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Previewing the Utah State Offense

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It feels like Aggie QB Chuckie Keeton has been at Utah State forever. Entering his 5th year, will that experience yield enough firepower to overcome a good Husky Defense at Husky Stadium? Utah State hasn't quite looked like the team that's won 10 games twice in the past three seasons, but you can never count out an offense with a 5th year experienced QB at the helm.

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Offense Overview

Last season, the Aggies were a primarily run first team, rushing on 57% of plays.  However, through two games so far this season, they are almost perfectly balanced with 68 pass plays and 67 runs.  The reason is probably two-fold: they’re averaging less than 4 yards per carry, and have trailed most of this season (they didn’t lead Southern Utah in Week 1 until the 4th quarter).  Critical to their success on Saturday will be the return of two suspended starters: Sr WR Hunter Sharp, and LG Tyshon Mosley.  I’ll speak more to Sharp below, but the Aggies hope the return of Mosley will jumpstart a stagnant run game that hasn’t produced a rushing touchdown yet this season.  As a whole Utah State’s offense has had trouble finding the end zone, with QB Chuckie Keeton’s two TD strikes against Utah the only offensive TDs of the season.  Like most teams on the road against an overmatched opponent, look for Utah State to try and establish the run in order to open up the offense for Keeton to make plays.  However, at the end of the day, this is an offense struggling to score and hold onto the ball – they’ve already tossed 3 picks and lost a fumble through 2 games. 

Key Players

QB Chuckie Keeton: SR 6’2" 210 pounds

2015 statistics: 55.9% completion for 366 yards 2 TDs, 3 INTs. 102 passer rating.  18 carries for 53 yards. 

When I say Chuckie Keeton has been at Utah State for a while, I mean it.  He got 8 starts as a true freshman in 2011 before getting injured.  He then started every game of his sophomore year, before getting hurt again half way into his junior year, 2013.  Through only 6 games that season he had already thrown 18 TDs to just 2 interceptions.  He came back for last season but was lost again 3 games into the year when he reinjured the same knee.  It appears this year he’s struggled some to get going, but it is unclear how much of that is his fault and how much it is the lack of play makers around him.  Still, Keeton has accounted for 75 TDs in his Aggie career.  He’s dangerous as a runner, though it appears his rushing totals have dropped significantly since his 2013 injury.  Despite this, he’s ultra-competitive, tough, gritty, and very experienced.  Chris Peterson had very high praise for him in his Monday press conference, stating he’s the type of player who will "do whatever he needs to do" to help his team win games.  Sounds like he may a bit of Tui in him…

RB LaJuan Hunt: SO 5’8" 195 pounds

2015 statistics: 37 carries for 117 yards and 0 TDs.  5 catches for 11 yards, 1 TD.

Hunt enjoyed a fantastic true freshman season at Utah State and in fact had one of the best ever seasons by a freshman in Aggie history rushing for 540 yards.  He’s got a nice speed to power ratio and will absolutely run through poor attempts to tackle him.  Like the rest of the offense this year, he’s struggled to get going, averaging only about 3 yards per carry and 0 TDs to his name.  That being said, he’s getting 20+ touches a game so it’s clear the coaches will try and get him and the running game going early to open things up and take pressure off Keeton.  Also interesting about Hunt is that he actually only has 1 rushing TD in his entire career, which came on a 1 yard run in his freshman campaign last year.  Finding the end zone once on 111 carries does not bode well against this Husky Defense (though worth noting the nearly 5 yards per carry average). It will be interesting to see how the return of LG Tyshon Mosely impacts the running game.

WR Hunter Sharp: SR 6’0" 200 pounds

2014 statistics (suspended for 2015 so far): 66 catches for 939 yards and 7 TDs. Long of 81 yards.

Sharp was suspended for the first 2 games of this season, but you can see how great a receiver he is based on his 2014 numbers, when he lead the team in receptions, yards, and touchdowns.  He’ll have some rust to shake off, but he’s got size, speed, and playmaking ability.  Not only is his long reception of 81 yards impressive on its own, he had 4 total TDs covering 70+ yards.  Not to mention catching 4-5 passes per game last year.  Remember, QB Chuckie Keeton was injured 3 games into last year so Sharp was able to generate this production with the #2 QB at the helm.  Very impressive.

Closing Thoughts

To be honest, I don’t expect this offense to cause much trouble outside of Chuckie Keeton’s legs making a few plays and maybe WR Hunter Sharp hauling in a couple of nice passes.  So far this year the Utah State offense has had trouble finding the end zone against Southern Utah, and the Pac-12’s Utah Utes.  They’ve also turned it over 4 times and haven’t compensated much for that on defense by generating turnovers of their own.  It’s also worth noting that since Chuckie Keeton’s knee injury, he’s played in 5 games (3 last year, 2 this year), and here are those numbers: 185 yards of total offense per game, 5 total TDs, and 7 interceptions.  LaJuan Hunter seems like a talented RB but with the offenses’ struggles he isn’t making much of an impact so far.  I think this offense will go only as far as Keeton takes them and based off his last 5 games, he may struggle against a Power 5 defense.  I expect Hunter Sharp to make some plays, but overall, the Aggie offense will struggle stay on the field.  Look for the streak of shutout quarters to reach 7, before Keeton buys time with his legs and finds Hunter Sharp on a scramble drill for a TD.  My guess is that’ll be the only TD of the day for the Aggies.