Utes and Aggies continue in-state rivalry

By Chris Kamrani, Asst. Sports Editor

The last time Utah State beat the Utes, a gallon of gas cost $1.22 and quarterback Brian Johnson was 10 years old.

The year was 1997.

Leonardo DiCaprio and his ship, the Titanic, sank into the hearts of many. Jazz fans saw Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls emerge victorious in six games. Bill Clinton was elected to serve a second term as the president of the United States, and Mike Tyson went ape on Evander Holyfield’s ear.

You get the picture of how long it’s been.

On Aug. 30, 1997, the Utes fell to the Aggies in the season opener at home, 21-14. Head coach Ron McBride was still at the helm, and Ute fans surely recall the glory days of Chris Fuamatu Ma’afala and Juan Johnson punishing opposing defenses. U standout and future NFL wideout Kevin Dyson was the star of the team that eventually went 6-5 that year.

It’s safe to say things have changed for the Utah football program since then.

Since 2001, Utah is 7-0 in bowls. The Utes rolled onto the national stage in 2004 with Urban Meyer when they busted the BCS with their Fiesta Bowl win.

For the Aggies, things have headed in the opposite direction. To put it mildly, the Aggies have fallen on harsh times. So harsh that the program has won a total of 12 games since the 2003 season.

With this being the 12th oldest rivalry in the country at 107 games, the in-state rivalry has seen its share of years, dating back to Utah’s first-ever football game in 18928212;a game in which the Utes fell to the Aggies 12-0.

“We usually get Utah State’s best shot,” head coach Kyle Whittingham said. “Historically, they’ve played us tough, specifically up there at their place. It’s a pretty boisterous crowd that they have up there.”

The No. 22 Utes are coming off a 2-0 start for the first time since the undefeated 2004 season. After opening up the season with an important road victory in the Big House against Michigan and enacting vengeance upon last year’s embarrassing loss to UNLV, many have questioned the Utes’ ability to keep focused and stay on the right track.

“Last year, we noticed we had the mental shutdown against UNLV,” safety Robert Johnson said. “We’re taking every team as (if) they’re Michigan. Every team is targeting us and right now we’re just going to focus on Utah State.”

The Utes could indeed have a huge target on their backs now that they have made their return to the Top-25 polls. Although the annual Utah State game isn’t an MWC showdown, it is a necessity for the Utes to come flying out of the gates.

“I expect (Utah State) to be scrappy,” linebacker Stevenson Sylvester said. “I expect them to try a little extracurricular stuff. We gotta stay disciplined and stay sound.”

During practice this week, the defensive line was the most talked-about issue for Utah, but now that they’ve settled that dilemma, the Utes will be looking to head to Romney Stadium with a full head of steam.

The U offense will look to take advantage of a beaten Aggie defense that gave up an astounding 688 yards last week to Oregon8212;408 being accumulated on the ground. The Utes have yet to have a 100-yard rusher this season, and the tandem tailbacks of Matt Asiata and Darrell Mack should be looking to blow the game open for the Utes, using their brute size and open-field toughness to wear down the Aggies.

“I’m just ready to go,” Asiata said in reference to Saturday’s game. “Just ready to contribute and play every snap. We’re just going to prepare the same way we did the last two weeks.”

While Mack was a 1,000-yard rusher last season, he feels glad he can share some snaps with someone of the likes of Asiata.

“It’s just nice to split carries,” Mack said. “It’s nice to have two guys doing their own thing.”

The Utah State offense can present problems for the Utes, as the U defense had a problem chasing down UNLV’s mobile quarterback Omar Clayton. It will undoubtedly have the same problem chasing down Aggie quarterback Diondre Borel.

“It used to be that we played an athletic quarterback two to three times a year,” Whittingham said. “Now, every week we are facing a guy who can run the football well. The run game and the option game are our main concern from an offensive standpoint.”

This will be the U’s last trip to Logan until 2012. Utah and Utah State agreed to shelve the annual series until the 2010-2011 season because the Utes will be making their first-ever trip to South Bend, Ind., in 2010 to face off against Notre Dame.

It has been 11 years since the Utes last suffered defeat at the hands of the Aggies, and, despite an impressive and motivating start to the season, the Utes will need to show up to play Saturday at Romney Stadium.

“I hope not,” Whittingham said in regard to a possible letdown in Logan. “This team, based on last week, is able to focus on the task at hand and not get bothered by the external things.”

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Tyler Cobb

Darrell Mack rushed for a (then) career-high 132 years to lead Utah to a snowy 34-18 win over Utah State last year.