Reliving Utah State’s “Almost” Signature Win vs USC in 2013

The History

For decades, Utah State was an average team at best while the two schools down south succeeded. The Aggies fell to their lowest under Brent Guy, including a 1-11 season. Granted, that season wasn’t *that* much lower than their average in that time.

Guy was fired in 2008 and the Aggies hired the Defensive Coordinator from Utah as the new head coach. But Gary Anderson didn’t succeed immediately. His first two years in Logan were average years for the Aggies at 4-8.

Then in 2011, under a freshman QB named Chuckie, the Aggies almost knocked off the defending national champions in Auburn to start the season. They made their first bowl since 1997 and five of their six losses were by a touchdown or less. The sixth loss was by ten on the road.

The 2012 Aggies were the greatest team in Utah State history. Their accomplishments included:

  • Beating the Utes for the first time since 1997
  • Nearly beating a ranked Wisconsin team at Camp Randall
  • Beating a ranked team on the road for the first time in program history
  • Winning a bowl game for the first time since 1993
  • Finishing the season ranked for the first time since 1961
  • Earning their first conference title since 1997
  • Becoming the first Utah State team to win more than 10 games in a season.

Aggie fans were celebrating at the end of the season and excited about the future for the first time in decades.

Then Gary left for Wisconsin.

Defensive Coordinator Dave Aranda left with Gary. Would Chuckie leave too?

Matt Wells was promoted to head coach. Chuckie stuck around. It didn’t feel like the ship was sinking. For now.

Was Gary the reason for the Aggies success? The question persisted throughout the entire off-season.

But the 2013 season started like the 2012 season ended. High-powered. They lost a close game to Utah but bounced back by demolishing Air Force and Weber State. Then the Aggies flew to California to face Lane Kiffin and the Trojans.

The Game

The First Half

The Aggies finally had a chance to show the nation that they could play with the big boys. Their fight with Wisconsin in 2012 was on the BTN and not really a “big game.” The Aggies were on ABC this time. Chuckie Keeton had his shot at getting Heisman attention. They were in the spotlight now.

The Trojans came out looking like the stronger team. They were running through the Aggies for solid gains. It felt like USU was running into a brick wall. A big throw led to a missed 37-yard field goal that the Aggies would want back later. At the end of the first, it was 7-0 but it felt like the Trojans were going to control a low scoring game unless USU could get some miraculous big plays.

The second quarter was more of the same for the Aggies.  A 55 yard run by Joey DeMartino set up a Keeton to Swindall touchdown to tie the game.  The tie lasted for about eight minutes as both teams were stalled. Finally, USC put together a nine play drive to take the lead before the half.

The Second Half

But for the Aggies, this felt like a very winnable game. They weren’t being outclassed by Lane Kiffin and a team that would finish 10-4 and ranked 19th.

With 7 minutes left in the 3rd, USU scored again. The game was tied and the Aggies could smell blood in the water. Both defenses stiffened up and the teams traded punts to finish the 3rd.

But the Aggies last punt of the quarter would prove to be catastrophic. The Aggies punted from the USU 12 yard line and the punter kicked it off the side of his foot. The ball would have been about enough for a first down though. The 12-yard punt left USC with good field position and they got a field goal to take the lead with 13:35 left in the game.

Now backs to the wall, the high powered offense needed to make some big plays. Joe Hill kept them going with a 15 yard run but a penalty the next play put the Aggies in a 1st and 20. With 4th and 11 from the USU 34, Matt Wells took a risk.

They faked the punt.

However, USC was prepared. DJ Tialavea, the future NFL tackle, may have had a good arm, but there just wasn’t a window for him to get it to a receiver. The pass fell incomplete.

The Aggie defense held firm for the rest of the game. USC would accumulate -8 yards on their next two drives. But there just wasn’t a big enough play left for the offense to put the kicker in scoring position. Chuckie ran for it on a 4th and 9 from the USC 41 with 3:33 remaining and came up 3 yards short.

A couple of special teams plays cost the Aggies their spot on the stage. A missed field goal early in the game, a shanked punt, and a failed fake punt all ruined the show for USU. But they weren’t far off.

Afterward

The Aggies could go toe to toe with the big boys and scare them. They lost to Wisconsin by 2 and USC by 3 in back to back years. Fans felt confident that it was only a matter of time until the big signature win happened. In one way, it came in 2014 when the Aggies beat their first P5 opponent not named Utah. But, that was Wake Forest and didn’t really feel like beating the big boys.

The Aggies are still searching for that signature win. Maybe Michigan State needs to watch its back.

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