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Utah State Notebook: Aggie football steadies itself for challenge from Demon Deacons

SHARE Utah State Notebook: Aggie football steadies itself for challenge from Demon Deacons
The team’s identity will continue to be formed as the year goes on. You can’t predict. It’s not easy. Now we’re out three guys. – Utah State head coach Matt Wells

SALT LAKE CITY — Tennessee pummeled Utah State 38-7. Six days later, the Aggies whipped Idaho State 40-20. With Wake Forest coming to Logan on Saturday, Aggies fans must be wondering what kind of team Utah State is — and the one it can become when the Aggies begin Mountain West Conference play in October.

Utah State supporters are not the only ones wondering; Aggie football head coach Matt Wells says he doesn’t know what this team will become.

“The team’s identity will continue to be formed as the year goes on,” Wells said about an Aggie team dealing with season-ending injuries to two outside linebackers and now wide receiver Brandon Swindall. "You can’t predict. It’s not easy. Now we’re out three guys."

Kyler Fackrell, on the Bednarik Award pre-season watch list for college defensive player of the year, tore his ACL in the week one Knoxville game against the University of Tennessee.

“That’s tough," Wells said. "That’s not good. We’ve got guys stepping up all over the place. We need them to continue to step up and find a way to win games. This is a business about winning games and finding ways to win.

“You’ll know the identity of the team into October or early November," he continued. "We’re not in midseason form right now.”

Still, the Aggies come in as the Vegas favorites to defeat Wake Forest on Saturday at Romney Stadium. For the second week in a row, the Aggies are playing at home on Merlin Olsen Field. The Demon Deacons are currently 1-1: they lost to the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks 17-10 in week one, then defeated Gardner-Webb 23-7. The Runnin’ Bulldogs play in the FCS, the second-tier of NCAA football.

The Aggies' offensive line remains a developing storyline. Of the front five, only senior left tackle Kevin Whimpey is a returning starter. The other four are light on experience.

Offensive line play

Against Tennessee and early in the Idaho State contest, Utah State was losing the line battle. Mid-way through the second half Saturday, the Aggies' offensive line noticeably gelled. Quarterback Chuckie Keeton and the Aggies’ four-headed running back attack responded, running up 311 yards on the Bengals.

Keeton demonstrated his appreciation after making an uncontested 9-yard end zone run.

The senior signal-caller drew a ticky-tacky unsportsmanlike conduct call for mimicking a parting of the seas — in appreciation of the O-line creating holes for him and the running backs during a nine-play, 80-yard drive — before lightly tossing the football to the ground.

If the referees didn’t appreciate the QB's token of appreciation, the Aggies' offensive line did.

Quarterback accuracy off

While Keeton looked more nimble and elusive against Idaho State than against Tennessee, his passing looked off. Keeton went 13-of-30 for 116 yards — career lows for both yards and completion percentages.

“I don’t think it’s an accuracy thing with him,” Wells said. "I don’t think any of us are satisfied, really. I’m not satisfied with the reasons why (Keeton) had to throw the ball away. But he’s an unselfish quarterback doing just what he had to do to give his team a chance in that series or that drive. You put up selfish desires for the team. That’s what he does. Any human would look at (those numbers) and go, 'Dadgummit, I wish that was better.' I think Chuckie looks to play his best game of the year against Wake Forest.”

While Wells says the head coach’s job is to constantly hold his team to a high standard, he has to remind his players to keep football in the big picture.

“We’ve got great players," he said. "We have kids who are passionate about doing things right, about playing Aggie football and building the winning culture. Sometimes it’s too passionate, where it’s not good enough. You don’t score enough points, you don’t hold them — that’s where I go back to them and say, ‘Man, we’re creating a winning program and a winning culture. Enjoy the wins. It’s too hard, too long of a season, off season. Enjoy the ride. Enjoy the process.' I’m trying to do that, too.”