LOGAN — Utah State not only lost a tough in-state rivalry game to BYU on Friday night but also found out Saturday that quarterback Chuckie Keeton is out for the season due to a knee injury.
The junior Heisman Trophy hopeful exited the rivalry game in the first quarter after his foot got caught in the turf on a seemingly routine tackle. Keeton came back to the sidelines later in the game out of uniform and on crutches.
The university confirmed the injury was a tear in both the ACL and MCL in his left knee. Keeton will undergo surgery within the next week. He is expected to miss the next eight months, which, if all goes well, would make him available for fall camp next season.
A medical redshirt to get Keeton’s junior season back seems unlikely. Most hardship waivers are only granted when a player has played in less than 30 percent of a team’s games. Friday night marked the halfway point of the Aggies' season.
“Very unfortunate situation for both Chuckie and our team,” said head coach Matt Wells in a university statement. “We’ve lost a great leader, great teammate and a very productive football player. I have all the confidence in the world in Chuckie, along with our doctors and staff that he will come back stronger than ever next season. As for the remainder of this season, we will regroup as a team and pick up the slack and continue to strive to compete for the Mountain West championship.”
Wells and the rest of the Aggies will have to prepare for next Saturday’s game against Boise State without having Keeton in the game plan. Craig Harrison won the backup quarterback job during fall camp and replaced Keeton against the Cougars. Harrison finished completing 18 of 41 passes for 185 yards and a touchdown — he also carried the ball six times for 38 yards.
“Chuckie’s an outstanding player and leaves big shoes to fill,” Harrison said.
While Harrison is the odds on favorite to take snaps next week against Boise State, it isn’t a sure thing that he will be the starter next week or in the foreseeable future. True freshman Darell Garretson was recruited as an heir apparent to Keeton, but the coaching staff has been trying to redshirt the First Team All-State selection from Chandler High School in Chandler, Ariz. Wells and the coaching staff could decide to put Garretson in under center and roll the dice on his potential over Harrison.
“That’s something that we will evaluate through the weekend,” Wells said when asked about who will be the starter next week.
No matter who gets the nod, the playbook will have to be adapted to match the strengths of the quarterback under center. Much of the Aggies' offensive strategies the last two seasons have revolved around Keeton’s ability to do it all. Keeton could make plays with his legs in the running and passing game. In the pocket, Keeton could pick apart a defense with accurate short passes and well-timed deep balls. Harrison and Garretson are more traditional pocket-passing quarterbacks who can run the ball when asked, but not on the same level as Keeton in his time as an Aggie.
“We will have to fit it to Craig (Harrison’s) strengths, to our running back strengths and play behind our big O-line,” Wells said about adapting the playbook. “We are going to have to find a way to manufacture points in the throw game as well as the running game. It will be a big task for us this week.”
Kraig Williams is a 2010 Utah State University graduate and regular Deseret News sports blogger. He can be followed on Twitter @DesNewsKraig.