LOGAN — Now permanently mired in last place in the Mountain Division of Mountain West, Utah State heads back out on the road to wrap up its conference schedule with a rare afternoon game at Nevada Saturday.
With the notable exception of Fresno State on Oct. 22, this season the Aggies (1-6 in the MW, 3-7 overall) have seemingly always caught their league opponents at the wrong time, when their rivals have been playing at their best.
Fortunately for a USU team in desperate need of a victory, that is not the case heading into Saturday's game at Mackay Stadium in Reno. The Wolf Pack (1-5, 3-7) have dropped four straight games and, just like Utah State, have lost six of their last seven contests.
"Nevada is similar to us in a lot of ways in that they are very talented, they've had some close losses and they're searching for a win and fighting and scratching at the end of the year," USU head coach Matt Wells said on Monday. "So, I know we'll get a very good game with them. But we have to go on the road and find a way to win.
"The team meeting this morning went very well. There are a lot of positives in the demeanor and makeup of these players, so, for that, we're going to continue to fight."
While the Aggies are still trying to absorb last week's disappointing 24-21 loss to New Mexico in their home finale, Nevada is coming off a 46-16 home humbling at the hands of division champion San Diego State. After starting out 2-1, just like the Aggies, the Wolf Pack have won only one game since, against Fresno State, just like the Aggies.
Although Nevada holds an all-time 17-6 advantage over Utah State, the Aggies have won the last two contests against the Wolf Pack, including a 31-27 win in Logan last year when USU rallied from a 20-deficit in the third quarter.
"That's what you remember; you remember the terrific comeback," Wells declared. "You remember the feeling in that locker room."
The Aggies certainly experienced the opposite emotion last Saturday night at Maverik Stadium when the Lobos (5-1, 7-3) dug themselves out of a 21-6 third-quarter hole to shock Utah State on Senior Night. Among the most-discussed final moments from the setback was an offensive pass interference call against wide receiver Ron'Quavion Tarver that negated a would-be, go-ahead touchdown with 16 seconds to go.
"I had a couple of discussions with the Mountain West, and I'll leave it at this: You saw what I saw, and they know that," Wells replied when asked about the controversial penalty on Tarver.
But despite the "tough loss" to the Lobos, which ended with some chaotic final seconds as USU desperately tried to attempt a game-tying field goal, Wells said he still sees "resiliency" in his players as they head into their final two games at Nevada and at BYU.
"This is a team that I have grown to respect more and more," he declared. "... They just keep fighting, and they believe in the process and believe in this program. I am more convinced than I've ever been that we're doing it right, and that these kids are continuing to fight. And for that, I'm encouraged."
If the Aggies are to avoid their first three-win season since Brent Guy's last year in 2008, they'll need to solidify their run defense, which has surrendered 400, 267 and 249 yards in their last three games. And while Nevada is only ninth in the Mountain West in rushing offense — 155.6 ypg, just barely ahead of USU — sophomore running back James Butler has been the brightest spot for the Wolf Pack's offense, rushing for 1,021 yards and eight touchdowns on 202 carries.
"He's got strong legs, he runs with good balance, he's shifty and when guys hit him, you see him spin or move out of a hit and fall forward to make a couple of yards here and there," Wells said of Butler. "He's been a very productive back for them over time, and he's been a very durable player, too."