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Dennehy praises Aggies’ overworked ‘D’

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LINCOLN, Neb. — It's rare that a coach would praise his defense after a 31-7 rout, but if it hadn't played as well as it did, Nebraska could have scored 50 or 60 points.

Utah State head football coach Mick Dennehy offered praise Saturday.

The Aggies surrendered 405 total yards (297 rushing) in their loss to No. 23 Nebraska, but they also held the 'Huskers to four field goals. Late in the game, the Aggies forced a fumble on the goal line.

"I thought our defense did a heckuva job keeping them out of the end zone in the second half," Dennehy said. "They had a lot of opportunities to score touchdowns and we held them to field goals. I'm extremely excited about that."

For the second game in a row the offense has dealt the defense a tough hand. Against Utah two weeks ago, the Utes had five scoring drives of less than 50 yards. Saturday at Nebraska, the 'Huskers had four.

"With a team that's rushing the ball as big and as strong and as physical as the University of Nebraska is, you can't allow them to have 30-yard drives — and that was the difference," Dennehy said. "I saw early in the second half . . . They're tougher than hell to keep out of the end zone. We did once. You have to make them drive the ball."

The 'Huskers scored points on seven of nine possessions.

The two games combined, 9 of 14 scoring drives have been 50 yards or less.

The defense also needs to work on stopping fourth-down conversions (Nebraska was 3-for-3) and third-down conversions (8-of-18).

In all fairness to the Aggie defense, they were on the field for 38 of the possible 60 minutes Saturday. In nine drives spanning three quarters, the offense had only two drives of five plays or more.

"It's a great confidence boost for our defense coming off last week," Utah State defensive end Michael Gates said. "Once the offense gets started we'll be great . . . Our offense will get it going, they usually do."

COOLEY IN THE BACKFIELD: Utah State tight end Chris Cooley had six catches for 92 yards — all in the first half. Because of Nebraska's defense, Cooley stayed in to block in the second half. He did have his first two collegiate carries for 15 yards.

With the six catches, Cooley has two or more catches in nine straight games.

OUT WITH INJURY: Tailback Richard Watson, who had 25 yards rushing against the 'Huskers in 2002, missed Saturday's game with an knee injury suffered against Utah. He, along with receiver Jerome Eason, didn't make the trip to Lincoln.

PACKING THEM IN: Saturday's attendance was 77,284 — it was the fourth-largest crowd to watch a Utah State football game.

E-MAIL: jhinton@desnews.com