The Utah State Aggies football team has played great against most teams this season, their only slipups coming to the likes of Utah and USC.
But when the 3-2 Aggies under new head coach Matt Wells have been on their games — as was the case Friday night — they are a hard team to beat.
Consider this: if Utah State wouldn’t have committed turnovers late in games at the two afore-mentioned Pac-12 opponents you might be looking at a team capable of busting the BCS.
What was so impressive about the Aggies Friday is the clinical precision — in most areas — that they displayed in dismantling a good San Jose State team led by an All-American quarterback and physical defense.
The scary part is that Utah State still had 95 yards in penalties and left at least three touchdowns in San Jose’s red zone — and still won handily. Here’s how Utah State stayed unbeaten in Mountain West Conference play:
5. Chuckie Keeton
The junior quarterback from Houston is still not at the insane level at which he played most of last season — but he is still pretty good.
Possibly smarting from last week’s loss at USC Keeton wasted little time establishing that the Aggies are a pretty darned good football team. His first two possessions resulted in touchdowns and a quick 14-3 lead.
In front of another national audience (this time it was prime time on ESPN) Keeton displayed none of the bad decisions of last week, slicing and dicing a veteran Spartan secondary for 260 passing yards and three scores — and rushing for another 52 yards and a touchdown.
Keeton may be playing his way back into Heisman Trophy consideration — but more important is that his Aggies have seemed virtually unstoppable against the opposition in their new conference.
4. Joey DeMartino
Robert Who? The Aggies seemed to have forgotten all about Robert Turbin (pictured), the durable all-time rushing leader now playing for the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks.
In Utah State’s read option offense the running back is a focal point through which he is usually the team’s second or third option. Turbin provided that burst of power and speed when the Aggies needed to throw off the opposing defense just enough — and Joey DeMartino is doing some of the same things.
Even if DeMartino gets fewer carries than a feature running back might he makes the most of each, getting 120 yards on 17 carries Friday night at Spartan Stadium.
For the season De Martino has 345 yards and four touchdowns but what makes this Aggie offense, particularly the running game, so dangerous is that Keeton is a threat to take off at any time — but DeMartino might be even more so.
The sophomore transfer from Grossmont College via San Diego averaged over seven yards per carry against San Jose State and has gotten 7.4 yards every time he has touched the ball in 2013.
3. Wide Receivers
For the Aggies, there was more than one wideout who contributed to the big night the Aggies had. Chuckie Keeton threw to nine different receivers in Utah State’s win over San Jose State.
For example, to give you an idea of how prolific the receivers were, just look at the numbers. They were very Air Force-like in scope.
Travis Reynolds had 8 catches for 77 yards while Brandon Swindall — who is fast becoming the Aggies primary deep threat — had a touchdown to go with 79 yards on just five receptions.
Lest you think Utah State was done there, no; Travis VanLeeuwen had 30 yards after hauling in four passes and tight ends D.J. Tialavea and Keegan Andersen, the latter the son of former USU head coach Gary, each had touchdown receptions once the Ags got inside the San Jose State red zone.
With production like that scattered not only to the wideouts but to tight ends it’s hard to argue with anyone who says Utah State doesn’t have a potent offense. But the points production didn’t stop there…
2. Kicker Nick Diaz
Much has been made of Nick Diaz’ ineffectiveness when it counts. Last week at USC Diaz missed a field goal that could have tied the game, and at Utah his missed PAT literally spelled the difference between the Aggies upsetting the Utes for the second time in two years — and going home a loser.
Utah State is certainly accustomed to missing big kicks in big games, none bigger than kicker Josh Thompson’s miss at Wisconsin last season (pictured).
Now if head coach Matt Wells and his staff could only get Diaz to imagine that big teams like USC were wearing uniforms of Mountain West Conference teams, he’d be onto something.
Because against conference opposition, Diaz is 5-for-5 on field goals. (He’s 7-for-8 on the season.) He was 4-for-4 Friday night in San Jose, connecting on three chip shots inside the Spartan 25 and also bombing a 45-yarder down the pipes.
Those points accounted for nearly one-third of the Aggies’ scoring offense — and his kicks were critical to Utah State blowing the game wide open in the first half.
Three of Diaz’ kicks came in the second quarter when the Spartan defense bunkered in and refused to let Utah State run up the score.
1. No Turnovers
Now that the Aggies have had to ratchet up their level of play in the Mountain West Conference to meet the challenge of traveling to places like Air Force — and Wyoming is on the horizon as well — ball security is critical.
In two conference games the Aggies have had just one turnover — and in both games Utah State has won by a sizable margin, leaving nothing to chance. Chuckie Keeton (pictured) hasn’t put the ball on the turf very often in conference games, nor has he thrown interceptions.
Setting the tone in these conference games means not committing silly turnovers, a bugaboo in both Aggies losses this year. But in the Mountain West Conference Utah State is a picture-perfect 2-0 — even though it’s their first year in the league.
Though the Aggies still have a long way to go — and a tough home game against BYU looms this Friday in Logan — Utah State knows what it needs to do to win that big game.
With games against the rival Cougars and Boise State on the horizon you’ll know a lot more about this Utah State team in just a few short weeks.
Coming up this week: Utah State-BYU rivalry game coverage…stay tuned!