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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah struggled mightily to slow down Utah State's up-tempo offense in the previous matchup between the two teams in 2013.
The Utes did have Andy Philips, however, and on his debut the kicker converted each of his three field-goal attempts — all in the second half — kicked a near-perfect onside kick that Utah recovered while the Aggies still had the lead, and put all three of his extra points through the uprights.
Phillips was ultimately the difference maker in the Utes' 30-26 win, which featured superb performances by both Travis Wilson and Chuckie Keeton.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham didn't mince words praising Keeton after the then-junior racked up 314 yards in the air, 85 yards on the ground and three total touchdowns.
"If he was on a high-profile team, I think he'd be a Heisman candidate — that's how much I think of him," Whittingham said of Keeton following the contest.
Utah State was left to rue what could have been after taking a three-point lead into halftime and extending its advantage to nine after a 75-yard touchdown drive to open the third quarter. The Aggies' defense played well for the majority of the first half and part of the third quarter, sacking Wilson three times, but the amount of time it spent on the field after halftime coupled with seven Utah State penalties for 94 yards helped Utah seize control.
Aggies coach Matt Wells will surely want to get similar pressure on Wilson Friday, but Utah State has plenty to clean up from its sloppy 12-9 season-opening win over Southern Utah.
It wasn't pretty. I'm not going to try to put lipstick on a pig. There are a lot of things to correct, but a win's a win.
"It wasn't pretty," Wells said in last week's postgame press conference. "I'm not going to try to put lipstick on a pig. There are a lot of things to correct, but a win's a win."
Keeton looked rusty in his first start back since the second knee injury of his career in Logan caused him to miss 11 games a season ago, but the Aggies' offensive line will have to afford him more time to operate if he's going to approach anything close to his outstanding effort his last time at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
The Utah State front five's play will go a long way in determining the outcome. The running game finished with 158 yards on 35 carries versus Southern Utah, but 39 of those yards came on one Devante Mays run. Of course, a lack of production doesn't fall squarely on the offensive line. Still, Utah's front seven appears to be much improved from the previous matchup and won't likely be caught on its heels as frequently, even if the Aggies replicate their persistent pace on offense.
And while Utah State was stout defensively in its opener, holding Southern Utah to just 163 yards of offense, the secondary will have to be even better to contain Wilson, who looked dialed in from the get-go in the Utah win over Michigan.
The Aggies' official athletic site lists senior defensive back Bryant Hayes as the team's "most dynamic corner in space," but Utah State will again be without him, wide receiver Hunter Sharp and offensive lineman Tyshon Mosley as they serve the second of their two-game suspensions.
Kyle Spencer is a freelance journalist residing in Orem, Utah. You can find him on Twitter @kyledspencer or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.