Utah State’s inaugural season in the Mountain West conference kicks off Thursday when the Aggies face rival Utah at Rice Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City at 6 p.m.
When the two squads met last season in Logan, the Aggies jumped out to an early lead and held on late in a 27-20 overtime win.
A year later, while personnel has changed on both sides, both teams have similar game plans.
For the Aggies, head coach Matt Wells has said USU’s top priority will be stopping the Utah run game on defense, and ball security on offense.
Sophomore quarterback Travis Wilson will lead the Utah offense, with Kelvin York getting the start at running back behind an offensive line which was plagued by injuries last season.
How the Aggies defense contains York and the running game will be one of the keys to the game for Utah State.
“We’re looking at all of them (running backs), but I heard he’s (York) the starter, so yeah we’re game-planning for him. We’re just going to do what we do,” said USU defensive end Connor Williams.
USU’s secondary will also look to contain Utah’s receiving core, led by Dres Anderson and Kenneth Scott. Despite having just three receptions in last season’s meeting, Scott accounted for both of the Utes’ touchdowns, one from each Jon Hayes and Wilson.
On offense, the Aggies found success with junior quarterback Chuckie Keeton, who passed for 216 yards and two touchdowns, and added 86 yards rushing.
But despite the win and statistical output, Keeton said Utah’s defense was difficult.
“That’s one thing about every season, the second game is always the hardest one,” Keeton said. “The first one, nobody knows what to expect, but everyone makes the most amount of adjustments going into the second game, so I think that was part of the reason why it was so tough for us to move the football”
Keeton added that the outcome of this year’s contest will weigh heavily on the season’s success.
“Having to play them the first game this year is not only good for our morale and our momentum, but it’s definitely going to give us a lot of pride and I think it’s going to carry us a little going into these next four games,” Keeton said.
This will be the 111th time the Utes and Aggies have met, something Coach Wells said makes the rivalry personal.
“It is a personal game. It’s an in-state rivalry, we’ve recruited quite a few of those kids and I know of lot of guys on the staff,” Well said. “I’ve known Kalani Sitake since our days at Tulsa and when he was at Southern Utah. We go way back. Anytime you coach with a guy, you have a special relationship. We know a lot of their staff.”
Kickoff between Utah State and Utah is set for 6 p.m.