The No. 13-ranked and undefeated BYU Cougars know it is coming. And they believe they are ready for it.

In this case, what is on the horizon is the vitriolic, often irreverent Utah State crowd at Maverik Stadium in Logan, where the 3-1 Aggies will host the 4-0 Cougars on Friday night (7 p.m. MDT) in the annual game that precedes General Conference weekend.

Cougars, Ags on the air

BYU (4-0)

at Utah State (3-1)

Friday, 7 p.m. MDT

Maverik Stadium, Logan


Radio: KSL 1160 AM/102.7 FM

For BYU, it marks the first time the Cougars will play at a true road venue this season, having played three home games after the opener at said-to-be-neutral Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas that was comprised of about 80% BYU fans.

“I can’t wait for the boos to come, and the chants and the signs that they like to do,” BYU defensive end Gabe Summers said Monday. “I think that adds to the game. It will give us more fire, more passion, more energy that we will be able to bring to the game.”

Do BYU players consider Utah State a rival? It is a question that gets asked of the Cougars every time the in-state foes square off. Monday, Summers and receiver Gunner Romney said it is, while receiver Neil Pau’u said it isn’t.

To each his own.

For what it is worth, head coach Kalani Sitake referred to the matchup as “the rivalry game” in his first comments to the media since Saturday’s 35-27 win over South Florida, and said he has “a lot of respect” for USU’s fanbase as well as its team. 

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To the winner goes the Old Wagon Wheel, one of the more interesting, and perhaps the heaviest, rivalry game trophies in college football. The Cougars have it, having walloped the Aggies 42-14 in 2019. They didn’t play last year, due to COVID, so USU gets the rare opportunity to host BYU in consecutive games.

The last time that happened was in 1979 and 1980.

The wooden wheel, with metallic plates representing every game played, gives teams “a little bit” more incentive to win, Romney said.

“I mean, they are a rival,” Romney said. “We want to go in to their home field and get a win. But in the end, it is just another game. We look at games as a week at a time, and this is a game that we have next. So really it should be treated as any other game should be.”

Is the thing that heavy?

“Yeah, you are not lifting it up by yourself, that’s for sure. It is pretty stocky,” Romney said.

Summers, a former walk-on from Westlake High School in Saratoga Springs, said when he thinks of the wagon wheel, he thinks of the Darius Rucker song by the same name that the Cougars played in their celebrating locker room after winning in 2019.

“I do consider them a rival, but I think more than anything, Utah State is just another team to play,” Summers said. “I feel like often times there are people who really dislike us, but to us they are just another team. And I feel like Utah State is another example of that.”

Most USU fans would probably agree; Aggies’ fans seem to hold more contempt for BYU than Utah, although the Cougars play them every year. BYU’s chief rival, Utah, no longer schedules Utah State.

Pau’u, who is from Santa Ana, California, said he didn’t know that USU was considered a rival when he arrived in Provo in 2017.

The Cougars didn’t play the part of a top 15 team against USF, especially on defense
Baylor Romney made the most of it, when given the opportunity to start

To be fair, it wasn’t much of a matchup until 2010, when USU won 31-16 in Logan to snap a 10-game BYU winning streak in the series. BYU is only 6-3 in the game since then.

“They are a rival, I guess, to BYU fans,” Pau’u said. “I have never seen Utah State as a rival. I know that there is the wagon wheel and stuff. I have only played them once. … I just see them as another team. We saw Utah as another team. So that’s what we are going into it as.”

Pau’u said the Cougars are “excited for the challenge” of playing in front of a mostly hostile crowd, “to just kinda hear the boos,” for the first time since Nov. 20, 2019, at San Diego State, a 13-3 loss. Even then, SDSU fans made up only 60% or so of the crowd in San Diego.

“I know a lot of athletes get up for that when they hear boos, and they hear taunting,” Pau’u said. “Utah State definitely is hostile. I think we will be more than capable of coming out with the ‘W’ as long as we keep our composure.”

Injury update

Brigham Young Cougars defensive back Caleb Christensen (15) tackles UCF Knights quarterback Dillon Gabriel (11) during the Boca Raton Bowl in Boca Raton, Fla., on Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Along with the rivalry talk and the Cougars’ lackluster defensive showing vs. USF, BYU’s injury situation dominated Monday’s press briefing. Sitake said although nearly a dozen players left the field at one time or another due to injury, none were season-ending.

The only player who is “highly doubtful” to play Friday is kick returner Caleb Christensen, which is a shame, Sitake noted, because Christensen is from Smithfield’s Sky View High, just north of Logan.

Sitake said cornerback Keenan Ellis, who hasn’t played since the big collision in the Arizona game, is “doing better” but is still day to day and in concussion protocol. Sitake said Ellis won’t be available until he gets a few practices in, which hasn’t happened yet.

Defensive linemen Tyler Batty and Atunaisa Mahe and cornerback Isaiah Herron missed the USF game but should be available vs. the Aggies, Sitake said.

Offensive lineman Harris LaChance was sidelined during the game and on crutches in the second half, but Sitake said they are “expecting Harris to make a recovery and be with us this week.”

Kicker Jake Oldroyd is still trying to overcome back issues and remains day to day, having missed three of four games. His absence was an issue for the first time Saturday as fill-in kicker Justen Smith had a field goal attempt blocked that Sitake said was kicked too low.

Jaren Hall returns

BYU Cougars quarterback Jaren Hall delivers a pass as BYU and Utah play.
Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Jaren Hall (3) delivers a pass as BYU and Utah play an NCAA football game at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Sitake said he thinks quarterback Jaren Hall “will be available” after the starter didn’t play due to bruised ribs. Backup Baylor Romney played magnificently in Hall’s place.

“We will see how it goes in practice,” Sitake said. “We work off what we can get in practice, and then make a final decision once we get closer to the game time. … Jaren will be practicing today.”

On his “Coordinators’ Corner” show, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Aaron Roderick said it was a “close call” to hold Hall out last week, but the right one with the way Romney played, throwing for more than 300 yards.

“We will see (what happens this week),” Roderick said. “If Jaren is ready to go, then it will be Jaren. If he’s not, then it will be Baylor again.”

Cougars, Aggies on the air

BYU (4-0)

at Utah State (3-1)

Friday, 7 p.m. MDT

Maverik Stadium, Logan


Radio: KSL 1160 AM/102.7 FM