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LOGAN — And so, here it is: Utah State with a chance to play in the inaugural Mountain West Conference championship game. Who would have thought that was possible after the Aggies lost Chuckie Keeton?
Indeed, after San Diego State upset Boise State last week, the Aggies found themselves in the driver’s seat once again — only needing a victory over Wyoming this weekend to secure a spot many thought was impossible after Keeton went down.
Most preseason analysts picked Keeton to be Utah State’s most valuable player, but it has turned out to be Darrell Garretson. Garretson, a freshman quarterback, has led the Aggies to four consecutive wins since taking the starting job from Craig Harrison, and has passed for 971 yards and six touchdowns. And two of the wins have come against bowl-eligible UNLV and Colorado State.
Now, the Aggies host the Cowboys with a title chance and a hope of a Las Vegas Bowl berth in their sights. Wyoming can become bowl-eligible with a win over Utah State and has one of the nation’s better all-around offensive attacks. However, the defensive side of the ball has plagued the Cowboys for much of the season, as Wyoming is currently ranked 113th in the country on defense, giving up 36.8 points a game.
So, in a game that will have a monumental effect on both team’s postseason, the key matchup in the Utah State-Wyoming game is between the Wyoming offense and the Utah State defense.
WHY THIS MATCHUP?
Quite frankly, if Wyoming can’t score enough points to keep up Utah State, it is doubtful the Cowboys will have much of a chance at victory because their defense hasn’t been able to stop foes for much of the season. On the season, Wyoming is giving up 36.8 points a game.
There are three different games this season where Wyoming’s offense has performed well, only to be undermined by the defense: a 37-34 loss at Nebraska; a 51-44 loss to San Jose State; and a 59-56 overtime victory over winless Hawaii. So, Wyoming can’t even compete in games if offense doesn’t at least perform well. In games where the Cowboys haven’t competed offensively, they have been blown out, losing 48-10 to Fresno State and 42-21 to Texas State.
Utah State’s defense will have to stop Wyoming quarterback Brett Smith, who has thrown for 3,213 yards and 28 touchdowns. Smith has also rushed for 579 yards.
The game plan for the Aggies will need to feature dropping multiple defensive backs into coverage and trying to confuse Smith with various blitzes. If the Aggies get stops, there is not much of a chance that Wyoming’s defense will follow suit.
WHO WINS THIS MATCHUP?
Wyoming’s defense players haven’t proven they can stop anyone for an entire game over the course of the season, and Utah State is averaging 33.5 points a game during this winning streak. Also, the Aggies have the nation’s seventh-best defense and they are playing at home. Putting all of these thoughts together, it is easy to see Utah State, on paper, has a huge advantage over Wyoming.
And that advantage will prove true, as Utah State will climb to claim a berth in the first-ever MWC championship game.