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LOGAN, Utah — Utah State and BYU will meet for the 81st time in Provo this weekend in a rivalry game that awards the winner The Old Wagon Wheel trophy. After a win last week against Central Florida, the Cougars look to continue winning while the Aggies look to rebound from a tough loss in double overtime to Colorado State.
Head coach Gary Andersen, who is in his third season in Logan, appears to have the Aggies headed in the right direction.
“We’ve made progress in many areas, but the main area that matters is wins and losses. We’ve lost two very difficult games. It’s very hard for every fan, for every player, for every coach and for every alum,” Andersen said. “I get all that stuff. It’s not the way we want it to be and it hurts us bad, all of us, because we do have expectations.”
Andersen met with the media earlier this week. Here's a brief summary of his comments:
On the Colorado State loss last weekend:
“Obviously, the Colorado State game was a tremendous atmosphere number one. The fans were fantastic. (It was) a hard-fought football game just like we talked about all week long. You know exactly what you are going to get when you play Colorado State, and it was a very, very difficult, tough loss at the end for us to deal with. When you look back at our football team, there's a lot of things that we talked about getting better at in the first of the year, and we are doing that in a lot of areas.”
On how the Aggies will respond:
“These kids will bounce back. We came back last night and talked about the game and evaluated the game. We moved on to BYU. A lot to learn from a positive way and a lot to learn from a negative way. We will respond. This football team is very excited to play, and it’s a young season. We lost round four. We took a very, very hard defeat and fought like crazy, but this team will bounce back and do some quality things, I believe.”
On the short week:
“We are used to these weeks. The short period has already been made up by the coaches. The short period has already been made up by the players. Right now, we are on normal schedule, so that is how we are acting as a program right now.”
On the call to go for the two-point conversion:
“The two points, I would do it again in a second. Especially with the way it worked out with the PI. We’re on the one-and-a-half yard line for one play, I like our chances to go and win a football game. It didn’t happen for us, but I am going to be aggressive. I believe that is how you build a team to believe that they can win. I sat in that huddle and I looked into the offenses’ eyes and saw the belief, the want... To go for that thing in that situation is ultimately 100 percent my call. It was the wrong call in that time and that moment, but if we gain two yards we are looking at a different scenario, and that didn’t take place. It didn’t happen and I will remain aggressive as a coach as we continue to try and build a team that is a winner.”
On the criticism leveled at his team and the staff:
“One other thing that I would say is, this program at this point deserves to have some expectations. And with expectations comes criticisim. If the critiscim comes, that is fine on me. But what I struggle with is when the critiscim goes to a young man. I don’t think that is fair in any way shape or form. Not one play wins or loses a football game. Never. And it never will. (Criticism is) very difficult for a young man, and I'll throw it out there: I am talking about Eric Moats, who might be the best ambassador that we have on this football program for Utah State, for Cache Valley and for everybody involved. For situations to arise for him to have to take that, it hurts him to have to make that mistake worse than it hurts any of us. Trust me. That’s basically a hometown rival of his, a school he grew up watching and he had a chance to participate in a victory over them. That is very tough for Eric. All the other stuff is fine and it is what it is, but I don’t agree with the verbal attacks on Eric Moats. It’s unfair.”
On initial impressions of BYU’s offense:
"I think that they are in a position of understanding who they are. Let me first say this: Texas is really good on defense, Utah is really good on defense. Ole Miss is a very good defensive football team. I don’t know how they have played, I have only watched them play once. The Central Florida team is really good on defense. I’ve watched those kids play for a couple, three years; usually (I) get to see them on Thursday nights. BYU’s played very good defenses when you stack them all up. They’re all very athletic, run very well and are very skilled in the backfield. So, that has the most to do with (any struggles).”
On Jake Heaps:
“If you look at the way the offense is being called and where it sits, have there been missed throws and missed opportunities? Absolutely, but (Heaps) as a whole, if I sit down and evaluate him, he’s unbelievably talented. The ball gets out of his hand extremely quick. Seems to be having a better grasp last game, in my opinion, of the overall offense and what they’re trying to get done than he did in the previous games. He’s a competitor and he’s a tough-minded kid. He’s faced some adversity in the last few weeks, a lot of adversity I’m sure. I’ve listened to him talk and he always talks team first instead of about himself, and talks about getting better.”
On the rest of the offensive personnel:
“The running backs are the same guys we faced a year ago. They run hard, they catch the ball very well out of the backfield. The receivers are skilled and talented and tall. Their ability to make plays is something that I know they’re going to look to. It’s a solid offense and we will have to play very well to defend them, and we’re looking forward to the opportunity.”
On the defense:
“They are very active and they’re so big inside. I’ve talked to the people that they’ve played and you’re not going to move the A and B gaps. Those kids are big, physical young men. I’ve watched most of them on tape in high school at some point. I know about them and who they are. They’re the type of kids that I like. They’re big, physical and going to knock out that run. You need to understand what your strengths and weaknesses are and the same for your opponent. One of their strengths is, obviously, stopping the run with that defense. Nobody has moved them. Utah got that one nice run play for the big score late in the game but it’s not like (the defense) is getting run on. They’re powerful inside and they run well at the back, too.”
Landon Walters is a history and political science major currently studying at Salt Lake Community College and is an avid sports fan. He can be reached at email@example.com.