LOGAN, Utah — A week ago, this was Cal State Fullerton--a team whose confidence was shaken by two lopsided losses, with an offense and a defense that took turns sputtering.
Today, that is Utah State, the Titans' opponent in their second Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. game of the season.
Like Fullerton, Utah State opened the season by playing a couple of teams far out of its league--Nebraska and Kentucky. The Aggies were outscored, 97-12.
But unlike Fullerton, which was outscored, 100-12, in losses to Hawaii and Louisiana State, the Aggies have not yet had a chance to bounce back.
Fullerton boosted its confidence last week, with strong showings by the offense and defense in a victory over Cal State Long Beach. The Aggies, on the other hand, were idle. "Just like Long Beach State was for us, this is for them the most important game of the year," Titan Coach Gene Murphy said.
Utah State Coach Chuck Shelton has spent the week trying to see that his team is ready, putting the Aggies--who rank last in the nation in scoring defense, total defense, rushing defense, rushing offense and punt returns--through what he called the three most strenuous practices of his 26 years of coaching.
One of the few things he has been happy with has been the play of quarterback Brent Snyder (130 yards per game).
At other positions he has made wholesale changes, replacing three of five starters on the offensive line and relegating his most experienced tailback to third string.
This is a season in which Shelton is trying to change both the image and the attitude of Utah State football, a program that has not had a winning season since 1980, when the Aggies were 6-5.
Most apparently, the team is wearing new Raider-like silver helmets, and the lettering on the back of the jerseys has been changed to read "Utah State" rather than "Aggies," thereby avoiding association with the New Mexico State Aggies, the PCAA's most unsuccessful program. This is a game Shelton and the Aggies would like to use to soften the memory of a 33-0 loss to Fullerton last year in Santa Ana Stadium.
Shelton, whose team managed only 38 net yards rushing and fumbled seven times in that game, recalls it as the worst college football game he has ever seen, and has called his own team on that day the worst college team he has ever seen.
He also said that in losing to Fullerton, the Aggies lost badly to "probably the worst team we'll see all season," a comment that has been repeated around Fullerton in the past week.
For the Titans, this week's task appears far less taxing after the confidence-builder against Long Beach.
The defense had its best outing of the year, effectively slowing Long Beach quarterback Jeff Graham. And offensively, the Titans for the first time got the kind of output they are looking for from the tailback position when Eric Franklin gained 104 yards. Quarterback Ronnie Barber had the second best game of his career, passing for 202 yards and rushing for 48.
"Once you taste it, you don't forget it," Murphy said.
Junior walk-on Sean Fernandes will start at right cornerback in place of Tyrone Pope (knee injury), who did not make the trip. . . . Fullerton has won the last four meetings of a series that stands 4-4, though the Titans have needed a last-second field goal to win each of the last two games at Logan. . . . Utah State should have little trouble knowing what to expect from the Titans. Two Aggie assistant coaches, Pat Behrns and Stan Eggen, worked under Titan Coach Gene Murphy when he was coach at North Dakota. . . . Utah State's Brett Stevens, a former Fountain Valley High School quarterback and the brother of former UCLA quarterback Matt Stevens, was moved from quarterback to strong safety this year, and is a deep reserve in the Aggie secondary.