Confidence. To a man, that's what the Utah State football players were talking about after their 34-23 upset victory over Cal State-Fullerton Saturday.
Following big losses to the likes of nationally ranked USC and Illinois, the Aggie confidence level was about as low as it could get. But early in their opening Big West Conference game the Aggies found some confidence, and it helped propel them to victory.Sophomore quarterback Kirk Johnson, who had struggled in earlier games, seemed to improve dramatically right in front of the 10,567 fans at Romney Stadium. He finished with just under 300 yards passing as he completed 16 of 20 second-half attempts.
"We got some confidence last week against BYU when we played pretty good, although not very good. Then after completing a few passes today, we got a lot more confidence and carried on from there," said Johnson.
Wide receiver Rod Moore, who caught seven passes including one for a touchdown, said, "We started off early and when the quarterback got the ball to us, it got our confidence going."
The USU defense looked much better, holding a Fullerton team that had scored 75 points the previous two weeks to just three touchdowns, despite 510 yards. One of the top Aggie defensive players was outside linebacker Tom Hansen, who had nine tackles, three for a loss, along with a fumble recovery.
"We've always believed in ourselves as a defense, but we didn't prove that in our first four games," said Hansen. "Today we started getting our confidence back on the first couple of series and showed what we can do."
Some Utah State players credited the victory to the strong non-conference schedule.
"Our tough non-league schedule made us better," said Patrick Newman, who came up with eight receptions for 107 yards.
"It was very important for us to start off our conference season with a win," said tight end Ryan Duve, who had six catches for 65 yards.
The Ags came out of the game in good shape. Defensive back Greg Haynes, who left the game after getting a stinger in his neck, is expected to play this week. Linebacker Del Lyles, who twisted the same ankle he sprained earlier in the season, should be all right for this week's game.
Now the Aggies, with their newfound confidence, will face unbeaten Fresno State Saturday at Romney Stadium. With only one other unbeaten team in the Big West (San Jose State), the winner of Saturday's contest will be alone at the top of the league standings and have an inside track on the California Bowl berth.