The Utah State Aggies will make the short trip south to visit the Utah Utes Friday night, in a game that will resume the in-state rivalry between the two schools. The last time we saw the Aggies, Utah squeaked out a 30-26 win at home, though the Aggies put up a good fight and Aggie quarterback, Chuckie Keeton, played lights out. This year, Keeton returns with a new offensive coordinator in Josh Heupel. Can the Aggie offense put enough points on the board to pull the upset?
An experienced quarterback with a history of success and a new offensive coordinator from the Big-12 should be a winning combo for any offense, right? Anyone who watched the Utah State opener against Southern Utah would probably disagree. The Aggies finished the game with only 250 total yards with one turnover and no touchdowns. The only scoring the offense had any part in, was a 30-yard field goal by kicker Brock Warren, which was set up by a couple of good rushes by junior Aggie running back Devante Mays.
The Utah State offense was ineffective all night, and just 1 of 16 on third down conversions. One indicator of how much the offense struggled, is the fact the average distance needed to convert on third down for the Aggies was 12 yards. The Aggies on average, had a shorter distance to go on first down, than on third down. Part of what held the Aggies back was penalties, as Utah State was flagged 11 times for a total of 123 yards. Much of it however, was conservative play calling and an out of sync offense.
The main player to watch when the Aggies are on offense, is of course their senior signal caller Chuckie Keeton. Last time Utah fans saw Keeton, he was throwing darts and buying time in the pocket with his quick feet and ability to run. Since then, Keeton suffered a season ending knee injury that ended his 2013 season after just six games. At the time of injury, he had passed for 18 touchdowns against only 2 interceptions and was starting to earn some national press. He came back last year for his senior season, but didn't look the same, throwing only two touchdowns against four interceptions in three games, before reinjuring his surgically repaired leg and missing the remainder of the year. In game one of 2015 against Southern Utah, Keeton struggled, completing less than 50% of his passes and throwing an interception, finishing 16-33 for 110 yards and no touchdowns through the air or on the ground. If Utah State is to win on Friday, the old Chuckie Keeton of 2013 will need to make an appearance.
In Keeton's defense, his group of receivers has been depleted. Star receiver JoJo Natson was dismissed in the offseason, Hunter Sharp is currently one game through a two game suspension, and Brandon Swindall appeared to re-injure an achilles injury from last season during last week's game. With little experience at receiver and a quarterback coming back from serious injury, new offensive coordinator Josh Heupel called a very conservative offense, relying mostly on swing passes and the run game, never really testing the Southern Utah secondary. It is unclear if Swindall will be on the field Friday night, but with the current Aggie personnel, it would not be surprising to see Heupel stay conservative with the run and short passes early and try to get his offense into some kind of rhythm.
Sophomore running back LaJuan Hunt received most of the carries in the opener, rushing for 80 yards on 23 carries. However the star on offense, if there was one, was junior Devante Mays, who carried for 51 yards on just 4 attempts. Mays also had the longest play from scrimmage for the Aggies, a 39 yard run which helped set up their field goal. It would not be surprising to see Mays get some more action this week against the Utes.
For the Utah State offense to find a rythym, the line will need to do a better job than it did a week ago. The offensive line was atrocious for the Aggies in week one, allowing Southern Utah defenders into backfield, causing Keeton to run for his life much of the night. Almost every passing play resulted in Keeton throwing early or scrambling out of the pocket. Friday's game should provide the Utah defensive line ample opportunity to improve their pass rush from the Michigan game and potentially record the first sack of the season.
If Utah State wants any chance to knock of Utah in Salt Lake, the offense will need to improve by leaps and bounds between week one and week two. The Utah defense showed against Michigan it was salty, especially against the run. Chuckie Keeton will need to improve his passing numbers as their running backs will likely not fare any better than Michigan's. One thing is for certain. The Utes aren't Southern Utah, and the Aggies offense won't be able win without scoring a touchdown in week two.