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LOGAN — With two rosters full of Utah natives and the only in-state rivalry game between FBS schools in 2014, no one at BYU or Utah State is backing down from talking about their excitement for Friday’s game in Provo.
That includes Aggie head coach Matt Wells, who has faced this regular series as a player, an assistant and a head coach.
“This is our only in-state rivalry game this year,” Wells said at his weekly press conference Monday. “It will be an emotional game, especially for our in-state kids. We have a lot of kids on our team from the state of Utah. It’s on a national television stage that I think we’ll all be excited to play on.
“The grind is officially here.”
Friday night’s game, which will be broadcast on ESPN at 8:15 p.m. MDT, is “a big game” for senior linebacker Zach Vigil, a Clearfield High graduate. Vigil leads the No. 4 run defense in the country against two potential 1,000-yard rushers in BYU’s Taysom Hill and Jamaal Williams.
We're excited about playing BYU and I promise you our players are, too. They're excited about playing us? Cool. You've got a team that's undefeated and deservedly in the playoff talks. They're going to have to beat Utah State to do that. Our kids are excited and I don't have any reason to doubt they will be. It will be a great atmosphere. LaVell Edwards Stadium will be loud and with a national TV audience. It will be fun. It's a great opportunity for us.
–Utah State coach Matt Wells
“BYU’s obviously very talented this year,” Vigil said. “They’re rolling. For us, we need to pick up and start playing Aggie football again. From the defensive standpoint, we need to play at a really high level on Friday night if we’re going to give ourselves an opportunity to win this game. I think we can win this game. We just have to fly around, make plays and play at an elite level of defense that I know we’re capable of. We’ve shown glimpses of it, but we have to execute at an even higher level.”
Utah State senior offensive tackle Kevin Whimpey grew up in Highland, a short drive from BYU’s Provo campus in Utah County. He’s seen the rivalry between the Cougars and Aggies from both sides, as a high school student at Lone Peak and as an Aggie since transferring from Idaho State.
The veteran knows the talent he’ll face in BYU’s defense, specifically pointing to names like Craig Bills, Remington Peck, Bronson Kaufusi and Alani Fua as players against which his line will need to protect the quarterback — be it regular starter Chuckie Keeton or substitute Darell Garretson.
“The last time we beat them was before I got here, so I’m looking for my first win, and what better place for it to come than down in Provo,” Whimpey said. “It’s really important for us, and probably for the coaches for in-state recruiting, but for us for bragging rights. We know a lot of guys on the team, they know us, so it makes it kind of fun. It makes the game a little bit more personal.”
Wells said the coaching and medical staff hope to make a decision about a starting quarterback after evaluating Keeton in practice early this week. The senior signal caller and dark-horse Heisman candidate missed the Aggies’ clash at Arkansas State after hurting his recently repaired knee in the first half of the Wake Forest game.
The intrigue only adds to the excitement for the game, with an undefeated BYU and a Utah State team vying for a Mountain West title.
“We’re excited about playing BYU and I promise you our players are, too. They’re excited about playing us? Cool,” Wells said. “You’ve got a team that’s undefeated and deservedly in the playoff talks. They’re going to have to beat Utah State to do that. Our kids are excited and I don’t have any reason to doubt they will be. It will be a great atmosphere. LaVell Edwards Stadium will be loud and with a national TV audience. It will be fun. It’s a great opportunity for us.”