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Aggies don't give up


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POSTED: Thursday, November 05, 2009

Like most coaching changes, Utah State's hiring of Gary Andersen as head football coach inspired a great deal of optimism from Aggies players and fans. But while there is a sense of change for the better in a program that hasn't finished a season with a winning record since 1996, that hopefulness has yet to translate into many victories.

Utah State's latest setback, a 31-27 loss at Fresno State last Saturday, dropped the Aggies to 1-3 in Western Athletic Conference games and 2-6 overall. Adding insult to injury, USU owned a 10-point lead at halftime and was up 27-24 until the Bulldogs (5-3, 4-1) scored the go-ahead touchdown with 4:53 left.

The defeat left a familiar feeling for the Aggies, who lost at New Mexico State, 20-17, on a last-second field goal, and were up 21-7 on Nevada at home before falling 35-32.

“;It's tough,”; Andersen said on his radio show following USU's 11th straight loss on the road. “;To this point, to say it's been a tough, heart-breaking, gut-wrenching season is an understatement. But these kids will keep fighting. We'll come back next week, and I expect us to play very, very well at Hawaii.”;

The Aggies did rack up 503 yards of offense at Fresno, thanks to junior quarterback Diondre Borel, who rushed for a career-high 105 yards and one touchdown while also completing 20 of 31 passes for 240 yards and another score. Already USU's career leader in rushing yards for a quarterback, Borel has run for 342 yards on 121 carries this season and scored five touchdowns on the ground.

Borel's escapability and ball control have been key for the Aggies all year, allowing him to complete 146 of 251 passes for 1,921 yards and 11 touchdowns while throwing only one interception in eight games.

“;I thought Diondre was absolutely fantastic at getting us out of trouble, once again,”; Andersen noted after the loss at Fresno. “;Look at the number of times that young man gets us out of trouble with his legs and then is able to throw the ball down the field and make big-time plays. I've never been around anybody like him. He's a special, special player.”;

Also providing some punch in the Aggies' new spread offense this season has been Robert Turbin. The 5-foot-10, 212-pound sophomore running back rushed for 138 yards and one score against Fresno State, leaving him with 872 yards on 132 carries (a 6.6-yard-per-carry average) and five touchdowns for the season.

“;Robert is a tremendous football player, and we need to make sure we get him as many opportunities with the ball as we can,”; Andersen said of Turbin, who ran for a school-record 96-yard touchdown earlier in the year against Utah. “;He ran well (against Fresno State), and he did everything he could to win the football game.”;

Following five highly successful seasons as the assistant head coach, defensive coordinator and defensive line coach at Utah, losing games is something Andersen is not used to. But the Aggies' nonconference schedule was brutal for a program that went 9-38 in four seasons under previous head coach Brent Guy. This season, USU played respectably in losses at Utah (35-17), Texas A&M (38-30) and BYU (35-17).

While Andersen did pick up his first win at Southern Utah (an FCS team) the last weekend in September, the Aggies struggled defensively at home against the Thunderbirds before sealing the deal 53-34. Utah State then ended a four-game losing streak to Louisiana Tech thanks to a 23-21 win in Logan, Utah, two weeks back. The Aggies were up by 16 points on the Bulldogs, but unlike its other three WAC contests, the USU defense managed to shut down the opposing team in crunch time.

Making the Aggies' defensive grit down the stretch more impressive is the fact that three senior captains are sidelined. Linebacker Paul Igboeli, an All-WAC, second-team selection in 2008, was out with an ankle injury, while starting safety James Brindley was lost to a bad hamstring, and cornerback Kejon Murphy suffered a concussion while making a tackle.

Igboeli ended up not even traveling to the game at Fresno, while Brindley was on the sidelines in street clothes. Murphy actually made USU's first tackle of the game, but he left midway through the first quarter after getting hit on the helmet and did not return. All three are questionable for this week's game at Hawaii.

“;Kejon didn't feel quite right, and there's no reason to take a chance in a situation like that when you're dealing with a concussion,”; Andersen said. “;So, we'll continue to evaluate him, as well as James and Paul, and just see what happens.”;

As a defensive unit, the Aggies have surrendered just more than 31 points a game this season, 199 yards on the ground and 221 yards through the air. Fresno State ended up right near those marks, compiling 210 yards rushing and 256 yards passing. After holding Ryan Mathews to just 40 yards on six carries in the first half, the Utah State defense surrendered 145 yards on 17 carries to the nation's leading rusher in the second half.

“;The bottom line is, we're not playing good defense,”; Andersen said. “;Look at the numbers; they speak for themselves. ... I'm proud of the way the kids fought and played like crazy, but obviously to get where we want to get in the future, we've got to play a lot better defense.”;