A battle for the top spot in the Western Athletic Conference standings takes place on Saturday afternoon, as the 19th- ranked Louisiana Tech Bulldogs play host to the Utah State Aggies.
The only two teams still undefeated in WAC play, USU and LaTech are both 4-0 at the moment, although the Bulldogs have won a total of nine games in 10 chances overall this season, and the Aggies are a game back at 8-2.
Off to their best start since 1974 when they also opened 8-2, the Aggies are 4-0 in conference play for the first time since 2000 when they competed as a member of the Big West Conference. The team enjoyed a bye in the schedule last week which means their most recent outing came on Nov. 3 when they dumped Texas State, 38-7. The win was the fourth straight and the sixth in the last seven outings for a team that is again bowl eligible.
With seven straight home victories, the Aggies are enjoying their longest run of success on their own field since they tallied eight consecutive home wins over the course of 1966-68.
As for the Bulldogs, they've been lighting up scoreboard since they first took the field this season. Louisiana Tech, which could easily be undefeated at this point if not for a wild 59-57 loss to Texas A&M last month in Shreveport, set four NCAA records last weekend as it held on to defeat the aforementioned Bobcats in a 62-55 final on the road in San Marcos, Texas.
"We were fortunate to win'" Louisiana Tech head coach Sonny Dykes noted. "We really were lucky to make enough plays to win the ball game, but I thought it was a good win for us. Any time you go on the road and win, it is always a positive, and again, we did what it took to figure out how to win the game."
Louisiana Tech leads the all-time series by a count of 6-3 and is 3-1 at home in Ruston over the years. The Aggies last claimed victory in a 23-21 final in 2009.
"It's fun to be in a game that has this much on the outcome, this late in the year," recognizes Utah State head coach Gary Andersen. "Late November games are what football teams play for and fans want to be around. It's a great accomplishment by both sides to get to the point where both teams are. We are excited about the opportunity to compete and I am sure they are too."
For the Aggies, the focus needs to be on the defense and whether or not they can slow down Louisiana Tech enough to make things competitive. After 10 games Utah State owns the fifth-best run defense in the nation, allowing 94.6 ypg, and in terms of total defense USU is giving up just 303.3 ypg which is 12th- best in the country.
Three times this season the Aggies have held an opponent to a touchdown or less and that's why the squad is permitting a mere 13.5 ppg, best in the WAC and sixth-best in the country.
But make no mistake, the Aggies also have some top-notch performers on offense in quarterback Chuckie Keeton and all-everything Kerwynn Williams. Keeton may be just a sophomore, but he has shown great poise in the pocket with his 23 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. Not only has Williams run for 1,005 yards and nine touchdowns thus far, he is also tied for the lead with 35 receptions, resulting in 499 yards and another three scores.
As good as USU might be on offense, few teams in the nation can claim to be as explosive as the Bulldogs at this stage of the season. The squad is first in total offense with an unbelievable 576.5 ypg and is second in scoring with 53.4 ppg, thanks to the efforts of running back Kenneth Dixon and quarterback Colby Cameron.
Dixon ran for 144 yards and four touchdowns and added another score on a pass reception which gives him 24 rushing touchdowns on the year overall, breaking the NCAA record of TDs on the ground by a freshman previously held by Marshall Faulk (San Diego State, 1991) and Ryan Williams (Virginia Tech, 2009) who both recorded 21. Cameron also carved out a spot in the record books for himself as he set a new NCAA record for consecutive pass attempts without an interception, his run of 419 passes still going strong heading into this week.
Perhaps the scariest part of how much Dixon (1,052 yards rushing) and Cameron (328.3 ypg, 27 TDs) have dominated this season is that lost in the shuffle is receiver Quinton Patton who has 83 catches for 1,086 yards and 11 TDs of his own and has been named as a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award.
Granted, the defense for the Bulldogs has some serious holes as it gives up 505.7 ypg and 36.2 ppg, but it seems as though the team is willing to bend in that area in order to trot the offense onto the field as much as possible. The success of the offense has also kept punter Ryan Allen, the 2011 Ray Guy Award winner, off the field a bit more these days, but still has the team leading the nation in punting this year with 43.1 yards per kick.
"Utah State is a great team," Cameron admits. "I think it is encouraging for our team knowing that we have not played our best on both sides of the ball. We have not played a complete game and I think once the offense, defense and special teams can all get on that same page I think we will have a real explosive game, and I think this week will be good to just focus on the little things and get better at the details. Hopefully, we can play like we know we can."