Utah State, Boise State, and Colorado State are all tied for first place in the Mountain Division with sparkling 6-1 records. But the Aggies must rely on a loss by Colorado State tomorrow to remain hopeful of taking the division. Don't feel too sorry for Utah State if the Rams win; Utah State's nine wins are already tied with the 1960, 1961 and 2013 teams for second-most in school history.
Saturday's matchup in Albertsons Stadium is the classic battle between a great offense and a great defense. Boise State leads the Mountain West in offense, while the Aggies are the best defense in the conference. Boise State leads the all-time series 14-4, including a 7-2 record in Boise. The last time Utah State won in Boise was the Broncos' first year in major college football, when the Aggies prevailed 39-14.
The number "20" seems to be a key figure in this game. Utah State is 9-0 when scoring 20 or more points, and they are 6-1 when the vaunted Aggie defense allows less than 20 points.
If the Bronco defense wants to learn how to play great defense, they need to do nothing more than marvel at Utah State Saturday. Utah State averages 8.4 tackles for loss a game--that's fourth in the country.
Zach Vigil (133 tackles, 18.5 for loss, and 8 sacks) and Nick Vigil (103 tackles, 14 for loss, and 6 sacks) have been a two-man wrecking machine at linebacker for Utah State. Zach, the senior, is eighth in the nation in tackles and ninth in the nation in tackles for loss. He has 41.5 tackles for loss in his career, and needs 1.5 more to tie the Utah State school record. Zach was recently named as one of ten semifinalists for the Burlsworth Trophy, given annually to the nation's top college football player who began his career as a walk-on.
And the Vigil brothers are at the top of their game--they combined for 24 tackles last week against San Jose State in the first half and finished with 31. B.J. Larsen leads his unit in sacks with eight.
Safety Frankie Sutera also leads the MWC with seven interceptions, helping Utah State rank fifth in the country with a team total of 18. Sutera's seven picks are second in the history of the Mountain West Conference.
Led by the Vigils, the USU defense has forced 28 turnovers in the last 11 games (tied for fifth in the nation), and the Aggies have scored four defensive touchdowns this season, tied for seventh in the nation. Utah State leads the Mountain West with its 18.3 points a game allowed and is allowing 351 yards a game.
While the Aggie defense gets all the attention, don't be fooled--the USU offense possesses its share of stars. To be fair, the offense has had its problems, mostly because of injuries. USU is now on their fourth quarterback, but freshman Kent Myers has helped put together a nice five-game winning streak since stepping in at the position against UNLV. Myers is 58-79 (73.4%) for 639 yards and five touchdowns this season.
Another freshman, LaJuan Hunt, has amassed 466 rushing yards on 103 carries, while JoJo Natson ran for 124 yards last week against the Spartans. Establishing a running attack is critical to the Aggies' success; they have won 17 games in a row when a back goes over the 100-yard mark.
Natson is a dual threat at both running and receiving, and he is the only player in the country to score multiple touchdowns rushing, receiving and returning (with three rushing touchdowns, two receiving TD's, and two punt returns for touchdowns). Natson has taken it to the house with four career punt returns for touchdown, tied for the Utah State school record, and tied with Utah's Steve Smith (1999-2000) for the Mountain West record.
Junior Hunter Sharp is having a nice season, getting 61 receptions for 898 yards and seven scores this season. Sharp leads the nation with four touchdown receptions of 70 or more yards.
Youth on the offensive line is a theme for both Boise State and Utah State; the Aggies lost five lineman who started at least five games last season.
The Aggies are averaging 28.1 points and 390.7 yards, with an impressive 177.8 yards per game running the football.
Utah Sate has lost a total of nine starters to season-ending injuries: QB Chuckie Keeton, Craig Harrison, and Darell Garretson, receivers Shaan Johnson and Brandon Swindall, and linebackers Tavaris McMillian, Kyler Fackrell, Alex Huerta, and L.T. Filiaga.
Placekicker Nick Diaz has nailed eight straight field goal attempts. Diaz is the school record holder with 131 career extra points, is second all-time with a field goal percentage of 77.6% (34-45), and ranks fifth in career scoring with 245 points.
For Boise State, Grant Hedrick is second in the nation in completion percentage (71.3%), throwing for 3,041 yards and 20 touchdowns. Jay Ajayi has been on a roll at running back with six consecutive 100-yard games with multiple touchdowns in each (14 total). Ajayi leads the Mountain West with 19 rushing touchdowns.
Kickoff for the showdown is Saturday night at 8:15. Field seats are still available.