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Utah State Aggies football: Matt Wells named Mountain West coach of the year

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The road is the most overused cliche in sports. But in Matt Wells case it's probably the most appropriate. The Utah State head coach and former Aggie quarterback traveled many miles as an assistant at Tulsa, Navy and Utah State -- before being named head coach after Gary Andersen left for Wisconsin. He dealt with and overcame numerous injuries at key positions and in so doing was today named the Mountain West Conference coach of the year.

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If Wells career was a Peterbilt it would certainly have some wear and tear on it, having traversed during his coaching career from Maryland on the East coast, back towards his home state of Oklahoma and even further west to his alma mater, the sleepy farm town of Logan, Utah.

Talk about big boots to fill with Andersen's departure; the Aggies had just captured the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl and were riding over a glorious Cache Valley horizon, complete with mooing cows and open pasture.

I think if you were a betting man at that point you would have guessed Gary was staying in Logan until Kyle Whittingham's position came available at Andersen's alma mater, the University of Utah -- because the Utes didn't go bowling at all last year.

Instead, Andersen famously left for Wisconsin and the keys to the Utah State program were handed to Wells, Gary's offensive coordinator. Wells probably had the same idea as Whit when Urban Meyer departed for Florida: Don't wreck the Hummer.

Wells had Chuckie Keeton and a slew of talented juniors and seniors coming back -- and that made up over two-thirds of the Aggies roster. And Utah State was coming off of its most successful season since the 1960s and more was expected of these Aggies this year, than of any other program in decades.

So when the wheels literally fell off the BCS-Or-Bust Bus after Keeton tore his ACL against BYU, you can forgive Aggie fans for being a little worried about a 24-year-old transfer from Snow College via Grantsville (Craig Harrison) or some redshirt freshman whose dad played years ago at San Diego State (Darell Garretson).

After USU lost to BYU -- with Harrison under center -- and continued its losing skid against Boise State it was clear this shiny Humvee would be left for dead on the side of some road in Logan Canyon, somewhere between a tumbleweed and mile post 141-B. In other words, nobody quite knew where these Aggies would end up.

And Utah State wasn't done with injuries; not by a long shot. Kevin Whimpey, the Aggies' all-America candidate and best offensive tackle, as well as starting running back Joe Hill went down with season ending injuries.

And just when you thought it was safe to look up at the TV screen came the news that D.J. Tialavea, the Aggies' tight end, was also out for the rest of the season after suffering an injury in the loss to the Broncos.

To the casual Aggie fan this was not good. To a die-hard, it must have been as bad as it seemed.
Here the Aggies were, losers of two straight. Wells had a lame duck quarterback in Harrison who not only couldn't manage the game -- he couldn't throw a touchdown pass. The new coach had to do something, anything ... to salvage USU's season.

So he took the red shirt off of Garretson, his freshman, and threw him into the fire. Wells was cautious at first, introducing bits and pieces of what Keeton had learned -- but as the games went on and the wins piled up, his freshman was clearly in charge.

By the time the regular season was over the Boise State team that Utah State had lost to in Logan had slipped -- offering the Aggies a chance to win the Mountain Division and advance to the conference championship game.

Utah State pounced on the opportunity with a makeshift offense -- and a stout defense that spent most of the season ranked in the Top 10. A thrashing of Wyoming sent the Aggies to the title game at Fresno State, where USU fought valiantly against the nation's top-ranked offense before losing, 24-17.

For its troubles the Aggies were rewarded with a trip to the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego on Dec. 26 where Utah State will face Heisman Trophy finalist Jordan Lynch and Northern Illinois.

In what was a season that could have been a disaster, USU head coach Matt Wells made it a success, going 8-5 overall with his first Utah State team and without many of his key offensive stars. And that's why despite Fresno State's fantastic 11-1 season Wells clearly deserves the prestigious honor he has been given in his school's first year in the conference.



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