Utah State's game with Cal State-Fullerton Saturday was a microcosm of the entire Aggie football season.
Against the Titans, the Aggies had moments of brilliance on both offense and defense - but never with enough consistency to come away with a victory.The result was a 23-13 loss, leaving the Aggies with a 4-7 overall mark and, for the second straight year, a 4-3 record in the Big West Conference.
"This was as frustrating a season as I've ever had," said USU Coach Chuck Shelton, who, along with others, had dreams of a Big West title. "I was really frustrated with the breakdown of our offense in the second half of our last four games. We just never played a whole football game all year."
Inconsistency was the name of the game for the Aggies all season. Quarterback Brent Snyder teamed up with Kendal Smith and Patrick Newman for many exciting plays. But the Aggie running game never got untracked, ranking last in the nation most of the season. And Snyder had 5-interception games against Fresno State and Utah.
The young defense, led by freshman Del Lyles and sophomores Kevin Bouwman and Travis Clark, came through with several big fourth-down plays late in the year, but it also gave up plenty of long gainers in key situations.
"It seemed like early in the year our young defense struggled, but it progressed as the season went along," said Shelton. "Then toward the end of the year our offense really started falling off and we had physical breakdowns."
Shelton said he felt like his team should have had one more victory, either at San Jose or Fullerton. "If we'd have had two more victories, it would have been a great season," he said.
Even the Aggie victories this year weren't things of beauty. They hung on for a 32-20 win over New Mexico State, they had to score late to beat both Long Beach State 31-24 and Pacific 23-20, and held off UNLV 17-10. Not a blowout in the bunch, all of which were played in Logan. They lost all six road games.
That isn't to say there weren't positive aspects of the season. Snyder finished with several passing marks, including the most yards in a season (3,218). Smith, despite finishing with one his poorest games ever at USU against Fullerton (2 catches), set several receiving records, including the Big West yardage mark and was the No. 3 all-purpose runner in the country.
Looking ahead to next year, Shelton is feeling pretty good about his team's prospects since many of his top players will return.
"Our program is in place and we have a lot of good young kids," he said. "It's exciting to look at the youth of this team and know we're going in the right direction."
The Aggies will miss players like Snyder and Smith, but return 15 starters, including nine on defense.
"Our defense will jump dramatically - I think this will be our best year since we've been here," said Shelton. "The problem we've had is getting it all together at the same time. Next year should be the year."
Shelton said the recruiting emphasis this winter will be on freshman with the possibility of bringing in a couple of junior college players either at defensive back or wide receiver. As far as bringing in a JC quarterback, Shelton said, "Absolutely not."
Shelton feels that the quarterbacks he has - sophomores-to-be Kirk Johnson and Kevin White and redshirt freshman Stewart Hansen - are all capable of taking over for Snyder. He also said the offense would be changed to adapt to the styles of the quarterbacks and that the running game will be emphasized more.
As for next year's schedule, the Aggies have another brutal schedule, opening the season on the road against Utah Sept. 9 and following it with road games against USC and Illinois before returning home to play BYU. Then they'll follow with seven straight Big West games, including four at home.