PROVO — The Cougars could be without three key offensive starters when they host Utah State on Saturday in LaVell Edwards Stadium.

On Monday, head coach Bronco Mendenhall reported senior offensive tackle Eddie Keele is lost for the season to a knee injury; starting center Sete Aulai is suspended for the Aggies' game for breaking team rules; and quarterback John Beck (sprained ankles) is day-to-day following an aggravated injury in the Boston College game.

The Cougars (1-2) host Utah State (0-3) Saturday at 1 p.m.

While Beck is being asked to sit out of practice and isolate his right ankle, the season-ending injury to Keele cast a somber cloud over Monday's otherwise spirited practice session in pads and shorts.

When news of Keele's status hit his position coach Jeff Grimes, it didn't go over well. "When I heard the news, I cried," Grimes said. "I feel awful, I feel just awful. I feel so bad for the kid. We'll go on as a team, but what bothers me is here's a kid who has worked as hard as anybody the past two years and transformed himself into a player who was ready for a great senior year."

Grimes said Keele's leadership will be missed the rest of the season. "This was a huge personal setback for him. I feel awful because he is such a wonderful player and great kid, not only did he bring a lot of value to our team as the guy who protects the back of our quarterback, but he brought a toughness, leadership, worth ethic and we'll miss that."

Grimes said he worked Jake Kuresa and Dave Oswald at tackle, but could use Dallas Reynolds, Ray Feinga, Travis Bright and other combinations because he has a lot of candidates. Kuresa and freshman Ryan Freeman are working out at center in place of Aulai this week.

"It really boils down to putting the best five football players on the field at the same time. We'll see how things work out during the week," said Grimes.

Mendenhall put his troops through a rigorous Monday practice, trying to fix small mistakes in the Boston College game that prevented a victory.

Mendenhall didn't want his players to lose sight of all the good things they did Saturday, reminding them that they played outstanding in all phases of the game against a quality opponent on the road. "They have a bitter taste over the loss, but they know there are small things they can fix to turn what happened into a win," Mendenhall said.

The Cougars' penalties against B.C. included some repeat infractions like procedures, and included the first pass interference call of the season.

Mendenhall said BYU needs to increase its precision and execution. "When we executed correctly, we played very well. When we didn't, we gave them opportunities to get back in the game."

Mendenhall said he asked his coaches to take "ownership at a higher level."

To mimick, recreate and practice the "pressure" situations such as field goals, which have misfired against Arizona and B.C., is impossible, according to Mendenhall. "You can practice it, but you can't copy that situation, those circumstances, as in a game."

Mendenhall said Jason Beck will get the first reps every day at quarterback and could do so right up until game time, depending on how John Beck progresses.

John Beck stood on the sidelines. The senior, who was honored by the league on Monday as the offensive player of the week, said he was doing all he could to prepare for USU without actually practicing.

"I've got my helmet and pads on, I'm out there. I'm doing everything I possibly can. My teammates know I've been out there the past two weeks practicing when my ankles were killing me on every step."

Beck said although he had both ankles injured the past three weeks, the pain after the B.C. game was definitely worse than after the Arizona and Tulsa games. "This hurt so bad after this game that just sitting down, not putting any pressure on it, it still hurt."

The previous two Mondays Beck practiced but walked gingerly, as if on pins and needles. By midweek, he participated in drills. Beck did receive pain shots in both ankles before playing against Tulsa and Boston College.

"It's frustrating not being able to practice. The last few games I haven't been able to run around like I can, move around in the pocket like I know I can, but I wasn't going to let it stop me from playing. I took a couple of shots in that game that added to it. We just have to see how it feels, day to day."

The MWC tabbed Beck as the league's top offensive performer after he threw for a season-high 436 yards, completing 38-of-59 attempts, in the Cougars' double-overtime loss at No. 23 Boston College on Saturday. Beck also threw one touchdown completion and added a rushing touchdown in the first quarter to give BYU an early 7-0 lead. Beck's passing yardage total was the most since posting a Mountain West record 517 yards against TCU last season, and was the second-highest passing yardage total of his career.

CAREER MOVE: Senior QB John Beck moved into fifth place on BYU's all-time passing list with 8,101 career yards, passing the likes of Steve Young (7,733) and Kevin Feterik (8,065). Having racked up 8,113 total yards over his career, Beck moved into fourth place on the Cougars' all-time total offense list, passing Feterik (7,731), John Walsh (7,736) and Robbie Bosco (8,073). With 52 touchdown completions, Beck ranks 10th on BYU's all-time touchdown completions list.

Saturday's performance marked his first 300-yard passing performance of the season and the 12th of his career.

COUGARS FAVORED? While TCU remains the top team in the MWC and is ranked in the top 20, an ESPN commentator who did the B.C.-BYU game believes the Cougars should be the league's leader once the smoke clears. Ten minutes into his local radio program in Columbus, Ohio, on Monday, Chris Spielman, the ESPN color analyst for Saturday's B.C. game, declared that BYU will run the Mountain West Conference.

KEELE INTEREST: NFL scouts visiting BYU's camp have been interested in the strongest Cougar lineman over the past two months. Left tackle Eddie Keele is out for the season after a knee injury on Saturday at Boston College. "They all have different opinions, just like we do as coaches when we go out recruiting high school players," according to offensive line coach Jeff Grimes. "Most of them are really impressed with his quickness of feet, his strength and punch, his toughness and aggressiveness, which has really come on of late. I really think he will have a career at the next level, although it might be at a different spot if he'd had a chance to prove himself through 12 or 13 games this year."

Highlights from Cougar camp

• Beck honored, but sidelined

• O-linemen out and suspended

• Mendenhall: Finding the positive


E-mail: dharmon@desnews.com