Facing an uphill climb from Day 1, Blake Anderson and his Utah State football team have worked hard and earned every good thing that has come their way this season.
Utah State (10-3)
vs. Oregon State (7-5)
Saturday, 5:30 p.m. MST
Now, as the Aggies approach an appearance in the inaugural Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl against Oregon State on Saturday (5:30 p.m. MST, ABC), the Aggies feel like they’ve earned the opportunity to cut loose and have a little fun during their bowl week.
That feeling is understandable given that the squad upset No. 19 San Diego State to win the program’s first-ever Mountain West Conference championship.
“You want to soak up every ounce of fun that you can — they’ve earned it — this is a celebration of the season,” Anderson said. “I know some people don’t necessarily agree with that philosophy, but these guys have worked hard, earned the right to be in a bowl game (the LA Bowl is) built the way it’s built so they can enjoy it.”
Jason Gannon, executive director of the Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl, said player hospitality is one of the things that separates the LA Bowl from others.
“We’ve got a good week in store,” Gannon said. “I think that one important component for us from a legacy perspective at (the Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl), is to have an opportunity to get the teams and the representatives in the community here in Inglewood and the greater Los Angeles area throughout the week.”
From watching and participating in “The Jimmy Kimmel Show,” to tickets to Universal Studios, the Aggies will have had plenty of opportunities to enjoy themselves and celebrate the season by the time Saturday rolls around.
Though having fun will be an objective for Utah State this week, Anderson stressed that his players still are very determined to go out with a win and that the team that wants to get the win the most, will be the team that prevails.
The coach — like many coaches do before big games — said that he and the team plan on approaching this week just like any other game week.
Arriving in California on Tuesday, the Aggies will face the challenge of mixing work and play as they prepare to face their second Pac-12 team this season in the 7-5 Beavers.
“We all know when kickoff is, and we know that it’s our responsibility — each man, staff and player — to be ready,” Anderson said. “(We need to) enjoy the opportunities that the bowl presents and have a blast, but when it’s time to lock in and go to meetings and practice, it’s our responsibility to do that.”
Anderson admitted that finding the balance between fun and game preparation is one of the toughest challenges coaches face during bowl weeks. He conceded that there isn’t much he as a coach can do to motivate his players to focus and that it will ultimately come down to the will and maturity of the players.
“If (the players) are satisfied at this point, then it won’t happen and it won’t matter what I say or do. It’s gotta come from them,” Anderson said.
“I expect our guys will show up and play lights out. That’s what I expect of them and that’s the energy we have in the building.”
Quarterback Logan Bonner — who was named offensive MVP of the Mountain West Conference championship game after throwing for four touchdowns (giving him the Utah State single season record of 36) and 318 yards — said that separating the fun and work will be fairly easy for this particular group of players.
Bonner said he and his teammates want to win the game above everything else heading into the week and will do what they need to do to make that happen.
“We try to win everything we do,” Bonner said. “Not only bowl games, but everything we compete at, whether that’s ping-pong against coach Anderson or out on the field for practice or in the game, that’s how I am, that’s how this team is, and that’s how we’ll prepare.”
While the 10-3 Aggies know they have worked hard enough to earn all the fun and celebration that’s in store for them in LA, the players also know that the opportunity to play in the bowl game — the culmination of all their work — is too good to squander.
“You work too hard all year round, for (these) opportunities,” Bonner said. “We literally work everyday for those 14 opportunities and only 12 of them are guaranteed, so yeah, you want to win every game. There’s no other option.”