Back in 2012, before Chuckie Keeton sustained two major knee injuries, there seemed no ceiling for what Utah State’s quarterback might accomplish.
Keeton was only a sophomore then, but his dual-threat capabilities helped lead the Aggies to the WAC championship and earned him first-team all-league honors. He threw for 3,373 yards and 27 touchdowns, rushed for 619 yards and another eight touchdowns, and led the Aggies to an 11-2 finish — including a thrilling home win over rival Utah — in Gary Andersen’s final season as coach at Utah State.
The sky, it appeared, was the limit. Heisman Trophy consideration in 2013 did not seem out of the question. Then came the injuries — a torn ACL six games into 2013, then a torn ACL and MCL in the same knee three games into 2014 — and Keeton hasn’t had much of a chance since to prove he can still be the same player who so captivated the city of Logan three years ago.
But his resolve remains, and he’s back for a fifth year after being granted a medical redshirt waiver. Keeton leads Utah State (1-1) into Saturday’s 2 p.m. game against Washington (1-1) at Husky Stadium.
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And while Huskies coach Chris Petersen never actually coached against Keeton in the WAC or Mountain West — his injury in 2013 came the week before the Aggies hosted Boise State — he is familiar enough with Keeton’s exploits to know that he could still be a handful for the Huskies’ defense.
“He’s just a great competitor and just plays very hard,” Petersen said. “He always seemed at the end of the games (to be) just kind of dragging himself around, because he’ll go and he’s not afraid to run the ball and take a shot and get hit and do whatever he needs to do to help his team win.”
Like last week at Utah, where Keeton took a low, late hit to his knee on a third-down pass in the first quarter. He came up limping, and appeared hobbled for the rest of the game. But he stuck it out, finished the game 22 of 32 passing for 256 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions, and afterward told reporters, simply: “I took a hit. I’m good.”
Keeton also rushed for 46 yards on 12 carries, and his mobility at the quarterback position poses a challenge the Huskies didn’t see from either Boise State or Sacramento State.
“He’s a guy we’ve got to do a good job of getting off blocks and have great leverage on him,” UW defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski said. “And we’ve got to get more than one guy around him to tackle him, because he’s a good enough athlete that he makes guys miss.”
Utah State coach Matt Wells said the Aggies training staff checked Keeton’s knee before every series last week after he took the illegal hit, but “of course, he wasn’t going to come out.”
Wells said Keeton had “one of the gutsier performances I’ve seen out of him. He was just a warrior down to the very end, and gives your team a chance to win every time he’s in there.”
Because the Aggies played on Friday last week, UW defensive tackle Taniela Tupou said he was able to watch their game against Utah. He came away impressed by Keeton and the rest of Utah State’s team. The Aggies might be receiving a $1 million payment from UW to play this game, but they’re not the kind of pushover typically associated with such a financial figure.
Keeton, Tupou said, is “a beast. He knows what he’s doing. He can move that pocket. He can throw the ball. He’s a threat on the ground and in the air. Utah State overall, they’re a really good team. It’s an honor to play them. We’re excited.”
Utah State (1-1) at WASHINGTON (1-1)
2 p.m., Husky Stadium, Seattle
TV: Pac-12 Network. Radio: 1000-AM, 97.7-FM.
The series: Washington leads, 2-0.
The skinny: This game sets up as a defensive battle. The Huskies haven’t allowed a point in their last six quarters, while Utah State’s reputation as an aggressive, deceptive defense has UW coach Chris Petersen and players emphasizing the need to protect the quarterback. … The Aggies’ haven’t been great offensively, despite the return of fifth-year senior quarterback Chuckie Keeton from two major knee injuries. Utah State scored a total of 26 points in its first two games, and they don’t appear to match up well against a Huskies run defense that has been relatively stout so far. USU has averaged only 4.61 yards per play so far, which ranks 119th nationally. … Washington’s biggest priority will be protecting freshman quarterback Jake Browning, who threw for 326 yards and a pair of touchdowns last week against Sacramento State. Utah State finished last season with 49 sacks, more than every team in the country except Washington and Utah. The Aggies have five sacks through two games this season. … Utah State is set to receive a $1 million payment from Washington for making the trip.
The pick: Washington, , 20-13.
Leading receiver in 2014 returns from 2-game suspension.
Showed flashes of returning to his old form vs. Utah.
Had 37 carries, 117 yards in USU’s first two games.
Had seven sacks last season and 16.5 tackles for loss.
“Splash” player has athleticism to keep up with Keeton.
Had 14 carries, 146 yards, 3 TDs last week.
Could have big game against the run.
Nice option for Jake Browning last week (5 catches, 77 yards).