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Utah State report card: Keeton, offense smothered in opening game in Knoxville

By Mitch Kunzler

For the Deseret News

Published: Monday, Sept. 1 2014 12:36 a.m. MDT

Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton (16) tries to get away from a Tennessee defender during their NCAA college football game at Neyland Stadium, Sunday, Aug. 31, 2014 in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Knoxville News Sentinel, Amy Smotherman Burgess)

Amy Smotherman Burgess, AP

In recent years, Utah State has come close to beating both USC and Auburn but wasn't quite able to secure the victory in either game. This year, the Aggies had yet another opportunity to upset a "big-name" school, the Tennessee Volunteers.

But the Aggies had an uphill battle on their hands from the second they walked into the sea of roaring Tennessee fans in Knoxville. Utah State is used to playing in Romney Stadium in Logan, which holds a little over 25,000 fans. Neyland Stadium holds around 102,000 fans, and the game was a sell-out.

Tennessee fed off the intensity of its fans and came out of the gate throwing haymakers. The Vols rocketed off to a 14-0 lead about seven minutes into the game, and it all went downhill from there. They rolled to a 31-0 lead, after which the Aggies answered with a 37-yard touchdown bomb from Chuckie Keeton to Hunter Sharp. But that was the only bright spot for the Aggies, and the final score ended with Tennessee winning 38-7.

Now, time to issue the report card.

Offense

It was by no means a positive game for the Aggies offensively as they struggled to move the ball all night. They converted a mere 3 of 14 third-down attempts, and no matter what they did, the Volunteers seemed to read them like an open book.

Chuckie Keeton completed 18 of 35 passes for only 144 yards, and was pressured the entire game. It seemed that seconds after he snapped the ball, the defense broke through the protection, forcing Keeton to make quick decisions on nearly every play. He threw two interceptions in the game, both of which were poorly placed throws, made under pressure.

Keeton did have a 37-yard touchdown pass to Hunter Sharp early in the fourth quarter, a throw that reassured Aggie fans that Keeton certainly still has the talent. But that was the only bright spot.

Five different Utah State players ran the ball for a combined 100 yards in the game, which wasn't enough to put the Aggies in a good position for third downs.

In total, the Aggies tallied only 244 yards of offense.

Grade: D

Defense:

The Aggies weren't amazing defensively, but certainly weren't terrible. They were great defending the run game, holding the Volunteers to only 2.8 yards per carry, although Tennessee did nab a pair of rushing touchdowns. In the passing game, the Aggies gave up 273 yards to Justin Worley, including three touchdowns.

Overall, Utah State was fairly strong defensively but was hurt by turnovers by the offense and special teams, which gave Tennessee great field position. As the game went on, Utah State's offense continued to have very short drives, which caused the defense to be on the field most of the game. Like any football team, the more you are on the field, the more tired you get, and such was the case with Utah State. It gave up 383 yards of total offense and let Tennessee score 38 points, but a lot of that was caused by the lack of production by the offense.

Grade: C

Special teams:

Utah State's special teams play wasn't great either.

Early in the game, Tennessee scored a touchdown, and on the ensuing kickoff, kick returner Kennedy Williams coughed up the ball, allowing the Volunteers to recover the fumble. On the very next play, Tennessee scored a touchdown.

Utah State only attempted one field goal in the game, a 47-yarder which Jake Thompson missed slightly left.

Tennessee attempted only two kickoff returns, but the return coverage for Utah State was all over both of them. The Volunteers only gained 18 and 16 yards on the two returns respectively.

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