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Dick Harmon: With beatdown of BYU, Utah State can claim college football dominance in the Beehive State

PROVO — Arguably, Utah State is the champion of collegiate football in the Beehive State. USU beat previously 20th-ranked BYU 45-20 to make its case. USU wins over the University of Utah by default/forfeit/no show. Take your pick.

Jordan Love threw four touchdown passes and ran for another to lead the Aggies to a convincing win over the Cougars in LaVell Edwards Stadium on Friday night.

It was never close. It was surgical.

USU beat BYU early and late in handing the Cougars the loss.

On Friday, BYU’s home-field record sunk to .500 the past two seasons. The Cougars are 3-6 dating back to 2017 and two of those wins were over FCS opponents Portland State and McNeese State. If you count FBS opponents, BYU is 1-6 in its last seven home games after the loss to the Aggies.

At Husky Stadium last week, Washington embarrassed BYU. The look on faces of BYU players walking off the field was grim. Players looked drained. They were ranked 20th but never looked the part.

That had to carry over this week.

As badly as the Huskies undressed the Cougars in Seattle, the Aggies one-upped them against BYU in Provo. BYU has now been outscored 80-27 in 13 days. It was the most points given up by a Kalani Sitake-coached team in a loss.

"I was disappointed by the start. We'll need to evaluate the whole game now at mid-season," said Sitake. "Utah State had a good game plan and scheme. We didn't help ourselves up front but the truth is, they stuffed us. In three games we had an identity of running the ball."

Sitake praised Love, calling him poised and effective. He credited USU's staff and players for superior play.

"They had a great RPO scheme with the run and pass. I was impressed with what they did and we didn't help ourselves."

BYU did not look emotionally or physically prepared to face a hot and determined Aggie team right after kickoff. USU came out swinging and landed punch after punch to take a three-touchdown lead after 17 minutes.

The Cougars are not built to explode and chase large deficits. An early pick-six by Tanner Mangum started the Aggies on the fast track.

The Aggies enjoyed the exact type of game they’d created. BYU labored painfully to crawl along, looking far less than what the nation witnessed at Wisconsin.

At Wisconsin, BYU played trench warfare with the No. 6 Badgers. On this night, the Cougars were unable to look anything as tough. Credit the Aggies.

Love completed 18 of 28 passes for 165 and had five touchdowns. USU outgained BYU 388 to 361.

Mangum did have his best pass yardage game of the season, 270 yards on 27 of 45 passing with two TDs, the pick-six and a fumble. But the Aggies' big lead forced him to throw often and deep.

Freshman Zach Wilson came in for Mangum with just over three minutes to play in the game. He showed off his foot speed, fundamentals and moxie in mounting a six-play 77-yard scoring drive, finding freshman Gunner Romney for an 18-yard pass-and-run to paydirt to cut USU’s lead to 45-20 with over a minute to play. He played just over three minutes but ended up leading BYU in rushing with 25 yards.

That alone will give BYU fans something to debate about during the weekend.

Leading 21-7 at the half and receiving the kickoff after intermission, USU offensive coordinator David Yost called for a run-oriented attack and BYU’s defensive front seven had no answer. USU used 10 plays to go 81 yards, with Love hitting Jalen Greene for a 6-yard TD strike to take a 28-7 advantage.

The next possession, USU rammed the ball down BYU’s defense after the Cougar offense sputtered at midfield. Love threw his fourth TD pass, this one to Ron'Quavion Tarver, a 4-yard fade. The Aggies led 35-7 with 4:55 left in the third.

USU had easily matched Washington’s beatdown of the Cougars with 20 minutes remaining.

It was complete domination by USU. Perhaps playing the nation’s fifth toughest schedule took it out of BYU in September, but that sounds like a weak excuse. The past two weeks BYU has gone backward.

The Aggies turned two BYU first-half turnovers into a pair of touchdowns in the first half. In the second half, USU forced a Mangum fumble and scored immediately. USU drew first blood with a brilliant play by linebacker Tipa Galeai, who stepped in front of a Mangum fourth-and-one pass and returned it 56 yards to the house.

It was statement football at its best, and USU did all the pontificating.

There was just 27 yards difference in offense between BYU and USU, but a 25-point difference in points. That must mean a huge difference in efficiency of operation. And BYU also missed a 43-yard field goal and an extra-point kick.

Playing with two weeks rest and preparation, Matt Wells' team looked polished, fresh and confident as the offense protected and executed and the defense refused to let BYU run the ball, stacking the box, forcing the Cougars to throw.

Getting a big lead on BYU, the Aggies completely trashed BYU’s run game and dictated to the Cougars what they would allow. BYU had just 39 yards rushing, 25 by a freshman QB in mop-up duty. BYU all but abandoned the jet sweep.

BYU opened up with a funky formation, deployed the shotgun formation and a rare empty backfield formation. It didn’t work and it didn’t look like BYU’s offense the previous five games.

USU’s defensive front established itself early and the Cougars looked soft and frustrated. The Aggies stacked the box, daring Mangum to beat them with his arm. BYU could not run the ball and Magnum’s short pass game was futile.

Sitake said before reviewing the film, the biggest thing that sticks out in his mind was BYU's defenders missing tackles. He said every position will be evaluated this week.

"I say this knowing USU came in and gave us a good butt-whipping. Their only loss is to a ranked team, Michigan State."

Wells has plenty to be proud of. Sitake has plenty to question.

If anyone has an argument that USU doesn’t own the state, file your argument. It would have to be a good one and include some fiction.