Before Saturday night's game, the Utah State football team figured if it could hold Utah to around 20 to 25 points, it would have a good chance to emerge with a victory because of the talented offense returning from last year.
The Aggie defense did its job in holding the Utes to just 20 points — only three in the second half — but the Ags came up well short of a win, no matter what the 23-19 final score showed, because of an ineffective offense.
For the second straight year, the Ute defense shut down the Aggies' main offensive threat, Emmett White, holding him to just 81 yards rushing and only 24 yards on returns.
The Utes also kept pressure on quarterback Jose Fuentes, forcing him to throw quickly, which resulted in three interceptions and several hurries. The Utes shut down the Aggie screen passes as White picked up only 14 yards on six pass receptions.
Afterward USU coach Mick Dennehy praised his defense, saying, "I was really pleased with the way we played defensively and thought we did a nice job of keeping them out of the end zone."
On the other hand, the offense was a disappointment, especially considering the high hopes after it averaged 36 points per game over the final five games last year and returned nearly everybody.
"We didn't play as well offensively as we're capable of, and that was probably the difference in the ball game," said Dennehy. "Utah is good on defense every year, but I thought we'd match up better, I really did."
With their top receiver, Chris Stallworth, not playing more than a handful of plays for disciplinary reasons (he was late for a meeting), the Aggies looked to Kevin Curtis, a walk-on from Snow College.
On the first play of the game Fuentes went long down the middle of the field and found Curtis, or rather Curtis found the ball, leaping between two Ute defenders for a 46-yard gain. That led to the first score of the game, a 27-yard field goal by Dane Kidman.
Curtis, doing a good imitation of Aaron Jones, the Aggies' top receiver the past two years, was clearly the offensive player of the game for USU with 11 catches for 171 yards. Besides the 46-yarder, he also caught passes covering 31 and 27 yards and caught a 16-yard touchdown pass late in the game.
The Aggies tried to open up things for White by passing early and often, but the Ute defense, led by linebacker Sheldon Deckart and the front four of Jason Kaufusi, Garrett Smith, Maake Kemoeatu and Lauvale Sape, kept White from getting loose.
Except for a 28-yard scamper early in the second quarter, White never found daylight against the Utes who kept their eyes trained on No. 32 all night.
"Obviously they keyed well on Emmett," said Dennehy.
Fuentes said the Utes did a good job shutting down the screen passes to White and said he made some bad decisions.
"There were a couple of balls I wish I could get back," he said.
Perhaps the biggest highlight of the night for the Aggies came on the final play of the game when freshman Roger Fernandez zig-zagged his way 64 yards on a punt return. When asked if he would play Fernandez more next week at LSU, Dennehy smiled for one of the few times all night and said, "Yeah, probably. Roger's going to be a very good player for us."