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As BYU, USU brace for rivalry game, the devil is in the details (and weekly predictions)

The Cougars put their undefeated streak on the line tonight in Logan, while new Aggies coach Blake Anderson gets his first taste of the rivalry

BYU coach Kalani Sitake watches a replay that overturned a fumble recovery by BYU against Utah State at Maverik Stadium.
BYU coach Kalani Sitake watches a replay that overturned a fumble recovery by BYU during the game against Utah State at Maverik Stadium in Logan on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019.
Colter Peterson, Deseret News

Maintaining an undefeated record takes a lot of work, a lot of luck, and the ability to persevere through injuries, miscues, road trips and a myriad of other factors.

That’s why teams do not do it often. Just ask Utah State, a surprising upstart team under Blake Anderson that chiseled out a 3-0 record only to lose to Boise State last Saturday after outgaining the Broncos for most of the day.

Now it’s BYU’s turn to try to keep a spotless record alive, traveling to Logan for its first true road trip at 4-0.

The Cougars are 15-1 over the past two seasons, so you could assume coach Kalani Sitake really does have some traction going.

There are a handful of undefeated teams ranked behind BYU right now, Boston College and Wake Forest (ACC), Maryland and Michigan (Big Ten), Baylor and Oklahoma State (Big 12), and Kentucky (SEC).

Everyone wants to climb the ladder.

The Aggies are an explosive team that struggled last week to punch the ball in the end zone against the Broncos. The Cougars held out a lot of players in a win over South Florida as Baylor Romney got his first start and threw for 300 yards and three touchdowns.

But a key for Sitake is something explained by his cousin, passing game coordinator Fesi Sitake, to reporters this week. In order to keep winning, a team has to keep humble and realize there is a lot of work to do every week.

Anderson also preaches that. You have to, in order to keep an edge in practice and teaching during the week, in this case, a very short week for the Friday kickoff.

“That’s the sign of a great team when you can learn your lessons through victories, that’s a great thing,” said Fesi. “I’m excited for the potential we have and the ceiling we have to keep getting better, to know that we are doing enough to get wins but know we can get better. It is a real good position to be in. I’ve been on the other side where you do really well statistically, but you lose. One unit does a great job and you still lose or haven’t played your best and still lose.

“We are grateful as coaches and a team that we still have improvements to make. We are hard on ourselves and we want to be the best so we are holding ourselves to a very high standard. We do have a good team but the fact none of us are content is also a sign of a great team, that we are striving for something higher.”

Fesi said the theme of this year for his cousin Kalani is that there is always something small that needs improvement and fixing, that there’s always some small thing to focus on. After every game, you can break down a play and find something that should have been done better.

Utah State coach Blake Anderson looks on during game against Washington State, Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021, in Pullman, Wash.
Utah State coach Blake Anderson looks on during game against Washington State, Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021, in Pullman, Wash. The first-year Aggie coach will get his first taste of the Utah State-BYU rivalry when the teams play tonight in Logan.
Young Kwak, Associated Press

“If you just say let’s go undefeated and have this big picture in mind, you miss out on the opportunities to get better. Every play you can nitpick and find things to fix. After every game you can find ways to improve.

“There’s a fine line between bogging yourself down and keeping that standard. That settles into our culture and that resonates with members of our team,” said Fesi.

The interesting aspect of USU and BYU is to see what improvements both teams make in a short week. USU correcting issues in the red zone and other miscues, and BYU with healthy defenders back in the lineup.