College football • USU needs defense to lead the way with QB Chuckie Keeton out
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Logan • It will be strange, Kevin McGiven acknowledged, not to see No. 16 trot out onto the field Saturday night.
Watching from up in the booth, Utah State's offensive coordinator has become accustomed to seeing Chuckie Keeton do fantastic things, from scrambling away from near-certain sacks, to hurling passes far downfield on a rope to his receivers.
The Aggies' junior quarterback will be sidelined after tearing his ACL and MCL in the loss to BYU last week, but McGiven still has faith in the players who will be suiting up.
"Chuckie's been kind of the lifeline of the offense, but any time you don't have that, you have to have guy step up," McGiven said. "That's the beauty of this game it's not about just one guy."
If the Aggies are feeling any less confident without Keeton headed into Saturday's matchup with the Broncos, they aren't showing it. That said, Utah State's coaching staff and players know they'll have to play a different kind of game to be able to knock off one of the Mountain West's premier programs and take control in the Mountain Division.
Translation: It might look a little ugly.
The Mountain West has been an all-offense league this season. Six teams are among the top 50 scoring offenses nationally, five are in the top 50 in total yardage. However, only Utah State is in both the top 50 in scoring defense and total yardage defense.
Shootouts have defined the conference this year. But given the circumstances, the Aggies will be happy with low-scoring brawls from here on out.
"When you look at the league and what's going on with it, from our standpoint I don't think we can win track meets with people and win 50-point games," defensive coordinator Todd Orlando said. "I don't think that's our approach. Some games open up that way, but that's not going to be our type of game."
Utah State will ask its defense, a unit that is already the class of the Mountain West, to play even better. Great play by the front seven has helped locked down the run. The Aggies are allowing only 3.2 yards per carry this season, but they'll need to shore up a secondary that got beaten deep by BYU quarterback Taysom Hill last week.
That will be a high calling against Boise State, which is averaging over 42 points and nearly 500 yards per game. The Broncos get it done both through the air and on the ground, with playmakers in quarterback Joe Southwick and running back Jay Ajayi.
"Just matchups and playing our keys is going to be the thing," safety Brian Suite said. "They've got some big-bodied guys and we're going to have to play physical."
On offense, Utah State will start either junior Craig Harrison or freshman Darell Garretson. USU's coaches have kept that decision under wraps all week, but acknowledge that, whoever starts, he's going to need help from the rest of the offense especially skill players and seasoned linemen who can keep the pressure off the quarterback. Utah State will need many things to go right to compete with Boise State, but the Aggies believe in their many parts, not just Keeton. There are still 16 healthy senior starters who have helped the program grow from a cellar-dweller to a contender in the Mountain West.
They say losing a player even a great player won't diminish their will.
"We're very lucky because we have a special group of kids," defensive line coach Frank Maile said. "They're hard-nosed, blue-collar tough kids. They've always found a way, and they'll continue to do so."
Boise State at Utah State
O At Romney Stadium (Logan)
Kickoff • Saturday, 6 p.m.
Radio • 1280 AM
Series history • Boise State, 13-4
Last meeting • Boise State, 50-14 (Dec. 4, 2010)
About the Aggies • Utah State has lost three offensive starters since the season began, with senior guard Kyle Whimpey (patellar tendon), junior running back Joe Hill (ACL), and junior quarterback Chuckie Keeton (ACL and MCL) out for the year. … The Aggies' defense is ranked No. 25 in total defense (335.8 ypg) and No. 26 in scoring defense (19.3 ppg). … Averaging 10.7 tackles per game, linebacker Jake Doughty is No. 2 in the Mountain West and No. 10 in the FBS.
About the Broncos • They have won 10 straight games in the series, with Utah State's last win over Boise coming in 1997. … Boise State has been penalized only 18 times this year, tied for eighth-fewest in the nation (3.6 per game). … The Broncos have picked off eight passes this year, and corner Bryan Douglas and safety Darian Thompson each have three interceptions.