Utah State hasn't pitched a football shutout in eight years; the Aggies came perhaps a play away from it Saturday, but Nevada-Las Vegas finally mounted a fourth-down touchdown with 30 seconds left in the game at Romney Stadium, passing for six against the Aggies' second and third defensive teams.
It was a 31-6 Utah State win, even if the shutout did slip away.It was the fourth time since Chuck Shelton became coach that the Aggies have held a team to single digits in scoring - the first time the Aggies have done it since 1987.
"If I can play more kids, I'll give up a shutout every time," says Aggie defensive coordinator and assistant head coach Fred Bleil, who began substituting individual players in the third period and subbed by platoon with about eight minutes left.
The only starter still in the game was cornerback Scott Munson.
"The first thing you want to do as a coach and a team," said Shelton, "is win. The next thing you want to do is play every kid you can play because they deserve that opportunity.
"I wasn't disturbed," said Shelton about losing the shutout. "They had to score on the last play of the game. That tickled me to death that our young kids went in and played that hard in that little drive at the end."
Six times UNLV got inside the Aggie 20-yard line and was pushed to a fourth-down situation. The first five times, the Rebels, who had enough trouble with their kicking game to have abandoned it early, were stopped.
That was the pleasant part of the Aggie defense.
The disappointing part, said Bleil, was that the Aggies were soft on the pass over the middle. They were good on deep plays, good on short ones, but the midrange plays, at which QB Derek Stott was supposed to be lacking, fooled them enough that UNLV outgained Utah State 279-73 through the air and 402-381 in total yards.
Bleil points out that 93 of those total-offense yards came on the final drive against the youngsters, but he's still not happy about it.
Shelton said there were about six poor defensive minutes in the first half and more in the second, some of it caused by the big lead.
"Overall, I thought we could have played a little better," said senior linebacker Piliki Tauteoli. "Everybody wasn't hustling as well as they could have."
Things bogged offensively the second half, too, partly because of a quarterbacking change caused by a bone bruise to the throwing elbow of Ron Lopez. He was hit on a fourth-down play near the end of the first half. Kirk Johnson replaced him.
After scoring 31 points in the first 23 or so minutes, the Aggies were shut out the rest of the way.
"I think we tried just as hard," said offensive tackle Ed Silva, "but they threw some different defenses at us, and we mixed up a few assignments."
"We told the kids before the game," said Shelton, "if we're going to win, we'll win with the interior offensive and defensive lines, and tht may be something we'll have to look at rather closely. We were not blocking as well, and that hurt us as much as anything."
Still, as anybody knows who's followed Utah State football this season, "A victory is an awful exciting thing for us," said Shelton. "We'll be excited with this victory and repair those bad spots later."
AGGIE ACHES - Senior cornerback Greg Haynes will miss two or three games with a second-degree knee sprain. He might play one or two more games in his career, said Bleil. That's a little better than Shelton had thought originally, when he worried Haynes was done for the year. "He's a spiritual leader out there, an exciting young man, and it's a real tragedy," Shelton said. "No one deserves to play more." Other players' injuries are apparently minor, Bleil said.