yards, two touchdowns) and other offensive players often looked frustrated and/or confused. Several plays fizzled, with Keeton’s passes going one way and the intended receiver going the other. With an ambiguity as to when and how many it would be rushing at Keeton, USC’s defense proved difficult to navigate. The Aggies had to punt on six of seven possessions entering the fourth quarter.
A 55-yard run by Joey DeMartino (nine carries, 72 yards) set up a second-quarter touchdown, but overall, USU couldn’t establish a ground game because Keeton was so often hurried. Utah State gained 106 yards on 27 carries.
A first-down conversion on fourth-and-inches was the brightest USU highlight in the final stanza. But seconds later Keeton came up several yards short running the ball on fourth down, one of the few times all day where he earnestly took off to try and make the Trojans respect his legs.
In bottling a Heisman candidate, the USC defense proved stout.
A modest USU defensive crew, ranking 36th nationally in scoring entering the game, ought to be applauded. The Aggies allowed just 282 total yards and didn’t let 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner Marqise Lee (six receptions, no touchdowns) beat them.
Their performance allowed USC to hardly move on two straight possessions in the fourth quarter when the Trojans were nearly in field goal range. That gave Keeton’s offense the opportunity to make something happen.
However, USU's defense only didn’t come through late on a fourth-and-inches play where USC signal-caller Cody Kessler (13 of 26, 164 yards) just needed to fall forward.
A pass on a fake punt early in the fourth quarter fell incomplete from the USU 34-yard line, though the USU defense proved tough. A couple of other miscues really doomed USU — and one proved the difference in the score.
Jaron Bentrude punted off the side of his foot late in the third quarter, resulting in a 12-yard punt that was downed at the USU 24. Moments later, Trojan kicker Andre Heidari made a 25-yard go-ahead field goal.
In the three-point loss, kicker Nick Diaz doinked a 37-yard field goal attempt in the first quarter. Josh Thompson, now Diaz’s backup, missed attempts from about the same distance last year in a three-point loss at BYU and a two-point defeat at Wisconsin.
Special teams: D-
Utah State supporters can be proud of the surprising play of the defense, mildly disappointed in their Heisman candidate and really disappointed in the special teams. Instead, they are probably just groaning in their deja vu moment. Would former Aggie coach Gary Andersen have outcoached Lane Kiffin, who is on the hot seat at USC and often gets criticized for his play-calling? Perhaps pondering the what-if of coaching takes back seat to the developing USU tradition of coming up just short on the big stages.