For the third straight year, Utah and Utah State staged one of those low-scoring, mistake-filled games, which was the opener for both teams. Although perhaps not a thrilling contest, once again the outcome was in doubt until the final minute.
However, this time, much to the relief of the Utes, the result was different as they halted a two-game Aggie winning streak with a 20-12 victory Saturday night before 30,218 fans at Romney Stadium."I feel good because we needed to beat this team," said a relieved Ute coach Ron McBride. "I thought our defense was excellent tonight."
Mike Anderson, filling in for an injured Omar Bacon, rushed for 150 yards on 32 carries to lead a strong Ute running attack, which didn't seem to miss Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala, who left for the pros a year early and could never top 100 yards the past two years against USU.
Utah jumped ahead and led the entire game, but could never shake the pesky Ags, who hung around until running out of downs on the Utah 35 with 41 seconds left.
The Aggies had a couple of chances to come back and possibly tie with a touchdown and a two-point conversion. First freshman Tony Walker returned a punt 44 yards to the Utah 28 with just under five minutes left in the game. But the Aggies stalled and when they punted on 4th down, some boos were heard from the Aggie crowd.
However, the Aggie defense held inside the Ute 10, forcing a punt with 1:26 left. The Aggies had good field position at the Utah 41, but after two incompletions and a 6-yard pass to Ricky Brumfield, Riley Jensen's pass to Dan Connelly was batted down by Phil Glover.
"I'm very disappointed for our players because they fought hard," said first-year coach Dave Arslanian. "But we had a chance to win at the end."
The Aggies battled back from a 14-5 halftime deficit to pull within two at 14-12 midway through the third quarter, executing their best drive of the night. The Aggies drove 68 yards in five plays with Demario Brown taking it the final four yards for the score. The TD was set up by a 26-yard pass from Jensen to London McBride, who made a leaping grab at the 4.
However, Utah came back with a pair of field goals, a 46-yarder by Cletus Truhe and a 25-yarder by Ryan Kaneshiro in the fourth quarter to complete the scoring.
The contest marked the debut of Arslanian, who moved up the road from Weber State after last season. And Arslanian showed a bit of flair in his first game as coach.
The first Aggie offensive play was a bomb from Jensen to Aaron Jones that resulted in a pass interference call. The aggressive defense stopped the Utes behind the line of scrimmage several times and was responsible for the first points of the game, a safety Then there was the Aggies punting game. It turned out to be the best weapon the Aggies had in the first half as Jensen repeatedly "quick-kicked" to an empty field as the Utes didn't know whether to put a player deep in the 4th and short yardage situations. Jensen isn't the regular punter, but he would line up about seven yards behind the center like he was in the shotgun and then punt to a wide open field against the confused Utes.
There were questions about the Aggie offense going into the game and they proved to be true as they only gained 195 total yards against an experienced Ute defense. Brown finished with 108 yards on 22 carries, while Jensen, making his Division I debut, completed 11 of 25 passes for 99 yards.
The first Ute score was set up by a 49-yard run by Nick Morgan, a Ute backup so obscure he wasn't even in the Ute media guide. Three plays later, Anderson ran nine yards for a touchdown, bouncing off the line of scrimmage and sliding through a couple of missed tackles.
Utah State got on the scoreboard early in the second period after one of Jensen's punts went to the 2-yard line. On the next play, Craig Miller tackled Daniel Jones in the end zone for a safety after Tony D'Amato had burst through to pressure Darnell Arceneaux before he passed to Jones.
Utah went up 14-3 midway through the second quarter as Arceneuax scored on a pretty 20-yard scamper. The play was designed to go left, but seeing his way clogged up, he stopped, turned completely around and headed around the right side, never stopping until he made one of his trademark swan dives into the end zone.
Late in the half, the Aggies drove to the Ute 13-yard line, but on 4th and 1 opted for a field goal as Brad Bohn converted from 30 yards.
The Aggies will hit the road this week and play New Mexico Saturday night in Albuquerque, while Utah inaugurates its new stadium the same night against Louisville.