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For a lot of BYU fans, looking forward to Friday night's home game against Utah State can be summed up in one word: finally. Finally a formidable opponent on Cougar turf — finally a good game.
Coming off a 47-0 shutout over Hawaii, a game filled with encouraging performances from both the offense and the defense, the Cougars are finally starting to come together as a team.
- Utah State (4-1, 0-0) at BYU (3-2)
- Date/Time: Friday, Oct. 5, 2012 8:15 p.m. MT
- Site: LaVell Edwards Stadium
- TV: ESPN
- Radio: KSL Newsradio 102.7 FM 1160 AM
- Series Record: BYU leads 44-34-3
- Last Meeting: BYU won 27-24, 9/30/11
- Kickoff Weather: Breezy, temps in the mid-50s
But the question still remains: Which starting quarterback will open up against the Aggies?
Starting quarterback Riley Nelson is still on the mend, with freshman, second stringer Taysom Hill getting plenty of reps in practice.
"So much of it is based on how (Riley) feels and his pain tolerance, which I know is really high," said head coach Bronco Mendenhall. "He wants to play desperately in this game, but he's also realistic, so it's hard to predict. I'm just following the very similar format to last week other than chances are even more likely that he'll play than last week."
Oddly enough, BYU's current situation isn't all that different from last year's game against Utah State, namely the quarterback confusion. Last year, fans watched as Jake Heaps threw mistake after mistake, only to have the clouds clear as now-starting quarterback Nelson took the stage, pulling a 27-24 win out from under the Aggies' feet.
But this year, Utah State has been dubbed one of the best teams in the state of Utah, as they've beaten Utah and Colorado State, as well as an almost-victory over Wisconsin.
To BYU, USU is just another quality opponent on a big stage. For Nelson, though, things are a bit more personal.
"I grew up with an Aggie perspective, then came down here where BYU didn't pay much attention to the Aggies," Nelson, a Logan native, said. "It was a rivalry for (USU), come down here and find out that it wasn't so much for (BYU). If anything, the Aggies have caused the Cougars to perk up and pay attention. Expect a dog fight, and if we don't play our best game, we're going to get beat."
Luckily, BYU has a huge asset: the Cougar defense, or the "Zion Curtain."
In this week's release of defensive ratings, BYU, who just finished holding its 11th-straight opponent to under 300 yards of offense, has grabbed hold of the No. 3 slot, just behind Alabama and Oregon.
Diving a little deeper into the defensive statistics, Brett Hein did some math in his article, writing, "BYU's defense holds its opponents to 142 yards less and over 15 points less than what those teams average against the rest of their schedule."
Despite the gift-wrapped defense, Mendenhall and his crew have yet to redeem themselves after their two away-game losses. Luckily, Utah State is worthy enough that if they're beaten, BYU's redemption will be (mostly) complete.
And Mendenhall knows that.
"One of the most difficult (teams we've faced)," Mendenhall said. "I like the way they're playing defensively. I saw them in a crossover game before we played Utah, so I saw their defense and was able to study it pretty closely and I think they're doing a nice job. Offensively, a lot of weapons and spreading the field. Obviously a mobile quarterback, a good running back, nice receivers, a good scheme and solid on special teams. So hard to say until you play someone, but at least at first glance, I'm impressed."
Nelson echoed Mendenhall's thoughts, and emphasized his wishes to play this weekend.
"(I want to play) extremely bad, but mostly because it's a quality opponent on a big stage, and that's what you look for," Nelson said. "I respect Utah State and their program and it shows that they're ... one missed field goal away from being 5-0. Those are the opportunities you look for. I want to do all I can to play, and I will do that, working with our medical staff and prepare myself and leave the decision up to the coaches."
In his BYU-USU game preview, featured columnist Samuel Benson pegged this weekend's game as a turning point for each team, as BYU will move on to face some big teams very soon, while the rest of Utah State's schedule is a cupcake sale.
"Both Utah State and BYU are trying to prove that they are the best team in the state. Also, a win for either will mean either a national ranking or some votes in a poll," Benson wrote. "The Cougars will try to show that they are superior to USU, and that the so-called 'rivalry' is not one. The Aggies are trying to make a splash on the national stage, and this could be their last chance, as the rest of their schedule should be a cakewalk."