LOGAN — Oh, all right.
If he wants to get all picky about it.
Utah State coach Gary Andersen has repeatedly said, since becoming the Aggies’ coach, that it isn’t a rivalry until it’s competitive.
In that case, break out the face paint.
Even as the Utah State-Utah series wavered due to scheduling hang-ups, the Aggies scored a shot in favor of continuation with a 27-20 overtime win over the Utes, Friday at Romney Stadium. Just when it seemed Utah and BYU might leave Utah State all by its lonesome, the Aggies started giving both programs a reality check. USU isn’t going to concede instate bragging rights just yet.
The win made the Aggies 2-3 in instate games since Andersen left Utah to become head coach at Utah State four seasons ago. Competitive? Yes, the Aggies have been that lately: An overtime win this year against Utah, a last-second loss at BYU last year, and a win over the Cougars in 2010 says a lot.
There’s no dodging the fact the Aggies are a different program in a different place than they were under previous coach Brent Guy. With admission into the Mountain West Conference ahead, a bowl game right behind them, and a win over a Pac-12 team, things haven’t looked this good in Logan in awhile, maybe even since the good old days. School officials commemorated those days with a halftime salute to recent USU Hall of Fame inductees, including Eric Hipple and James Murphy, who starred on some imposing Aggie teams in the late 1970s and early ’80s.
“We’ve seen signs every year that Gary (Andersen) has been the coach that we’re moving forward,” said athletics director Scott Barnes. “To have a day like this — and oh, by the way, it happens to be on national TV — it’s a signature win, a win that can change programs.”
Speaking of changing programs, that hasn’t happened lately for the Utes. Last year they struggled through early problems to win five of their last six games behind backup quarterback Jon Hays. Fast forward to 2012 and it looks dangerously like the same Utes as last year. Starting quarterback Jordan Wynn was ineffective on Friday, passing for just 47 yards before a hard hit sidelined him with an injured shoulder.
That leaves them again with Hays to run the team, thanks to an injury. They might even be better off that way.
Isn’t this where they left off? Hays brought Utah back to tie the score late in the fourth quarter on a 24-yard pass, and even came close to knotting it again in overtime with a strike to Jake Murphy. But the play was negated on an interference call and the Utes couldn’t repeat.
“We’ve got a long day tomorrow,” Hays said.
It wasn’t just that Friday’s game might have been the last in Logan for the 110-game series. It was that the game actually seemed to have some prior intrigue. That hasn’t been the case since the Van Buren administration. Every year there’s the usual rhetoric about rivalries and coaching crossover, but truth is, the game has usually been as suspenseful as a trip to the cheese factory.
But Andersen, a former defensive coordinator at Utah, knew all that. Only once in 12 games did his teams at Utah lose to the Aggies. Competitive wasn’t the word for it. Gruesome was. Utah won by such lopsided scores as 38-18, 35-14, 23-3, 40-20, 48-6, 31-7, 48-0 and 58-10.
By comparison, USU’s 35-17 loss to Utah in 2009 was practically a suspense novel.
While it’s true USU has occasionally had better teams than Utah, it hasn’t often happened. Last time USU won two straight was in 1996-97. Last time it won three in a row was 1974-76. That three-year streak was the longest Aggie run in series history. Even during Utah’s lackluster 1980s years, Utah was winning nearly all the games.
Meanwhile, the Utes entered Friday’s contest with their longest win streak of the series, 12 games. But there were others, including one eight-game streak (1988-95) and two seven-game runs (1928-34 and 1947-53). Truth is, USU has usually been third in the state, behind Utah and BYU. Andersen says that is changing; that there are now instate recruits arriving that have USU at the top of their lists, not the bottom.
His hope on Friday was that the Aggies might borrow a phrase from noted football expert Mike Tyson: their style would be impetuous, their defense impregnable.
They weren’t far off
Close enough that the old rivalries suddenly seemed relevant again.
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