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USU football: Keeton out for Saturday, but knee is structurally sound

LOGAN — The words "banged up" never sounded so good.

Utah State head coach Matt Wells announced Monday morning that while Chuckie Keeton will not play in Saturday's game at Arkansas State, an MRI showed that the left knee of the senior quarterback is structurally sound.

"Chuckie is fine from a health standpoint," Wells declared. "The ACL is all intact; everything's good. But it's banged up, guys, and that's the bottom line.

"So, we're going to sit him out this week, and we're going to sit him out next week (USU has a bye). Then we're going to re-evaluate him during the BYU week."

Keeton has been trying to come back from knee surgery after he tore his ACL and MCL in a loss to Brigham Young last October. After missing the final seven games of 2013 and practices last spring, Keeton started USU's first three games of ’14 before being hit by Wake Forest defensive tackle Josh Banks during one of the final plays of the first half of last Saturday's game at Romney Stadium.

Although he stayed on the field, Keeton was limping noticeably as the Aggies closed out the half with a field goal. The next time he was seen, Keeton was on the USU sideline, wearing a ballcap, a T-shirt and hobbling around on crutches.

With Keeton sidelined for the near future, that means sophomore Darell Garretson, who played the entire second half of USU's 36-24 win over the Demon Deacons, will start at quarterback against the Red Wolves (1-2). The Aggies were optimistic that they'd be able to redshirt Garretson this season, but Wells also made it clear during fall camp that he would play whoever gave his team the best chance to win if Keeton were to go down again.

"I have a tremendous amount of confidence — as does his teammates — in Darell Garretson," Wells said. "I think we're very confident in him, his talents, his abilities and his leadership ability.

"But just like last year, we have to do the same thing. We will have to play very well on defense, we're going to have to find ways to be difference makers on special teams, and guys on offense are going to have to play a little bit better around him."

The situation is a familiar one for Garretson, who started the final seven games of the season for Utah State in 2013. As a true freshman, Garretson guided the Aggies to a 6-1 record, including a win over No. 24 Northern Illinois in the Poinsettia Bowl.

Garretson saw action in a total of eight games last season, completing 60.3 percent of his passes (126 of 209) on his way to a school record for passing yards by a freshman quarterback with 1,446. He also threw 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Against Wake Forest, Garretson threw an interception on his first play, but the sophomore settled in after that and completed 11 of 16 attempts for 121 yards and one touchdown.

"Darell brings a lot to the table," USU wide receiver JoJo Natson said of Garretson. "His whole demeanor … even when he was a backup he was always pushing for the offense to do well. Last year we saw how he handled adversity. He stepped into the picture and helped us out big time. So what he did Saturday was nothing new."

Wells added that senior Craig Harrison, who saw action in nine games last year and started against Boise State before Garretson established himself, will serve as Garretson's backup at Arkansas State.