Utah State working with unproven commodities at quarterback

With Chuckie Keeton out for the year, Boise State's next opponent is back to square one under center.

dsouthorn@idahostatesman.comOctober 9, 2013 

Before last Friday’s relief performance against BYU, Utah State junior Craig Harrison had 14 pass attempts in nearly 1 1⁄2 seasons. Harrison threw 41 times during the Aggies’ 31-14 loss after starter Chuckie Keeton suffered two torn knee ligaments. He is the most experienced of Utah State’s two candidates who could start Saturday against Boise State. The alternative, true freshman Darell Garretson, would have to burn his redshirt.

COURTESY OF UTAH STATE ATHLETICS

When their dynamic quarterback went down with a nasty knee injury, the Utah State Aggies had no choice but to move on quickly.

Chuckie Keeton threw 18 touchdowns and only two interceptions this season before tearing two knee ligaments in the first quarter Friday against BYU.

“He’s such a huge part of this team, and to see that, you wonder how that is going to affect things. But we had to keep moving, because there were still three quarters to play,’’ wide receiver Travis Reynolds said.

Utah State (3-3, 2-0 Mountain West) coach Matt Wells admits losing a player of Keeton’s caliber at such a key position has been tough. Hosting Boise State (3-2, 1-1) on Saturday night further backs up the need to not dwell.

“We’re hanging in there,’’ Wells said. “Having a team like Boise State coming here makes you turn your attention that way.’’

Wells said junior Craig Harrison and true freshman Darell Garretson will compete in practice this week, and won’t name the starter until game day.

Harrison (6-foot-2, 203 pounds) stepped in for Keeton against the Cougars, completing 18-of-41 passes for 185 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. He also rushed six times for 38 yards. Wells said there will be “no wholesale changes,’’ but Reynolds said it was an adjustment — Harrison attempted only five passes this season prior to the 31-14 loss.

“Our whole game plan had to change,’’ Reynolds said.

Garretson (6-foot, 200 pounds) has yet to play this season. The Chandler, Ariz., native threw for 3,065 yards and ran for 347 last year in high school, and verbally committed to San Jose State before switching to the Aggies in January. Harrison spent last season behind Keeton after transferring from Snow College in Utah.

“He knows the playbook. He’s been here two years,’’ Reynolds said. “And I love his arm; he’s got a strong arm. When Chuckie went down, he knew he had to put the team on his back. He showed a lot of leadership.’’

When he was first asked about what he knows about the Aggies’ other quarterbacks, Boise State coach Chris Petersen said, “As much as you.’’

But upon reflection, regarding Harrison, he saw some promise against BYU, he said.

“He looks like he’s very capable," Petersen said. “I think they’ll run their system. There’s a lot to it, so they’re not going to go invent something new. They’ll probably play to his strengths, but I think he’s very mobile and he throws well.’’

Whether it is Harrison or Garretson who gets the start, the injury to Keeton has made the rest of the offense ready to help fill the void.

“Our players are going to rally around those two kids,’’ Wells said.

Keeton, who has rushed for more than 1,000 yards and 14 touchdowns in his 28 games with the Aggies along with 56 passing touchdowns to just 13 interceptions, was at practice Tuesday in Logan, but was on the sidelines.

Reynolds, part of a receiving corps that has four players with at least 20 catches, said the junior quarterback has “kept a positive mindset.’’ He hopes his group, and the rest of the offense, can learn from him despite not having those swift legs and accurate arm available.

“We’ve got trust in our system and each other. He’s a huge loss, but it’s about all 11 guys, not just one,’’ Reynolds said.

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Dave Southorn: 377-6420; Twitter: @IDS_Southorn

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