College football • USU is 4-0 on road in its first Mountain West Conference season
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Even out of an ugly win, Matt Wells managed to pull out plenty of bright spots.
He said Tuesday that he played a clip for his team of kicker Jake Thompson making a sideline tackle on a UNLV kick return that would've otherwise gone back for six. He wanted to remind his Utah State squad what real effort looks like.
"[Thompson's tackle] shows that you never know when your play is going to make a difference in a ball game," he said. "It can come at any time and that was a prime example. It saved four points and was huge as the game wore on."
As the Aggies begin another bye week, they're seeking to bring that energy to their final two home games. Colorado State and Wyoming visit Romney Stadium in back-to-back weeks to close the regular season, and Utah State hopes to stay atop the Mountain Division with wins and a trip-up from Boise State.
Topping the Rebels 28-24 didn't offer much confidence that the Aggies can steamroll the Rams and Cowboys at home. But nevertheless, Wells said, the team did finish 4-0 on the road in their new conference, and that's something that can't be taken away.
"It was huge for us confidence-wise to win on the road in our first year in the Mountain West," Wells said. "To be 4-0 on the road in league is a tremendous accomplishment for our kids, and something we'll go back and draw strength from as we go on in this program and the years in the Mountain West Conference."
This latest bye finds Utah State in better shape than the last one. The team has won three straight games, its offense has scored 28 points or more in each win, and the program as a whole has stabilized since star quarterback Chuckie Keeton went down.
This bye will be more internally focused than the last, as most of the staff will remain in Logan to work out some of the kinks that popped up against UNLV. Wells said the team will meet and condition Wednesday before going through regular practices on Thursday and Friday.
The team also took time to tend to personal matters this week. Wells estimated 60 players and team staff came on two team buses for Monday's funeral service for Don Tialavea, the father of senior tight end D.J. Tialavea.
Utah State played with helmet stickers honoring Don Tialavea on Saturday night. Wells said he had asked his staff, Waqa Damuni in particular, to design a helmet sticker, and asked the family for permission. The design, a "DT" with a Polynesian-influenced background, was a surprise to the family, and the stickers themselves were a surprise to the team.
Wells said he anticipates wearing the stickers for the rest of the year.