LOGAN — Utah State is certainly no stranger to adversity.
It was only two years ago that the Aggies were down 28-7 at halftime vs. Hawaii. They were 2-5 on the season. They had a large score deficit to make up. And a freshman Chuckie Keeton got carted off the field after suffering a spinal stinger. The situation looked hopelessly dire and the season a wasted opportunity.
But then something magical took place: the Aggies didn't pack it in.
Behind backup quarterback Adam Kennedy, they outscored Hawaii 28-3 in the second half to win a nailbiter 35-31. After this game, the Kennedy-led Aggies rattled off four more close wins to finish the season 7-5 and become bowl eligible. Kennedy and the team defied the odds and never quit.
Now in 2013, the Aggies find themselves in a similar situation. They are currently sitting at 3-4 on the season. Keeton is out for the season with a torn ACL and MCL. A good chunk of the offense is riddled with injuries, too, most notably Joe Hill with a torn ACL and right guard Kyle Whimpey with a torn ligament. To cap it off, DJ Tialavea broke his foot early in the Boise State game. Without question, it will be an uphill battle here on out.
The good news? The Aggies still have the best defense in the Mountain West Conference and the rest of the schedule is substantially easier. It's not out of the question for the Aggies to finish the season 7-5 or even 8-4.
True freshman quarterback Darell Garretson has received the starting nod this week against New Mexico from head coach Matt Wells.
“That's correct — Darell will start this week. As you go back and evaluate it, I thought Darell came in the third quarter when I didn't think we had any momentum and kind of needed a boost to tilt it back in our favor. He struggled a little bit with the first couple series, but I thought he gained composure and played well down the stretch,” Wells said.
“In that last drive, there are a lot of pluses to that for him. I thought he was pretty calm from a communication standpoint with the plays and the signals. I thought he carried himself well, and I'm excited about seeing what he'll do this week.”
Aside from establishing some consistency on offense, the Aggies will need to step up their already-great run defense to stifle New Mexico's potent rushing attack led by running back Kasey Carrier. The Lobos currently boast the second best rushing attack in the country at more than 349 yards per game, just behind Army.
After a bye week, the Aggies return to the friendly confines of Romney Stadium to take on the Hawaii Warriors, who are currently sitting at 0-6 on the season. Though the Warriors haven't been good, their last three losses have only been by a combined 17 points, so they have been showing signs of improvement on Norm Chow's offense.
The Aggies then head out to Las Vegas to take on UNLV. Amazingly, after finishing the previous three seasons each at 2-10 under head coach Bobby Hauck, the Rebels are running hot on a four-game win streak. The leg of Nolan Kohorst recently helped lift the Rebels to a two-point win over Hawaii, and their offense is clearly clicking much better than the last few years. This could be a tough one, but the Aggie defense held strong the last time the two teams met.
With another bye week, the Aggies should be in good shape heading home for a bout against the Colorado State Rams. The game last season was never really in doubt for the Aggies, but quarterback Garrett Grayson did manage to give the defense some fits along the way. The Rams have also seen some steady improvement on the offensive side of the ball. However, the Rams need to ensure Jared Roberts isn't on the field at the same time as Jake Doughty or else they might pay dearly for it.
For the final home game of the season, the Wyoming Cowboys come to town. Honestly, the Cowboys are extremely tough to gauge. Under head coach Dave Christensen, they have impressed some years and fallen flat in others. They even suffered a humiliating albeit somewhat bizarre loss to Texas State just a couple of weeks ago. Still, quarterback Brett Smith is the real deal, and he has more than 1,800 pass yards on the season with 15 touchdown tosses for an efficiency rating of 143.5. If USU's quarterback has found his groove by the end of the season, expect a shootout with the Pokes.
The task ahead for the Aggies to win out the rest of the season remains hard. But it's not implausible. If the defense steps up and the offense finds a decent rhythm, expect the Aggies to go bowling for the third year in a row.
They may be smelling poinsettias or harvesting potatoes depending on how it all goes down, though.
Sam McConkie is a technical and professional writing graduate from Utah State University. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company