Expectation levels have been somewhat altered for the Utah State football team, a big reason for that is the fall of Aggie football star Chuckie Keeton. Keeton suffered a knee injury Saturday night, against the BYU Cougars, ending his season and what looks to be Mountain West Conference championship hopes for Aggie fans. However, the conference championship game isn’t out of the question just yet.
Boise State 3-2 (1-1) is the only legitimate threat to the Aggies for the Mountain Division title, the winner of this game will most likely play Fresno State in the championship game Dec. 7.
A win over Boise State could clinch the Mountain Division for the Aggies, mainly because the Aggies aren’t scheduled to play Fresno State, while Boise State has already played and lost to the Bulldogs.
Now to say the game against the Broncos is going to be an easy victory is foolish, losing Keeton will take its toll; you can’t replace 20 TDs. But maybe the Aggies can do these 10 things to get the victory over the Broncos.
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Injuries have plagued the Aggie season thus far, specifically on the offensive side of the ball, the obvious injury to Keeton. But season-ending injuries to junior running back Joe Hill and senior lineman Kyle Whimpey are obviously piling up for the Aggie offense. The Aggies have to stay healthy because an injury to Travis Van Leeuwen or Travis Reynolds could be catastrophic.
In the three losses (USC, Utah, BYU), the Aggie defense has given up an average 248 yards per game through the air. In the three victories (WSU, SJSU, Air Force), the Aggie defense gave up 156 yards through the air. It’s safe to say when teams pass it usually means bad news for the Aggies. Somehow head coach Matt Wells has to fix the struggling secondary this week or Boise State’s QB Joe Southwick will put up big numbers.
The Aggies have one of the most experienced lines in the country and the loss of Whimpey is huge, but there are four other lineman who should make running the ball fairly easy. Also it helps that the Boise State defense has been giving up 154 yards per game on the ground. If Wells does anything but give the ball to Joey DeMartino, it wouldn’t make any sense. DeMartino needs to get the ball at least two, maybe three times, a drive to set up the pass.
Arguments can be made that the Aggies have the best receivers in the state. Led by Reynolds and Van Leeuwen collecting 661 yards between the two of them, and 657 between the next four receivers. If the Aggies can establish the running game, it will open up the pass for Craig Harrison to get it to his elite receivers. If that happens, Aggie receivers must be prepared to make those key receptions.
It is apparent that penalties are becoming a problem for the Aggies, particularly on the defensive side. Countless times the Aggies would be third and long, looking to get off the field and give the ball back to the offense, but suddenly that yellow flag flies onto screen. Whether it be a late hit or more frequent passer interference, it needs to stop. It’s typical and cliche but the most discipline team usually wins the game. Utah State is giving up 66 yards per game with penalties, and they rank 109 out of 123 FBS teams.
Prior to the BYU game, the last five losses Aggies look back at one particular moment where they say, “If we would’ve made that field goal, the game would’ve ended differently.” When is “if” enough? Make the field goal.
Now it’s not always the kicker's fault; there are other factors. Can the snapper get a good snap to the placeholder? Can the holder get it down in time for kicker to kick it? Then can the line sustain their blocks?
Against BYU, the team could not, and it seemed to change the momentum of the game going into halftime. Defense wins championships, but special teams brings it home.
I would hope the Aggies haven’t lost any confidence with the loss of Keeton. Because if they have, then the season is already over.
Wells said it best: “This is an ultimate teams sport, not one player makes a team.”
Utah State should come into this game with the biggest chip on its shoulder. Has everyone — meaning the fans — given up on the season and starting to question if the Aggies will even make it to bowl season?
Harrison doesn’t have to go into the game and throw for 300 yards for the Aggies to win. But he needs to give the ball to DeMartino, and when it’s third down, have confidence in himself that he can make the pass and move the chains. He even showed he has some athletic ability last week against BYU, scampering for first downs when BYU wasn’t expecting it.
Harrison is a good quarterback and can make throws, but I believe he was somewhat surprised that he played last week, so a week of practice will do him good.
I feel like I’m constantly repeating myself, but running the ball in this game will be key to the Aggies' success. Not trying to hurry up and score on every drive will not help the Aggies in any way, so the no-huddle offense has to go.
Harrison must eat the clock as long as possible, so he can survey the field and call out any adjustments he sees needed. Then give it to his running back and let his lineman go to work. Keeping Southwick and the Broncos off the field will be a key factor in the game.
The Utah State student section must be "hurd." It doesn’t matter what your opinion on the hurd may be, Aggie Athletics thrives on their energy and enthusiasm. If students claim that the season is at a loss, and feel like their time could be best suited elsewhere, it could be devastating. Like I stated in my previous article, hurd us yet? The atmosphere that the hurd creates is something you’ve got to see for yourself. If the students fail to support their Aggies, then the season will be just that, a fail.