LOGAN — It's a rivalry that outdates statehood.

Utah and Utah State began what has become the nation's 13th longest-played rivalry in 1892 — the year Ellis Island began accepting immigrants, Dr. James Naismith published the rules for basketball and Thomas Edison received a patent for the two-way telegraph.

The Aggies won the first meeting 12-0 in Logan. Four years later, Utah was granted statehood. And four years after that, USU and Utah renewed a rivalry that now spans 103 games. With the exception of 1908, 1911, 1918 and 1943, the Utes and Aggies have met each year.

Though Utah has dominated the series, holding a 71-28-4 advantage (and winning the past six games), the contests have become an annual tradition.

"This is a rivalry game, and I'm a firm believer in playing instate games. They're fun for our players and for our fans," said Utah coach Urban Meyer. "Utah State is the oldest rival in Utah football history, and I hope we play them forever."

Utah State coach Mick Dennehy agreed.

"Usually, the awareness of the circumstance kind of heightens. I think the kids pay a little more attention to detail," he said. "There aren't many

other contests that have got as much tradition in terms of how many times we have played."

Here's a closer look at Saturday's 104th meeting between the two teams:

OFFENSE

UTAH: The Utes are off to a good start with victories over Texas A&M and Arizona. They're averaging 454 yards of total offense and have yet to turn the ball over. Even so, offensive coordinator Mike Sanford isn't satisfied. He wants more.

"What we've got to do is improve. We've got to get better than we were last week. I think that's the key," said Sanford. "We've got to block better. We've got to execute better. We've just got to get better."

That could be tough to do. Utah enters this weekend's contest with impressive numbers — per game averages of 270 yards passing, 184 yards rushing and 32 points.

The statistics are bolstered by no lost fumbles or interceptions.

"We've got to continue to protect the football," said Sanford. "That's key for us, and we've got to be physical."

Utah is 11-1 with Alex Smith as its starting quarterback. The junior is currently ranked in the top 10 nationally in passing efficiency (184.2, eighth) and total offense (301 ypg, 10th). After leading the Utes past A&M in the season opener, Smith was named national player of the week by The Sporting News.

Wide receiver Steve Savoy is eighth in the nation in scoring with an average haul of two touchdowns per game. He leads Utah with 10 catches for 203 yards, including a 78-yard scoring strike.

Running back Marty Johnson tops the Utes with 38 carries for 182 yards. His 4.8 yards per carry average is a Ute best.

UTAH STATE: In their first two games, the Aggies are averaging just 279.5 yards and 15.5 points a game. While the Utes have yet to turn the ball over, the Ags have lost it seven times. Alabama exploited Aggie miscues; while Idaho couldn't take advantage of five USU turnovers. The Aggies, 14-7 winners over Idaho last week, can't expect the Utes to not capitalize.

"I think the University of Utah is a very opportunistic group," Dennehy said. "To be quite honest with you, we were a bit lucky last week to be able to survive that."

Two Aggie turnovers came in their own territory, and the other two came inside the Idaho 5-yard line. They turned the ball over three straight times to open drives.

Quarterback Travis Cox, who was intercepted just seven times last year, already has four this season. After struggling in the first half against the Vandals, Cox completed 10-of-12 passes for 111 yards and a touchdown.

"I think Travis showed what kind of leader he is and his competitiveness in the second half," Dennehy said.

The Aggies have to run the football to open things up for Cox. They are averaging just 70 yards a game and have only six rushing first downs compared with 16 passing. Freshman Chris Forbes leads the team with 72 yards on 17 carries.

Freshman Kevin Robinson and sophomore Antonio Pennyman lead nine Aggie players in receptions with 10 each. Robinson had 164 yards and two scores, while Pennyman has 83 yards and one touchdown. As a team, the Aggies are averaging 11.3 yards per reception.

DEFENSE

UTAH: Defensive coordinator Kyle Whittingham isn't about to get tricky. The Utes, he explained, won't alter their approach this week.

"There's not much secret to our formula," he said. "Go after the run game and stop the run on the way to the pass."

It's worked. Utah visits Logan with a scoring defense (13.5 ppg) that ranks 24th in the nation. Like Sanford, Whittingham insists the Utes have room for improvement.

"We need to play with intensity and emotion," said Whittingham. "We missed some assignments Saturday against Arizona. We need to clean that up. You never play a football game mistake-free, but I feel we made too many errors."

Utah's mission against USU? Make the Aggies one-dimensional.

Linebackers Spencer Toone and Tommy Hackenbruck are Utah's leading tacklers. The duo has combined to make 37 stops, two tackles for loss, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble. Fellow linebacker Corey Dodds, who has battled a severely sprained ankle, has six tackles plus two tackles for loss and a pass breakup.

Starting safety Morgan Scalley isn't letting a bruised shin get the best of him. He has a team-high two sacks, as well as a fumble recovery. His 10 tackles are fourth-best on the team.

Walk-on Casey Evans has 11 tackles and forced a fumble on fourth down in Utah's goal-line stand in Arizona. The strong safety has stepped in for the injured Eric Weddle, who hopes to play this week.

UTAH STATE: Sophomore safety Terrance Washington suffered a season-ending knee injury in the final two minutes of the win over Idaho, and he will be sorely missed. He was the team leader in tackles with 18.

"It's a big loss," Dennehy said.

Washington was a second-team freshman all-American by the College Football News, and was second-team all-Sun Belt Conference. He had a team-high five interceptions last year.

Andre Bala and/or Antonio Taylor will be called upon to fill Washington's void.

The Aggies are coming off their best defensive performance of the year by holding Idaho to just 235 yards total offense. At unranked Alabama two weeks ago, they allowed just less than 500. They will need another impressive outing to hold the Utes under their 454-yard average.

After having just four tackles in the opener, linebacker Robert Watts bounced back with 12 tackles against Idaho. Cornerback Jerome Dennis also has 16 tackles.

Cornelius Lamb has the Aggies' only interception.

SPECIAL TEAMS

UTAH: Five of Bryan Borreson's 12 kickoffs have been touchbacks. Utah's top kicker is 1-1 in field goals and 7-for-9 on PATs this season.

Matt Kovacevich is averaging 39.9 yards on 12 punts. The senior has pinned two kicks inside the 20.

The Utes have returned just three kickoffs and three punts thus far.

UTAH STATE: Punter Ben Chaet is averaging 47.8 yards per punt and has pinned the opponent inside the 20 four times — including three last week.

Chaet is also 1-for-1 in USU's only attempt with his 44-yarder at Alabama.

The punt coverage team is allowing just 3.7 yards per return on six attempts.

INTANGIBLES

UTAH: The Utes have won six straight games over the Aggies, including three consecutive in Logan.

Meyer is 29-8 as a head coach. His first win at Utah was a 40-20 decision over USU last season at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Utah is ranked in the top 20 for the first time in September. The Utes are 14th in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll and 15th in the latest Associated Press rankings.

UTAH STATE: The Aggies have been penalized just eight times (tied for ninth in the nation).

Saturday's game is the second in just four home dates.

The Aggies' only win over a top 25 team came at home when they beat No. 25 Fresno State 20-19 in 1991.


Game on TV

Utah (2-0) at Utah State (1-1)

Saturday, 5 p.m.

TV: KJZZ, Ch. 14

Radio: KALL 700AM (SLC), KVNU 610AM (Logan)


E-mail: dirk@desnews.com; jhinton@desnews.com