PROVO — Early in his coaching career, BYU defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki spent three seasons at Utah State.
Tuiaki coached the running backs and special teams in Logan from 2009-2011 under then-coach Gary Andersen. During that time he coached a pair of running backs who ended up being selected in the NFL draft — Robert Turbin and Michael Smith.
And, during that time, Tuiaki helped the Aggies defeat the Cougars, 31-16, in 2010, breaking a 17-year losing streak to BYU, “which was a big deal,” Tuiaki recalled this week.
Now, Tuiaki is hoping to help the Cougars end this season’s three-game losing streak when BYU visits USU Friday (6 p.m., MDT, CBSSN).
Tuiaki is looking forward to his return to Logan.
“Cache Valley is full of both (BYU and Utah State) fans. It’s a big game not only for that valley but the players. There’s a lot of in-state kids on both teams that know each other. It’s definitely going to be a big game for both of us,” he said. “I had a great time there. I have a lot of friends and recruited a lot of kids. It’s a special place to me. One of my sons was born there. I loved it there … It was fun going through the building process with Gary Andersen. I love Utah State. I love Logan.”
While Tuiaki currently coaches at BYU, three former Cougars, Quin Ficklin, Roman Andrus and Dallin Leavitt, now play for the Aggies.
“There’s a lot of connections between our program and Utah State. I personally know a lot of coaches on that staff, too,” said BYU coach Kalani Sitake. “Our coaches have great relationships with a lot of those guys.”
Friday’s game marks the 87th meeting between the two teams, with the winner taking possession of “The Old Wagon Wheel.”
While the Cougars have won 28 of the past 32 meetings, there have been plenty of intense, hard-fought battles between the two programs.
BYU offensive coordinator Ty Detmer remembers a bench-clearing brawl in Logan in 1989 when he was a sophomore quarterback for the Cougars.
“That’s one memory,” Detmer said this week. “They always played us hard. They always took their shots on you and it was always a spirited game. Being in it last year, that hasn’t changed. It’s an in-state rival and they’re always ready for you.”
This week, Tuiaki talked to his players about USU's program. And those who have played against the Aggies know what they’re up against Friday.
“They’re very tough and gritty. They’ll play with a chip on their shoulder and we expect that,” said linebacker Butch Pau’u. “When we went up there two years ago with coach (Bronco) Mendenhall, they were ruthless and they were trying to get after us all four quarters. They weren’t going to go down without a fight. That’s what we’re expecting this week. We know it’s going to be a very hostile crowd. We’re excited for the challenge.”
Do current BYU players regard Utah State as a rival?
“Oh, yeah. I think Utah State is a rivalry. Any in-state game is fun,” said punter Jonny Linehan. “Utah State’s definitely a rival for us. They’re a good team. They had a really good win over the weekend. I was impressed. … We’re not going to take it soft.”
While the Cougars have struggled over their first four games of the year, the Aggies are coming off a 61-10 victory at San Jose State.2 comments on this story
“They feel like they can play with anyone. So do we,” Pau’u said. “They’re 2-2 and they just put up 60 points against San Jose State. It’s not a team we think we can walk over. We definitely don’t think that. We’re excited to play our game and see our best come out and come out with a victory.”
BYU knows the USU crowd will be fired up Friday night at Maverick Stadium.
“It’s a tough place to play. They get really excited when we go up there,” Sitake said. “I always enjoyed that game. I think our players are looking forward to going up there and finding a way to get back on track and do what we know we can do.”
at Utah State (2-2)
Friday, 6 p.m. MDT Maverick Stadium
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM