As if this unimaginable 0-5 season weren't enough, Utah State's football team has run up against "as unusual a week as I've had in 30 years of coaching," says Chuck Shelton.
There was the freak accident hurting four starters (receiver Rod Moore, linebacker Del Lyles, kick returner Floyd Foreman and defensive back Damon Smith), in which a rental car axle broke, sending the vehicle into a three-rollover crash. There's been illness (linebacker Matt Martinez, offensive tackle Brian Funk). Offensive tackle Ed Silva left campus for his father's funeral. Guard Joe Moore strained a knee that could end his season.It was a bye week when you're supposed to get better.
Yet, for all the what's-happened-now? atmosphere, it's been as gratifying a week as Shelton has experienced in a long time, too.
"The kids were trying hard to practice. They're a determined bunch. As far as preparation and commitment, it couldn't be better," says Shelton.
They are frustrated at being 0-5 and have the chance to get their first win when 1-5, 0-2 Cal Fullerton visits Romney Stadium at 1 p.m. today. From here on out, no more Nebraskas, Oklahomas or BYUs, just Big West games.
Smith practiced Wednesday when he probably shouldn't have, said Shelton, who'd have excused him. Foreman worked despite 50-60 stitches in an arm. Quarterback Ron Lopez struggles with back pain, "but he's trying to push himself through it," says offensive coordinator Pat Behrns.
Lyles, who had glass removed from a foot Monday, has practiced enough to play. Rod Moore's limping with a thigh bruise perhaps aggravated by the auto accident, but he's practicing. Strong safety Toby Tyler (aggravated old shoulder injury) practiced. Receiver Tracey Jenkins (scraped head from a motorcycle accident two weeks ago) has practiced all week. "He looks terrible, but he's all right," says Behrns, adding he wouldn't want to get hit in such condition.
Running back Roger Grant had what Shelton calls a great week of practice despite a finger broken in the BYU game. Behrns says he thinks the cast Grant's wearing helps him catch passes "with that big hook on there."
Shelton notes that in one practice, Ag concentration slipped, but they pulled together and salvaged the day during what he considers "an awfully tough week" of workouts.
"I think they'll all be in there (except Silva and Moore)," says Shelton. "I don't know how they'll play, but they've indicated a mental readiness to play."
Since the Ags have had two mentally disastrous games, two mentally ready games and one so-so, there could hardly be a better report.
One thing Shelton hopes to have corrected - though he's afraid to say much about it - is the turnovers that have cost the Aggies on the scoreboard. Fullerton's poor against the pass and average in total defense, but it has gotten by with seven interceptions and four fumble recoveries.
Behrns says the Titans blitz and do a good job pressuring the quarterback, which could be a problem for the Aggies, who haven't handled that sort of thing well. "We need to pick things up so (Lopez) doesn't have to scramble. We've got to get back to our game, which is running and play-action movement," Behrns says, adding the big teams on the schedule forced USU into a dropback game.
"Our kids are pretty fragile right now," says Behrns. "We need to win a game. But they've been able to do a good job focusing."
"They're an 0-5 team, but it's not like they played Little Sisters of the Poor," observes Fullerton coach Gene Murphy, who picked USU in the preseason to win the Big West. "They've played one conference game; the season isn't over for them."
"Nobody that has beat us has turned out to be a very bad football team," allows Shelton. But he notes, "They've got a victory; we don't."