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Logan • Utah State's defense has emerged as one of the stingiest in the Mountain West Conference, just in time for a meeting with high-powered Boise State.
The Aggies and Broncos collide Friday night at Maverik Stadium in a game to determine the front-runner in the Mountain Division of the MWC.
From Utah State's perspective, a key to the outcome will be whether its deep and experienced defense can slow the Broncos, who are averaging 51 points per game during a current four-game winning streak.
Last season in Boise, the Broncos dropped 50 points on Utah State and cruised to an easy victory.
"We're a much more mature defense, and we want to prove that," said junior defensive end Ricky Ali'ifua.
Utah State's defense was at its best last week, when it limited Fresno State to 194 yards and 10 first downs. The Aggies befuddled freshman quarterback Kilton Anderson. In his first start, he completed 10 of 20 passes for 112 yards. He threw three interceptions.
Boise State also starts a freshman quarterback, but Brett Rypien & Co. will likely be far more difficult to stop. A four-star recruit coming out of high school, he is the nephew of former NFL quarterback Mark Rypien.
Since taking over after early-season starter Ryan Finley broke his ankle against Idaho State on Sept. 18, Brett Rypien is completing 70 percent of his passes. He has thrown for seven touchdowns.
"He's done very well," Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. "I wouldn't call it a surprise, but you don't know what a freshman will do because you haven't seen him play. You haven't seen them get out there and actually play, so you never know how they will handle it."
Said Utah State coach Matt Wells: "When you see some of the things he does, he's really good. … He can make all the throws. He's got a good head on his shoulders, he's very accurate and he's got a great supporting cast around him."
At Utah State, Rypien will try to keep producing against the best defense he's faced. One preseason publication ranked the Aggies' front seven among the top 10 in the country.
Currently, USU ranks 15th nationally in average rushing yards (102.2). The Aggies are 18th in total yards (297.4) despite the fact they have already played Utah and Washington two Pac-12 teams.
"We've prided ourselves on stopping the run for some time," Ali'ifua said. "It's not something we just decided, 'OK, this year we want to really focus on that. … We've built this program on having a very stout and solid defense, all the way back to when [current Seattle Seahawks linebacker] Bobby Wagner was here."
This season, Wells gives the credit to his players and first-year defensive coordinator Kevin Clune's ability to match their skills with his schemes.
"We've got good football players," Wells said. "We've recruited well and we've developed them well. … When you recruit good players and you develop good players, usually you play pretty well."
Aggies' defense by the numbers
Utah State's game-by-game defensive statistics this season:
First Rush Pass Total Opponent Downs Yards Yards Yards TOs Pts
Southern Utah 9 52 111 163 0 9
Utah 21 195 132 327 0 24
Washington 20 74 368 442 3 31
Colorado State 24 109 252 361 3 18
Fresno State 10 82 112 194 3 14