QB Keeton makes Utah State dangerous

QB Keeton makes Utah State dangerous

Published Sep. 14, 2012 5:00 a.m. ET

MADISON, Wis. — How much praise is truth and how much is hyperbole when it comes to dissecting the talents of Utah State's dual-threat quarterback Chuckie Keeton?

Listen to the way Wisconsin's football players rave about Keeton, and it's difficult to discern where one line stops and the other begins.

Badgers cornerback Devin Smith compared him to Ohio State's Braxton Miller. Strong safety Michael Trotter referenced Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick.

"He makes the offense go," Smith said. "You've just got to contain him and make sure he's not getting out and freelancing. He's able to make plays with his feet. We've got to make sure we stop that."

Regardless of the player Keeton most resembles, Wisconsin will have its hands full with him and the rest of Utah State when it plays host to the Aggies at 7 p.m. CT Saturday.

For those who know little of Utah State's program, know this: the Aggies, 2-0 for the first time in 15 years, are far from a non-conference pushover this season.

"What we'll have to do is buckle into what our gameplan is, be sharp in what we're doing and be able to execute on Saturday," Badgers coach Bret Bielema said. "They're a very, very good football team."

Keeton, a sophomore from Houston, Texas, is a key reason for Utah State's success. Last week, he led Utah State to a 27-20 overtime victory against in-state Pac-12 rival Utah — the Aggies' first victory in the series since 1997. As a result, the Aggies earned their first Associated Press poll vote since 1966.

Through two games, Keeton ranks fifth nationally in completion percentage (77.2 percent). He also ranks 11th in the nation in passing efficiency. The 10 quarterbacks ahead of him all play in power-six conferences — five from the SEC, three from the Big 12, and two from the Pac-12.

And big-game experience is not lacking from Keeton's resume. His first career start came last season in his first game as a freshman — against defending national champion Auburn. Keeton accounted for 246 yards of total offense and two rushing touchdowns. Auburn needed 14 straight points in the final three minutes to pull out a stunning 42-38 victory against Utah State.

"I think Chuckie is the whole package, which is very unusual in a true sophomore at quarterback," Utah State coach Gary Andersen told FOXSportsWisconsin.com this week. "He handles situations mentally very well. His first game of his collegiate career was at Auburn, and that's not easy. He's very even keeled. He's a very good athlete. He's a threat with his arm, a threat with his mind, a threat with his legs."

Wisconsin (1-1) is coming off its most miserable showing in years. The Badgers were nearly shut out for the first time in 15 seasons and managed their lowest total yardage output in five seasons (207 yards) during a 10-7 loss at Oregon State.

Bielema fired offensive line coach Mike Markuson and replaced him with 27-year-old graduate assistant Bart Miller in the aftermath of the embarrassing loss — which dropped Wisconsin out of the AP Top 25 for the first time in three seasons. 

Andersen anticipates the Badgers will be particularly motivated to prove the defeat was an anomaly.

"What I would expect out of Wisconsin is a team that is ornery," Andersen said. "They expect to win, they expect to play football in Division I at a national level. What I mean is they expect to be one of the best teams in the country, and those expectations aren't going to change from the kids in the program or the coaches."

Wisconsin has struggled to establish its typically dominant run game, and it can be attributed to the offensive line's lack of push up front. Running back Montee Ball, a Heisman Trophy finalist last season, gained just 61 yards on 15 carries against Oregon State.

Utah State presents yet another challenge up front. The Aggies are allowing just 76 yards rushing per game, which ranks 21st in the country.

Andersen attributed the success to a deeper crop of defensive players.

"We're able to roll a few young people through, and it keeps us a little fresher," he said "We're really doing it with four linebackers. Last year we had about four or five defensive linemen, and now we're rotating as many as eight."

Dating back to last season, Utah State has won seven of its last eight games. The only loss, a 24-23 defeat against Ohio, came in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. The most notable victory in the past two seasons, of course, was last week's stunner against Utah. But Wisconsin players aren't especially focused on that result given the state of their own team.

"It probably would grab our attention if we had won last week," Badgers cornerback Marcus Cromartie said. "Us losing last week, we just want to win. We don't care if this was USC or Utah State. We're just trying to get a W back."

Follow Jesse Temple on Twitter.