My, how football has changed over the years. If the late LaVell Edwards was suiting up for his Utah State Aggies on Thursday night, he and his 5-foot-10, 170-pound frame on the offensive line would be directly in the path of 6-2, 302-pound Caden Haws on BYU’s defensive line.
The mismatch would be even worse when the Aggies switched to defense. At linebacker, Edwards would line up and stare directly into the eyes of 6-8, 305-pound left tackle Blake Freeland.
Not only has the size and speed of the game changed, the exposure and geography around the two programs is different, too. No. 19 BYU and Utah State are both on the same planet but moving galaxies apart.
Power Five status and Big 12 membership starting next season will solidify the Cougars moving forward with full access to college football’s biggest bowls and piles of cash. For Utah State, the uncertainty that comes from G5 status in the Mountain West Conference will keep the Aggies sleeping anxiously for years to come.
While Edwards, the Aggie, would be no match for today’s BYU athlete, Edwards, the college football pioneer, has his DNA deep into both programs. It’s only fitting that the BYU-Utah State rivalry will end Thursday night in the stadium that bears his name (6 p.m. MDT, ESPN).
The Hall of Fame coach in Provo is also a Hall of Fame former player in Logan. He made an impact on both while getting away and coming home.
If you google “famous LaVell quotes” this one pops up explaining why, as an Orem resident, he chose to play football at Utah State instead of nearby BYU.
“If I had gone to the Y, I would have had to live at home. And if I’d been living at home, my job would have been milking the cows. I was sick of milking those two darned cows, I’d have gone to Utah to get away from ’em. Well, maybe not Utah, but I wanted to get away.” — LaVell Edwards on his decision to play at Utah State
“If I had gone to the Y, I would have had to live at home. And if I’d been living at home, my job would have been milking the cows,” Edwards said. “I was sick of milking those two darned cows, I’d have gone to Utah to get away from ’em. Well, maybe not Utah, but I wanted to get away.”
Edwards played offensive line and linebacker for the Aggies and he was pretty good. In 1951, he earned All-Mountain States Conference honors at linebacker. During his three seasons at Utah State (1949-51) the Aggies went 1-2 against BYU with a 22-3 win in Provo (1949), a 34-13 defeat in Logan (1950) and a 28-27 loss in Provo (1951).
Utah State not only honored Edwards by inducting him into its Athletics Hall of Fame (2011), but also named him to the program’s All-Century Team in 1993.
BYU has enjoyed Edwards’ legacy for a half-century and will continue to do so for years to come. This season marks the 50th anniversary of when he became the Cougars head coach in 1972. In 29 seasons, his teams won 257 games and a national championship. BYU inducted Edwards into the school’s Hall of Fame in 2006, two years after the National Football Foundation inducted him into the College Football Hall of Fame.
During those days when the Cougars wore royal blue, Edwards’ teams weren’t too kind to his alma mater, who dressed in navy blue. After dropping his first three games to the Aggies, BYU went 21-3 against Utah State, including 13-1 at Cougar Stadium. BYU even took the Aggies’ color when they replaced royal with navy during Edwards’ second-to-last season in 1999.
Gordon B. Hinckley, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, renamed the stadium LaVell Edwards Stadium at his final home game in 2000. Appropriately, Thursday’s meeting, which may be the last between BYU and Utah State, nearly 100 years from the first meeting in 1922, will be settled at LaVell’s place.
The Cougars’ call to the Big 12 is terminating the annual showdown with no future game on the schedule. While the Aggies have been a loyal customer throughout BYU’s 12-year run as an independent, the Cougars are losing their freedom to choose, including who they want to play leading up to General Conference weekend.
This is where some of the cool things of the past are being replaced on the promises of progress in the future. No one knows if these two teams will ever face each other again, but we do know that they will mix it up Thursday night.
There have been 90 previous meetings in the rivalry that will settle the ownership, maybe even permanent ownership, of the Old Wagon Wheel — the pioneer-themed trophy that stays with the victor until the loser wins it back.
The 1-3 Aggies may be stumbling into Provo on a three-game losing skid and 3-1 BYU may have discovered the fountain of youth in its ground attack. On paper, this may appear as big of a mismatch as LaVell lining up to challenge Freeland. But on the field, as we have seen many times before, BYU and Utah State find ways to keep fans on the edge of their seats.
For at least one more night, under the lights at LaVell Edwards Stadium, the two sides can honor the same Hall of Fame pioneer, who they both have historic claim to, by playing their hearts out — one last time.
In an effort to keep LaVell from getting confused, if he’s looking in from above on Thursday, his Cougars will be wearing royal blue while his Aggies remain in navy blue. For that, Edwards can thank Kalani Sitake, his former fullback who took the BYU job a year before his mentor died on Dec. 29, 2016.
Controlling the line of scrimmage, taking care of the ball and minimizing penalties are always determining factors in emotional rivalries; when it comes to BYU and Utah State — since the day he stepped onto both campuses, the name of the game will always be LaVell Edwards.
Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is the studio host for “BYU Sports Nation Game Day,” “The Post Game Show,” “After Further Review,” and play-by-play announcer for BYUtv. He is also co-host of “Y’s Guys” at ysguys.com.