The season records, respective results against common opponents, the statistics and the balance between pass and rush and offense and defense say Utah State (3-4-1, 3-1-1 in the Big West) should have little trouble with error-prone Cal State-Fullerton (1-9, 0-5) today at 2 p.m. MST in California.
Yet Utah State coaches are nervous.Probably with good reason.
The present Aggie coaching staff has never won in Santa Ana Stadium.
"We look at it as a problem we can't run from," says defensive coordinator Fred Bleil. "We've got to face it and whip it."
The Aggie coaches started in on the winless-at-Fullerton issue at Sunday night's team meeting and haven't let up on it.
"I told the kids we don't play well there, for whatever reason," says Coach Chuck Shelton.
"There's so much riding on it," he adds. "An awful lot as far as a successful season."
Another loss at Fullerton takes the Aggies out of their slim Big West bowl possibility and undermines the good they've done in winning their last two games. A Fullerton win would stop the Titans' school-record losing streak at nine in a row and give them a chance to finish with two straight wins, since they end the season next week at hapless New Mexico State.
"The thing you've got to make sure you do," says offensive coordinator Pat Behrns, "is play with them in the first quarter. If we don't, it's going to be a struggle all afternoon because they've got enough talent in the right positions defensively to create some problems."
Fullerton has been holey on defense - giving up a near-school-record 5,039 yards. It ranks last in the league in total defense and scoring defense and seventh in pass defense, allowing a school-record 3,098 yards through the air including games of 540 by Pacific and 504 by San Jose State.
"We're not a team that can throw for 400 yards," cautions Behrns, although quarterback Ron Lopez did throw for 348 yards at San Jose. Behrns doesn't think the Aggies will run 50 or 60 times, either, despite having Roger Grant (951 yards) and Floyd Foreman (5.3 average per carry) with Sean Hampton back from injury to back up Jim Ray at fullback. Fullerton's linebackers are too active to expect to ram the ball down Fullerton's throat, Behrns says.
The Titans rank third in the league in pass offense and fifth in total offense, both ahead of the Aggies. But they are seventh in scoring offense. "I don't have any clue, execpt they're self-destructive," explains Shelton. Fullerton is -13 in giveaways/
Even that's dangerous, says Bleil. "They'll lull you to sleep with inadequacies, and then, boom, there's a 40-yard pass play." He sees the problem as being in the Fullerton offensive line, which is inexperienced even at this late date. "We've got to win the battles there, take where they're weakest and really be dominant," Bleil says.
AGGIE PERSONNEL - Hampton and left guard Joe Moore are back on offense and tackle Joe Jacobs is back on defense after injuries. USU's healthier than it's been for a month. Linebackers Del Lyles and Kevin Bouwman seem at full strength after nagging problems.