Aggies trace recent success back to win in Hawaii

Nov 1 2013 - 7:39pm

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LOGAN -- Coach Matt Wells called it a "springboard."

Tavaris McMillian and Jake Doughty used the word "flipped," one about what happened to the entire program and the other about what came of the program's mentality.

Whatever it is -- a jumping-off place or a reversal -- the Utah State football team's come-from-behind, 35-31 victory on the Hawaiian Islands on Nov. 5, 2011, has seemed important for its program. It sparked a stretch of 19 wins in 24 games -- the five losses coming by a combined 13 points - tarnished only recently by losses to BYU and Boise State following a season-ending injury to star quarterback Chuckie Keeton.

USU (4-4, 3-1 Mountain West) and Hawaii (0-7, 0-5) meet again in Logan today. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. in the Rainbow Warriors contingent arrives in time.

"A lot of people point to that game," said Wells of two years ago, when he was USU's offensive coordinator. "The culture that coach (Gary) Andersen had been building, we knew we were close."

Really close. The Aggies had nearly shocked defending national champion Auburn, dropped a homecoming matchup against Colorado State in double overtime, were edged by a field goal at BYU and lost by a touchdown against Louisiana Tech.

Most of USU's game against Hawaii, however, wasn't following a similar trajectory. The Aggies trailed the Warriors 28-7 at halftime. Keeton had been carried off the field on a stretcher after suffering the first major injury of his career, to his neck.

In came Adam Kennedy.

As Wells said, "he let it rip," completing 8-of-12 passes for 163 yards, threading passes through double coverage, engineering four scoring drives in the tropical rain pouring into Aloha Stadium.

"We let him sling it," Wells said. "He threw some balls that shouldn't have been thrown. I think I had my eyes covered half the time in the press box."

Players told the Standard-Examiner a halftime speech from Bobby Wagner, now a starting linebacker for the NFL's Seattle Seahawks, spurred the rally.

"We expected the coaches to come and just drill us," said McMillian, who had two tackles in the game. "It was Bobby who stepped up and told everybody we were not playing to our ability."

McMillian said that Wagner had previously addressed the defense, not the entire team, in his career.

"Bobby Wagner made a great speech about how... you have got to play for each other," said Doughty, who had five tackles. "He made everything believe it was our time to step up and get everything we want to out of season."

"To do it in the fashion that we did was huge, not just for the program, but for our confidence on an individual standpoint," Wells said. "It was a good night to be an Aggie."

Before USU's comeback, Hawaii team was 5-3 after a 10-4 campaign in 2010. But the program has gone just 4-20 since.

The winless Warriors this season have been close to victory in recent weeks. They lost by 10 points or less in each of their past four contests, when they have outscored their opponents 52-17 in the fourth quarter. A Sean Schroeder pass in the end zone fell incomplete to end Hawaii's seven-point defeat to Colorado State on Saturday. That followed a two-point decision at UNLV.

"Don't look at the record. Don't believe it," Wells said. "All you've got to do is flip on the tape. These guys play hard. I think it's a great testament to coach (Norm) Chow and their staff in... the culture he's creating there."

Among his 36 years as a collegiate coach, Chow spent 27 years at BYU, one at North Carolina State, four at USC, three at UCLA and another at his alma mater, Utah. Chow also spent three years as offensive coordinator for the NFL's Tennessee Titans before taking the first head job of his career.

Chow replaced Greg McMackin, who retired just one month after his team collapsed against USU.

* "THE BIG PICTURE": According to safety Brian Suite, in the team's weekly meeting, Wells reminded his team that despite recent losses, they are tied with Boise State at 3-1 atop the Mountain Division. One loss by the Broncos, he emphasized, would still open the door for a conference title berth.

Wells said he gave the team that "big picture" after being asked about the parity in the MW. Eight of the 12 teams are 2-2 or better in league play, and nine are between 2-5 and 5-3 overall.

Wells says he spoke of such balance in July, at MW media days. Now, it's causing him to worry.

Not that he wants that to spread to his players.

"I told them: 'You've got Hawaii, and you've got school,'" he said. "'Reduce the drama in your life. Get the other stuff out of your life. It's not real hard.'"

* NOTES: The Aggies scrimmaged on Oct. 24, during their bye week. Wells said he was impressed with freshman offensive lineman Tyshon Mosley, junior running back Rashad Hall, freshman receivers Tyler Weese and Hayden Weichers and freshman safety Myron Turner... four Hawaii natives and 17 Polynesians are on USU's roster. Fifteen players between the Aggies and Warriors have played on five of the same high schools, including 13 individuals among four high schools in Utah... USU is ranked in the top 40 in 26 of 44 categories listed on NCAA.com.

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