As a redshirt freshman second-string free safety playing behind the now-graduated Scott Munson, Utah State's Damon Smith led the Big West Conference in interceptions with five.

And then the interception he didn't get Saturday night at University of Utah turns into the most decisive play of a 12-7 Aggie loss."I knew I had a pick, and I was just going to set it down," said Smith, who was hit as the ball hit him and landed in the hands of Ute Bryan Rowley, who lunged a few steps as Smith recovered to tackle him, then pitched to Greg Hoffman, who fell into the end zone with time elapsed at the end of the first half for the final scoring of the game.

It was a 46-yard pass and 9-yard TD run.

In hindsight, of course, Smith should have knocked the ball to the ground. With time expired as quarterback Frank Dolce threw it, Utah couldn't have had another play, and the Aggies would have gone to intermission ahead 7-6.

"It was a judgment call," said Smith. "There were a lot of people around the ball, and you don't know if you put it down, someone else might catch it."

The night was like that for the Aggies' defense. They made big mistakes and let Utah's slippery running backs run them silly, yet the defense also gave the offense the ball on the Utah 21-yard line with a fumble caused by Rob Van De Pol and recovered by Greg Davis. Ron Lopez threw 4 yards to Tracey Jenkins five plays later for the Aggies' only touchdown.

And the defense got the ball back at midfield with 2:20 left in the game on Joe Jacobs' interception and 12-yard return. An interception ended that chance.

"The defense kept us in there," said Coach Chuck Shelton.

Then again, said Smith, "the defense was on the field a lot, and we didn't give our offense enough time to do anything."

The Aggies had four offensive plays in the first quarter and only 71/2 minutes of ball possession the first half.

Van De Pol, Jermaine Younger and Matt Martinez each had 13 tackles, and Del Lyles had 20.

Rusty Carlsen was the All-Big West punter last year, but he never had a night like Saturday. In six punts, he averaged 55 yards a kick, averaging 10 yards a kick more than he did in any game last year. A 68-yard kick in the first half was the second-best of his career (he once had a 70-yarder) and ranks 11th on the all-time Aggie list.

The Aggies lost fleet fullback Jim Ray, fastest runner on the USU team, for six weeks with a broken wrist.

Now it's on to Nebraska. Then Oklahoma.