Commentary: Highs and lows were plentiful for the Utah State football this season
Nobody could have guessed what adversity the Utah State football team would face this season, despite some of the obvious reasons for speculation.
Former USU coach Gary Andersen took half of his staff with him to Wisconsin, leaving Matt Wells to take over the program in his stead. Also, in a decidedly intriguing move, Wells brought in several coaching hires with no previous ties to Utah in Dave Ungerer and Todd Orlando.
That being said, Wells did inherit Andersen's deep, talented roster. Quarterback Chuckie Keeton was entering his junior year, and the defensive side of the ball especially had mature talent from the last couple of seasons, most notably linebackers Jake Doughty and Kyler Fackrell.
Most predicted a successful season was in the cards despite Andersen's absence. So how did the Aggies stack up when all was said and done? Pretty good actually.
The Aggies started off the season with a disappointing 30-26 loss at Utah. The contest featured multiple lead changes and nearly 1,000 yards of total offense. Though the loss hurt, Utah State played well and the game did serve up plenty of hope and promise moving forward.
The following two weeks, the Aggies responded with a resounding 52-20 victory over Air Force in Colorado Springs and 70-6 shellacking of Weber State at home. Keeton showed his passing prowess by throwing touchdown passes to multiple receivers and the defense played disciplined assignment football. Admittedly, though, both the Falcons and Wildcats had bad years. Both teams finished with double-digit losses.
The Aggies then tried to knock off a solid USC squad. Utah State battled hard from start to finish, but the Aggies never led and made several key mistakes in the 17-14 loss to the Trojans.
Despite an incredible second-half performance by the Aggie defense, the Utah State offense just never got going, including a missed field goal early on. Sadly, this opportunity against a BCS opponent would be filed under the "close, but not quite" category, an all too-familiar one for Utah State.
As much as the previous week's loss stung, the Aggies traveled to San Jose State the following week and registered a dominant 40-12 win over the Spartans. Heralded Spartan quarterback David Fales gained plenty of yards yet few points against the Utah State defense, which forced several fumbles and turnovers at key moments to keep the Spartans fully in check.
San Jose State didn't help itself either with extremely costly offensive pass interference calls. Keeton played terrific and scored several times on the ground and in the air. Utah State appeared to be back on track.
Then BYU came to town and changed everything. Keeton got gang-tackled midway through the first quarter and landed awkwardly on his knee, tearing his ACL. Back-up Craig Harrison came in to finish the game, but his efforts proved ineffective. BYU won, 31-14. Not only did the loss of Keeton totally deflate the team, it deflated the fan base.
A loss to Boise State the following week didn't help matters either. Harrison was unable to sustain many drives and Wells pulled Darell Garretson out of his redshirt year and put him in the game. Though Garretson initially looked shaky, he did engineer a solid drive at the end of the game to bring the final score to 34-23.
By this point, the team had seemingly hit rock bottom. The Aggies were sitting at 3-4 and no longer controlled their destiny for the Mountain West Conference title game. Wells needed to come up with a solution and do it fast with a game looming at New Mexico, and that's precisely what he did.
The Aggies stormed out to a big lead over the Lobos and never looked back. Joey DeMartino and Garretson looked excellent in the 45-10 victory. Then after a bye week, Utah State took care of business against the Hawaii Warriors in a 47-10 win. Freshman tight end Wyatt Houston emerged as a pass-catching threat, too, bolstering an already solid stable of receivers.
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