Three and Out: Taysom Hill, BYU smother rival Utah State
It was a tale of two offenses as BYU and Utah State renewed their in-state rivalry on Friday night. Since 1974, the Aggies had defeated the Cougars only four times, but coach Matt Wells' program was hoping for a reversal of fortunes after a relatively strong start to the season. The Aggies had hung around in close losses to USC and Utah, and they'd routed Mountain West foe San Jose State just last week.
But an untimely injury to Utah State's star quarterback Chuckie Keeton led to struggles on the offensive end for the Aggies. Meanwhile, the defense couldn't stop the Cougars' attack, and that was too much for Utah State to overcome.
Here are three thoughts from BYU's 31-14 win over Utah State on Friday:
• What about Chuckie? No one is doubting the importance of Chuckie Keeton to the Utah State offense after this game. The Aggies' prolific quarterback went down toward the end of the first quarter with what appeared to be a knee injury. The passer landed awkwardly on his left knee during a scramble before being helped to the sideline by coaches. CBS reported that Keeton would receive an MRI on the leg, and Keeton did not return to the game.
Keeton returned in the second half on crutches without pads, and the Aggies' offense sputtered with their star on the sidelines. Junior quarterback Craig Harrison, who'd thrown only 14 passes in his Utah State career prior to Friday night, completed only 18 of his 41 attempts against the Cougars. His one touchdown on the night marked the Aggies' only score without Keeton on the field -- and that didn't come until 1:34 left in the game.
How the Aggies replace Keeton's production remains to be seen. The junior came into the game having tossed 1,362 yards, 17 touchdowns and only one interception. He's also a threat on the ground with 224 rushing yards and two scores. In all Keeton has accounted for 67 percent of the team's total offense this season, and if the loss on Friday showed anything, it's that Harrison isn't likely to provide the same spark. That's too bad for a Utah State team that started off conference play 2-0.
• Getting defensive: Keeton's injury didn't help Utah State's offense, but the quarterback's absence had little to do with the Aggies' performance on defense. Utah State gave up the most points to an opponent all season (41) while allowing 433 total yards from the Cougars.
In recent years, the Aggies had performed well even in losing efforts; Utah State has lost 10 games since 2011, and nine have been by no more than a touchdown. But BYU broke things open pretty easily in this game, turning a 7-7 tie midway through the first quarter to a 31-7 lead late in the third quarter. Cougars quarterback Taysom Hill was especially productive under center for the Cougars, and he'd hardly been a productive passer this season. If the Aggies' offense can't find the same rhythm without Keeton on the field, this defense will need to shore up its issues if Utah State is to contend in the league.
• Taysom Hill's time: Hill picked apart the Utah State secondary for a career-high 278 yards and three touchdowns, and he did so against a defense that came in allowing only 188 yards through the air. Hill found Mitch Mathews (five catches for 112 yards) for all three of his touchdown scores. Up until Friday, Hill had performed as merely a rushing quarterback this season -- his signature moment this season was gouging the Texas defense for 259 rushing yards in Week 2. In fact, heading into Friday, six of his seven total touchdowns in 2013 had came on the ground. But the sophomore looked like a legit passing threat on Friday. That could bode well for BYU as it prepares for more difficult tests as the season goes on, like Georgia Tech, Wisconsin and Notre Dame.