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Friday’s Top Action
UTAH STATE AGGIES (1-0) at UTAH UTES (1-0)
Line: Utah -13.5, Total: 44.5
Utah looks to build upon a strong season-opening win when it hosts in-state rival Utah State on Friday night.
Both schools opened the season with victories, but the Aggies did very little offensively in a 12-9 squeaker over 32-point underdog Southern Utah. They gained just 250 total yards of offense (140 rushing, 110 passing), but held their opponent to 163 yards (52 rushing, 111 passing) to eke out the win.
The Utes were outgained by Michigan 355 to 337, but capitalized on three Wolverines turnovers, including a game-clinching interception returned for a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter.
Utah has dominated this rivalry series since 1998, winning 13 of the 14 meetings SU and holding an 8-6 ATS advantage. But USU has played very well in the past two matchups, posting a 27-20 victory in 2012 before losing by a slim 30-26 margin in Salt Lake City in 2013. Although the Aggies failed to force a turnover versus their FCS opponent last week, they are an impressive 12-3 ATS on the road since 1992 after failing to record a takeaway. However, the Utes have obliterated non-conference opponents over the past three seasons, going 8-0 ATS, and outscoring them by an average of 41 to 16.
There are several key players on each squad that might not suit up on Friday. For Utah State, WRs Brandon Swindall (hamstring) and Zach Van Leeuwen (undisclosed) are both questionable, and the trio of CB Bryant Hayes, WR Hunter Sharp and OL Tyshon Mosley are all expected to miss this contest due to suspension. Two of Utah’s offensive weapons are listed as questionable, WR Tim Patrick (undisclosed) and TE Evan Moeai (leg).
Utah State scored only three offensive points in last week’s opener, as special teams accounted for nine points with a blocked PAT return in the first quarter, and then an Andrew Rodriguez 88-yard punt return touchdown in the fourth quarter to seal the victory.
Senior QB Chuckie Keeton had one of the worst games of his career, completing just 16-of-33 passes for 110 yards (3.3 YPA), 0 TD and 1 INT. Keeton was once a great dual-threat signal caller, but after multiple knee surgeries, he’s no longer very mobile, picking up just seven yards on six carries. Considering Utah held Michigan to 76 yards on 29 carries (3.3 YPC) last week, Keeton will have to throw much more effectively for his team to stay in this game.
Two years ago against Utah, Keeton single-handedly kept his the Aggies close with 314 yards and 2 TD through the air plus 85 yards and another score on the ground. Although his team converted just 1-of-16 third downs in last week’s scare to Southern Utah, one positive was that Keeton’s 16 completions were spread around to eight different receivers.
The big star for the Aggies last week was RB LaJuan Hunt who rumbled for 80 yards on 23 carries, while JUCO transfer RB Devante Mays had the game’s biggest run of 39 yards which comprised most of his 51 yards on four carries.
Utah State’s defense was excellent last season, allowing only 19.7 PPG (12th in nation) and 4.8 yards per play (13th in FBS), and certainly looked strong last Thursday in holding the Thunderbirds to 1.7 yards per carry, 2.8 yards per rush and allowing just one third-down conversion in 18 attempts.
Utah was able to win and cover last week, but the offense wasn’t spectacular. QB Travis Wilson completed 24-of-33 throws, but gained only 208 yards (6.3 YPA) with 0 TD and 1 INT. Wilson was much more productive against USU when the schools last met in 2013, completing 17-of-28 passes for 302 yards, 2 TD and 0 INT.
Another Utes offensive player who needs to get going is RB Devontae Booker. He rushed for 1,512 yards last season, but picked up only 69 yards on 22 totes (3.1 YPC) against Michigan in the season opener. Utah State allowed only 3.3 yards per carry last year, so Booker could be in for another frustrating night.
Speaking of stuffing the run, Utah did a great job of that against the Wolverines, limiting them to 76 yards on 29 carries (2.6 YPC). And although the Utes are not as strong in the secondary, allowing 247 passing YPG last year, they collected three interceptions last week, which helped ease the sting of Michigan’s 279 yards through the air.