Despite still another gut-wrenching defeat to a highly touted Western Athletic Conference foe, Utah State coach John L. Smith was surprisingly calm and collected following his team's 42-35 loss to BYU on Friday night.
He wasn't ranting and raving, as he did at times during the contest when he felt the officials - a Big West crew - overlooked calls against his team."We are disappointed and we're hurting," said Smith after his team's third straight loss to a WAC opponent. "Our kids played hard, good enough to win. But we made some mistakes. And BYU deserves a ton of credit."
On a day when the Aggie offense finally performed up to expectations (510 total yards, no turnovers), the defense let down and couldn't stop the Cougars, whose 559 yards of total offense were more than double what the Ags had been allowing per game. The Aggies just couldn't stop the Cougars at key times, including a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown drives led by BYU backup quarterback Paul Shoemaker.
The Aggies were forced to finish the game with their backup QB, Brian Benza, after Matt Sauk went down early in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury.
Right after the game both Sauk and Smith were concerned that the injury might be bad enough to keep the senior QB out for the rest of the year. However, they received good news Saturday when X-rays revealed that it was just a severely sprained ankle with no broken bones. Trainer Dale Mildenberger listed Sauk as "day-to-day," meaning he could possibly play Saturday at Oregon State.
"Brian came in and played well," said Smith about Benza's performance, which included a run for 18 yards and two pass completions for 60 yards. However, Benza couldn't lead the Aggies into the end zone when they got to the 1-yard line late in the fourth quarter and later when they got inside the 20.
"If you can't get it into the end zone from where we were, then you're not going to win against a team like this," Smith said.
The Aggies could lament all their second-half mistakes and chances to win. Perhaps the key series of the game came midway through the second quarter. The Aggies had just taken a 24-10 lead on a howitzer pass from Sauk to Nakia Jenkins that covered 30 yards in the air but went for a 75-yard touchdown.
If the Aggies could have held the Cougars here, they might have gone into halftime with at least a two-touchdown lead.
But the Aggie defense couldn't. The Cougars moved past midfield, and the Aggies forced them into a third-and-18 situation. However, Kevin Feterik found Ben Cahoon with a 47-yard pass to the 1-yard line. On the next play BYU scored to get within a touchdown.
And with 5:18 left in the half, BYU's Owen Pochman kicked a 40-yard field goal to make the score 24-20.
"When they were down, they hung in there and came back," Smith said. "We just gave up the big play."
Jenkins had a big day for the Aggies, with eight catches for 194 yards, while cornerback Vashon Garmon had two interceptions and cornerback Bashir Levingston led the team with nine tackles in his first start. The Ags also cut down on their penalties and only had six for 55 yards.