Two years ago, Utah State upset Utah 20-17 in a game remembered more for the "grabbiness" of a couple of Utah State defenders on running back Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala than for the Aggies' superior play on the field.
Last year the Aggies proved the 1996 win was no fluke by going to Salt Lake and winning again, this time 21-14. The Utes said they played uninspired, which was surprising considering the previous year's outcome.This time the Utes are vowing to be ready when they take on the Aggies tonight at Romney Stadium (7 p.m.). And they won't have any excuses if the Aggies make it three in a row for the first time in two decades.
Utah coach Ron McBride has been more focused than ever during fall camp and has been doing everything possible to get his team in the right frame of mind. Tight end C.J. Johnson said this week that the Utes are more prepared than his units were when he was in the Marines.
The Utes' singlemindedness and the Aggies' recent success against Utah has first-year Aggie coach Dave Arslanian worried.
"We've beaten them two years in a row and now it's expected," said Arslanian. "Coach (John L.) Smith didn't do me any favors by winning the last two years."
The players look at it a little differently. Aggie middle linebacker and captain Tony D'Amato says the Aggies are still underdogs and not expected to win.
"We're used to being the underdogs," said D'Amato. "We always assume they have better talent than we do. For us, it's just like playing Washington or Colorado. It's a chance to upset somebody."
When asked why the Aggies have done so well against Utah that last two years, D'Amato takes the humble approach.
"It's probably just luck," he said. "Last year they were probably a better team than we were. The year before they were probably a better team. This year they may be a better team."
D'Amato knows that Ute players, coaches and fans believe the past two Aggie wins were flukes and have come up with various excuses for the losses. "Who knows what they'll say this year," he said, intimating they'll lose again.
The Aggies are healthy going into the game, partly because Arslanian has kept scrimmages at a minimum to prevent injuries. The Aggies are thin at several positions, particularly on the offensive and defensive lines, at running back and quarterback.
Only quarterback Brian Benza, who underwent shoulder surgery three weeks ago, is definitely out for this game. Demario Brown, who was slowed by a hip injury early in camp, has been taking reps all week and should be ready.
The Utes are also pretty healthy with only running back Omar Bacon questionable for the game with a sore ankle. If he can't go, JC transfer Mike Anderson and redshirt freshman Thomas Fortune will get most of the carries.
Tickets were available as of Friday afternoon, but USU officials expect to have a sellout by gametime.