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LOGAN — Utah State’s task of stopping undefeated BYU in its tracks got a little more difficult when head coach Matt Wells announced Wednesday that quarterback Chuckie Keeton was not cleared to play this week and likely is out for the season.
The Aggies (2-2) have shown they can win with backup Darell Garretson, though. Keys to a win on Friday include the Utah State defense, which boasts the fourth-best run defense in the nation, and its big playmakers in JoJo Natson and Hunter Sharp.
Of course, a little extra in a few key areas, such as play-calling, can go a long way, as well.
Here are five keys for Utah State to come out of Provo with a win for the first time in Matt Wells’ tenure at the school, or more specifically, five things they can find to make this game competitive.
It’s that simple, right? But for BYU (4-0), stopping the Cougar rush attack will play a huge role in slowing down the offense overall. Heisman hopeful Taysom Hill and running back Jamaal Williams combine to average 230 rush yards per game, and stopping Hill, Williams and recently healthy Algie Brown begins with putting extra bodies in the backfield.
When previous opponents have sold out to stop Hill’s prolific running ability, he has been able to find Mitch Mathews or Jordan Leslie for a big gain. Utah State’s secondary doesn’t need to be perfect against BYU’s passing game, but it does need to do enough to keep an eye on these receivers and prevent them from exposing the Aggies for big chunks of yardage.
Natson has been Utah State’s top offensive runner to this point in the season, whether as a receiver, a special teams ace or a focal point in the ground game. The junior, officially named Bruce, can take small amounts of space and turn them into big gains — but he’ll be tested by a BYU defense that specializes in a bend-don’t-break approach.
BYU’s glory days in the 1980s were known for quarterbacks who could step back and sling the ball around the yard, whether the Cougars needed to do so or not. Garretson isn’t the runner that Keeton has proved to be in three years in Logan, but he has an arm that can compete with any other quarterback in the region. Junior college transfer Hunter Sharp is finding his rhythm at the perfect time for Utah State, and returning receivers Natson and Ronald Butler have stepped up in the recent loss of Brandon Swindall to injury. BYU has a solid defense, but the secondary has allowed an average of 275 yards per game through the air, and could be a weakness ready to exploit.
A lot of college football fan bases make fun of the use of trick plays, but Chris Peterson and his former team Boise State made a living off of it for several years as outsiders to the old Bowl Championship Series. Butler has a passing touchdown on the year, a 44-yard play from him to Natson against Wake Forest. The Aggies haven’t been afraid to be unconventional already, and anything they can do to catch the Cougars off guard will only be an advantage.