Ravell Call, Deseret News
Quarterback Chuckie Keeton (16) of the Utah State Aggies celebrates scoring in the third quarter against the University of Utah during NCAA football in Salt Lake City, Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013.
Utah State’s quarterback Chuckie Keeton makes for a compelling dark horse candidate for the 2014 Heisman Trophy.
Strong-armed and accurate, Keeton is a pass-first quarterback. But it’s what he does with his legs that make the Aggie senior so effective under center.
He regularly burns defenders — and even the occasional teammate or classmate — with an array of jukes and spins. ESPN said Keeton possesses “perhaps the quickest feet in the country.”
Before he went down with a torn ACL and MCL in the first quarter last year against BYU in the sixth week of the season, Keeton went 136-196 for 1388 yards, 303 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns.
Keeping this pace would have left the senior signal-caller with 3,800 total yards, 45 touchdowns to 4 picks, with a 70 percent completion percentage. Those sound like Heisman Trophy contender numbers.
The Bleacher Report, though, believe the Vols will defeat Keeton’s elusive athleticism by blunt force, saying Tennessee should “hit him early, often.”
“Regardless of how much lip service those around USU's program pay Keeton, there are always mental hurdles to get over when coming back from an injury of that magnitude. The Vols have to do everything within the rules to keep Keeton from feeling comfortable,” Bleacher Report columnist Brad Shepard wrote.
Bringing such stout defensive pressure for the Vols on Sunday won’t be easy. Tennessee has had to replace every offensive and defensive line starter this year.
Last year, USU went 9-5 (7-1 MWC), losing in the Mountain West title game against then No. 24 ranked Fresno State 24-17. The Aggies rebounded at the Poinsettia Bowl, defeating No. 24 ranked Northern Illinois 21-17.
After three years of near-upsets, including the gut-punch of having the defending national champion Auburn Tigers on the ropes late in the fourth quarter in 2011, Keeton’s senior season with the Aggies just might be when they break through.
Winning on the road, deep in SEC country, in front of a sea of 102,455 orange Vols fans just might be the opening salvo for Aggies fans in 2014.
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“The coverage we're going to get is nationwide. We're going to be in a lot of living rooms,” USU head coach Matt Wells said at Monday’s press conference.
“We're going to be on every TV set in every football complex in America. Every college football team is going to be watching us. To be able to play in that atmosphere, in front of that audience is just an opportunity more than anything to expose our program and show the country what we've done.”
The Aggies and Vols kick off at 5 p.m. MDT.