Rivalry games definitely have a little extra magic to them. They’re a lot of fun, really, really cool. —Defensive end Connor Williams
LOGAN — For quite some time, the "Battle of the Brothers” between Utah and Utah State felt more like an older brother picking on the younger brother. Before last season’s overtime thriller, USU had not defeated Utah since 1997. This year the game has a different feel. With the Aggies collecting a victory last year, the two schools feel more like real rivals for the first time since the late ’90s.
“Rivalry games definitely have a little extra magic to them,” defensive end Connor Williams said. “They’re a lot of fun, really, really cool. It’s definitely great, and I’m really excited to do it.”
The game has extra meaning for Williams and his family. His uncle, Brian Wise, played at Utah, but Williams expects him to be in his corner, at least for the night.
“He’ll be in blue,” Williams said. “His teammates will be giving him a hard time, but he’ll be in blue. I think after I leave, though, he’ll go back to red.”
The two schools share quite a bit of combined history as well. Utah and Utah State are meeting for the 111th time, the 12th oldest rivalry in FBS college football. Besides the ancient history, there are plenty of recent shared relationships, especially at the coaching level.
“I've known Kalani Sitake since our days at Tulsa and when he was at Southern Utah. We go way back,” said head coach Matt Wells. “Anytime you coach with a guy, you have a special relationship. We know a lot of their staff. Kevin Clune has been down there on their staff, and they have guys who have been on our staff before.”
— Linebacker Zach Vigil had the game-changing play in last year’s USU-Utah game when he blocked a Ute punt in the first quarter that was recovered in the end zone to give the Aggies a 7-0 lead. Vigil won’t see as much time on special teams this season, but still expects his defense to be able to make a big play to help the Aggies again this season.
“That was when opportunity meets preparation,” Vigil said of his punt block. “Coaches put me in position to make a play. Hopefully, someone will be in the right place at the right time this year to make another big play.”
— Every college football team in the nation has plenty of bumps and bruises to report following training camp, but Utah State came out of two-a-days pretty much intact.
“It was a really good training camp. Especially from a health standpoint, we didn't have any season-ending injuries,” said Wells.
With no major injuries to report, the Aggies' two-deep roster has stayed relatively static from the start of camp at the beginning of August. At cornerback, Tay Glover-Wright won the job starting opposite of Nevin Lawson, with Rashard Stewart coming in as the primary backup and nickelback. Nick Diaz is expected to handle kicking duties on opening night. Travis Van Leeuwen, Travis Reynolds and Bruce ‘JoJo’ Natson all retained their positions as starting wide receiver. At running back, Joe Hill will get the starting nod, but Wells expects to use at least three backs to keep legs fresh, with Joey DeMartino and Robert Marshall looking to be the primary backups.
Kraig Williams is a 2010 Utah State University graduate and regular Deseret News sports blogger. He can be followed on Twitter @DesNewsKraig.