The nightmare scenario came to fruition last week for Aggie fans as Chuckie Keeton went down with a knee injury for the rest of the season. Despite losing its most important player, the show must go on for Utah State starting this week against Boise State. Fortunately, the Broncos look like they may have fallen off a bit from recent dominance, losing two games already this season to Washington and Fresno State. Can Utah State rally around their running game and defense to get the victory? Or will Boise State take advantage of the lack of quarterback experience and beat the Aggies at home? Here's a position-by-position look at this week's matchup and which team will have the edge heading into Saturday's game:
Utah State can't afford to look in the rearview mirror and will have to look forward with either junior Craig Harrison or true freshman Darell Garretson to man the most important position on the field. Harrison was all right, but far from spectacular in last week's loss to BYU pinch hitting for Keeton. He finished the night 18-of-41 for 185 yards and a touchdown while trying to keep up with the Cougars in a 31-14 loss. He looked skittish on several plays, hardly a surprise after he was thrust into a tough game against a solid defense. Garretson is green, but intriguing and may be the way to go if Utah State is prepared for him to take his lumps. His touch looked intriguing in fall camp, but playing against perennial powerhouse Boise State is a lot to ask of a young quarterback. Either way the Aggies go, look for a strong reliance on the talent around them as both quarterbacks look to manage the game.
Senior Joe Southwick has had a good season for the Broncos so far, but has struggled in both of Boise State's losses to superior teams. Against Tennessee Martin, Air Force and Southern Mississippi, Southwick has 789 yards, nine touchdowns and one interception. Conversely, against Washington and Fresno State, he has zero touchdowns, two interceptions and only 465 yards passing. Utah State is clearly closer to Fresno State than Tennessee-Martin in terms of defensive talent, so Southwick could have a hard time if the Aggies can apply some pressure. Still, it's hard to argue that he is a worse option than either of the Aggie passers.
Edge: Boise State
The onus of responsibility will be on Joey DeMartino to keep Utah State in the game Saturday, as he must pick up the slack for not only Keeton's yardage through the air, but on the ground as well. DeMartino churned out 80 yards on 16 carries against BYU, but will have to tote the rock at least 20 to 25 times against the Broncos and get in the end zone at least once to keep Boise State honest. It's highly concerning that three of four of DeMartino's touchdowns came against Weber State and that he hasn't found the end zone for three weeks. That won't cut it against Boise State.
Sophomore Jay Ajayi has been a beast this year for Boise State, accounting for 435 yards and eight touchdowns so far this season. Though he, like Southwick, had his lowest yards per carry averages against Washington and Fresno State, Ajayi has scored in every game besides the season opener and ran wild over Air Force for 125 yards and four touchdowns. Utah State held up well against BYU's Jamaal Williams, but Ajayi will more than likely get at least 80 yards and score at least once.
Edge: Boise State
Luckily for Harrison or Garretson, they will have a few options to throw to against the Broncos. No receiver had more than 47 yards against BYU because of the Keeton injury, but Utah State still has a wealth of weapons to exploit. Six different receivers have at least two touchdowns for the Aggies and five have at least 130 yards receiving this season. Travis Reynolds is still the leader for Utah State with 353 yards and three touchdowns this season and Brandon Swindall is pitching in with 216 yards and four touchdowns of his own. Other options include Keegan Andersen, D.J. Tialavea, Travis Van Leeuwen and Ronald Butler.
Boise State is similarly wealthy with receivers, with five over 100 yards receiving this season, three with at least two touchdowns and four with at least 20 receptions. Junior Matt Miller leads the team with 388 yards receiving and two touchdowns, while diminutive sophomore Shane Williams-Rhodes has 206 yards and three touchdowns of his own. Geraldo Boldewijn and Kirby Moore are the other receiving leaders on the team and provide big targets for Southwick.
Utah State held up well in pass protection last week despite the loss of guard Kyle Whimpey. They didn't surrender a sack against the Cougars and have given up nine sacks so far this season, ranking them fourth best in the Mountain West. The key will be if they can hold up to a formidable Boise State front without the mobility and improvisational skills of Keeton.
Boise State is tied with Utah State in surrendered sacks with nine. Utah State may be able to capitalize on a harrassing Southwick, however, after the Broncos gave up three sacks against Southern Mississippi last week.
Edge: Utah State
Defensive Line and Linebackers:
The Utah State front seven turned in another solid performance against BYU, racking up three sacks and keeping the mobile Taysom Hill in check for the entire game. The Aggies have been dominant up front with 38 tackles for loss and nine sacks, tied for fourth in the Mountain West. Kyler Fackrell has been a one man wrecking ball with eight tackles for loss and four sacks of his own and is poised to make Southwick's life difficult on Saturday.
Boise State is right behind the Aggies with eight sacks and 25 tackles for loss. The Broncos had four sacks against Southern Mississippi and will look to continue their luck against the Aggie quarterbacks adjusting to the starting line up. Boise State has four players with at least one sack and five with at least two tackles for loss. Defensive end Demarcus Lawrence and defensive lineman Beau Martin have been beasts for the Broncos, racking up 7.5 tackles for loss and four sacks combined.
Taysom Hill, who had struggled mightily to get anything going in the passing game, had his best performance of the year against the Aggies with 278 yards and three touchdowns. However, overall Utah State is one of the best in the conference in pass defense. The Aggies are ranked third overall in the Mountain West, surrendering the third lowest average of yards (203) and touchdowns (7) behind UNLV and Wyoming. Utah State has four interceptions so far this season.
Boise State gives up nearly 50 yards more per game to opposing quarterbacks than the Aggies, but is tied for first in the Mountain West in interceptions with eight after picking off two passes against Southern Mississippi. That doesn't bode well for either new starting quarterback who may manage more yardage, but are at risk for tossing more picks. Safety Darian Thompson and corner Bryan Douglas may as well be receivers with three interceptions each.
Utah State has home field advantage and will want to show up to prove their success didn't hinge entirely on Keeton, but it's hard to imagine they'll beat Boise State with so much uncertainty at the quarterback position. Boise State will do enough to make Harrison or Garretson uncomfortable early and will take control of the game for an easy 35-13 victory.