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Behind the Scenes: Checking in with Utah State football

By Torin Koos

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 3 2014 6:55 p.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

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Daydream and speculate no more.

While the Tennessee game wasn’t pretty, the days leading up to it were.

Take a step behind the scenes and get a glimpse of life as a collegiate football player and see the instagrammable moments that led up to Utah State’s season-opener in Knoxville against the University of Tennessee.

Judging by photos from the team and players, the Aggies came into the Volunteers’ iconic Neyland Stadium with 102,000 Tennessee fans relaxed and ready.

Trailing 17-0 en route to a 38-7 rout by the Vols probably wasn’t the start the team or the #Chuckie4Heisman campaign had in mind, but that’s what taking on a hungry SEC foe on the road can account for.

With Idaho State coming up on Saturday, its worth glimpsing behind the Aggie curtain.

Aggie quarterback Chuckie Keeton takes a knee while chatting with Sports Illustrated’s Joanna Niesson. Keeton came into the game as the trendy mid-major Heisman Trophy dark horse. Leaving SEC country with a blowout loss won’t help.

Keeton went 18-35 for 144 yards with one touchdown. In contrast, Tennessee’s Justin Worley exposed the inexperienced Aggie secondary by going 27 for 38 for 273 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions.

Days before leaving for Tennessee, Utah State’s head basketball coach Stew Morrill paid a visit to the football players during practice. We talked about what makes a team into champions.

Aggies football head coach Matt Wells noted his team lost some senior experience and leadership from last year, saying this would be a work in progress. Three Aggies from last years’ secondary are now in the NFL, including fourth-round selections strong safety Maurice Alexander and cornerback Nevin Lawson.

The St. Louis Rams took Alexander with the 110th pick. With the 133rd selection, the Detroit Lions chose Lawson. All told, Utah State has eight players in the NFL, including running back Robert Turbin and linebacker Bobby Wagner on the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks.

Here's proof the Aggies make it out of Logan and the state. Utah State players Marquan Elison (CB), Brandon Swindel Jr. (WR), Marwin Evans (CB) and Chuckie Keeton (QB) show their Aggie pride at the Famous Preston Night Rodeo in Preston, Idaho, in early August.

Utah State football coaches douse their wives in ice water last Thursday. The Aggie women accepted the #ALSIceBucketChallenge from the wives of the University of Tennessee football coaches. Utah State sent its challenge to the University of Wisconsin Badgers.

The Mountain West Conference had its media day at the Cosmopolitian of Las Vegas. Here senior linebacker Zach Vigil gets his blue steel on. Before starring for USU, Vigil, as a two-time all-state honoree at Clearfield High School, played both wide receiver and safety for the Falcons.

This is what Utah State plays for, the Mountain West Championship. Last year the Aggies came up just short, losing to then No. 24 ranked Fresno State 24-17.

The Aggie’s 2014 campaign got off to an inauspicious start with the Tennessee loss. Utah State didn’t have history on its side by playing an SEC opponent.

“Not lost is the fact that Utah State has only had one win against an SEC team, and that was before I was born,” said head coach Matt Wells. “We understand what kind of challenge we're going up against."

“The coverage we're going to get is nationwide. We're going to be in a lot of living rooms. 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.”

While Neyland Stadium isn’t quite up to the official capacity of The Big House’s 109,901 capacity at the University of Michigan, 102,455 orange-and-white-clad patrons cheered the Volunteers to victory.

On Saturday , the USU Aggies (0-1) host Idaho State (0-1) for their home opener. Kick-off is scheduled for 6 p.m. USU is 14-2 all-time against the Bengals, including 11-1 at Romney Stadium.

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