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AGS GEAR UP FOR COUGARS

SHARE AGS GEAR UP FOR COUGARS

Unless the real Aggies show up for today's BYU-Utah State game, this game may be entertaining only to fans of Cougar blowouts.

This was supposed to be a good Utah State team, with 18 returning starters from last season's 5-5-1 squad. All the key skill guys - QB Ron Lopez, wide receivers Tracey Jenkins and Rod Moore, and running backs Roger Grant and Floyd Foreman - were back, along with four-fifths of the offensive line. They were supposed to contend for the Big West Conference title.Now, at 0-4 and facing the 1-3 - but improving - Cougars at 7 p.m. in Cougar Stadium, they'll be hard-pressed to equal last season's record.

So what happened? It may be a case of a too-tough schedule just wearing them down. The Ags opened at Utah, losing a 12-7 heartbreaker. Then it was the annual pilgrimages to the Midwest to be sacrificial lambs for Oklahoma and Nebraska, trips that earn the program a lot of money but are probably getting a little old for the players.

The real blow, however, came last week when the Aggies - who by their own admission were "overconfident" - got knocked off in Logan by Big West rival San Jose State.

So who can be expected to show up today, the sacrificial lambs, the overconfident victims, or the team that played Utah tough?

BYU's coaches think it will be the latter. "We're playing an awfully good football team that's still hungry for that first win," said BYU assistant coach Claude Bassett. "That makes them dangerous."

Coaches, of course, genuinely believe they can be beaten any day, by any team, under the right circumstances.

"Against San Jose State (which beat USU last Saturday), it didn't look like the Aggies played as hard as they have been," BYU coach LaVell Edwards said. "I'm sure that will be rectified Friday night."

If nothing else, the Cougar staff expects this game to be a physical affair. "The sparks do fly in the BYU-Utah State games," said Edwards. "They are hard-hitting."

Last year's game, a 45-10 BYU victory, was more sloppy than hard-hitting, however. BYU quarterback Ty Detmer tossed five interceptions and lost a fumble, but Utah State QB Ron Lopez reciprocated with five interceptions of his own, and USU's Roger Grant lost a fumble. That evened out the turnover situation and gave BYU enough possessions that Detmer was able to throw for 560 yards as BYU amassed 732 yards total offense.

The Aggies weren't able to establish a running game against BYU last season, which may be why Edwards expects them to come out passing this year. It's something the Aggies have had to do a lot this season, since they have been playing catch-up most of the time.

Some say the emotions of an in-state rivalry tend to be the great equalizer in these games, but lately that just hasn't been the case. For one thing, several BYU players have said this series has become just an annual nonconference encounter to them, and chances are Utah State players would say the same thing.

The fact is, the Cougars have beaten the Aggies eight years in a row, usually by lopsided scores. In USU coach Chuck Shelton's five-year reign, BYU has outscored the Aggies 217-47. And Utah State hasn't won in Provo since 1978.

If they expect to change that trend today, the real Aggie team is going to have to show up.

GAME NOTES: Edwards continues to make depth chart changes on offense, searching for the right combinations. This week Byron Rex is back as the starter at tight end, replacing Itula Mili, who hasn't caught a pass in two games. Eric Mortensen (third-string last week) moves into the starting halfback position, as Peter Tuipulotu moves back to fullback. And Jason Schmidt comes out of nowhere to be the second-string halfback. Otis Sterling, who caught two TD passes last week, is off the two-deep chart, replaced by Tyler Anderson. Tom Ladd moves from left tackle to right tackle, Jon Garber replaces Garrett Tujague at left guard, and Eli Herring moves in at right tackle as Mike Empey drops to the second unit. Got it?

The game will not be televised live but will be replayed on Channel 5 at 10:30 p.m. today and on Channel 11 Saturday at 9 p.m. and Monday at 10 p.m.