LOGAN — All season Utah State head coach Gary Andersen and the Aggies have lamented the team's ability to make big plays when the game was on the line.
Saturday night in Honolulu that all changed. Utah State entered the locker room down 28-7 and had just watched starting quarterback Chuckie Keeton taken off the field on a stretcher. Rather than watching as yet another game slipped from their grasp, the Aggies dug down and rallied in the second half to outscore Hawaii 28-3.
"I wouldn't say it was a surprise, but it was great to see," Andersen said about the fourth-quarter rally. "At the end of the day this game is won by players. Fortunately against Hawaii we were able to make the plays."
The key to the halftime turnaround was not a fiery speech from Andersen, but players challenging teammates to play better.
"I think our kids begin to challenge each other," said Andersen. "Coaches can challenge players, but when players start challenging players it forces your program to take the next step. Some of the weak links in the chain may break away and not be involved anymore and I think that helps us. I think we are at that point with our players demanding excellence snap in and snap out."
KEETON OK, RETURN UNKNOWN: After being immobilized and rushed to the hospital in Hawaii on Saturday night, Keeton was able to travel back to Logan on Sunday night. According to USU team physician Dr. Trek Lyons, Keeton suffered an extreme stinger to his spine, but Lyons said that Keeton was moving and walking about Sunday.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with Chuckie," Andersen said. "He is a tough kid, and we're extremely glad he is going to be OK. We can't wait to get him home and back together with our team so we can wrap our arms around him and let him know how much we love him."
It is unclear when Keeton will be able to return to the football field as the primary focus is currently on having him re-evaluated in Logan before rushing him back to the field.
"He appears to be OK at this point. Time will tell when we can move forward and when we can get him back. It's not like Chuckie won't be able to turn around and play football again. It just depends on where he sits. I think he'll be back and be with us, but the timetable is very unclear at this point."
SPECIAL PERFORMANCE: Aggie wide receiver Stanley Morrison earned WAC special teams player of the week honors. Morrison twice converted fake punts to keep Utah State drives alive.
In the second quarter Morrison ran for eight yards on a fourth-and-4 when he could not find an open receiver down field. In the fourth quarter, facing a fourth-and-5, Morrison threw downfield where running back Joe Hill was able to come down with the ball after a deflection for a 23-yard reception to keep the comeback alive. Morrison also caught two passes for 105 yards, including a 71-yard touchdown grab early in the fourth quarter.
"It worked out. It was a risky call, but we knew against Hawaii we were going to have to take some chances to win the football game," said Andersen.