Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton had a chance to make a big statement in the Aggies’ nationally televised game at USC, but college football fans who tuned in to see what the #Chuckie4Heisman chatter was all about didn’t get much of a show. The dark horse Heisman Trophy candidate was ineffective against the Trojans’ solid defense, which carried USC to a narrow 17-14 victory.
Keeton had an impressive run through the first three games of 2013, entering the USC game with 923 passing yards, 12 touchdowns and one interception on the year. Before taking on the Trojans, the dual-threat quarterback was the Aggies’ leading rusher and had completed more than 78% of his passes on the year.
The USC defense knew Keeton would be it’s first big test of the season, and while the quarterback showed a few flashes of his ability, he was no match for the Trojans’ pass rush.
He’d been sacked three times in the first three games, but the Trojans dropped Keeton four times for a loss of 18 yards. USC linebacker Morgan Breslin accounted for two sacks, and he and defensive linemen Leonard Williams and George Uko consistently generated pressure to keep the star quarterback off his game.
Statistically, it was Keeton’s worst performance of the year. He threw two touchdown passes, but he completed just over half his pass attempts and couldn’t find any holes to run, finishing with -15 rushing yards.
Keeton made his collegiate debut against reigning National Champion Auburn to start the 2011 season, and he immediately made a name for himself by nearly leading the Aggies to an upset win. (Auburn won the 42-38 thriller.) Last year against in-state rival Utah, he threw two touchdown passes and had a 23-yard rush to set up the winning touchdown in overtime.
A win against a very vulnerable USC Trojans squad would’ve been a huge accomplishment for a team that has repeatedly fallen just short of toppling major opponents. If Keeton had played as well as he had in recent weeks, the subsequent media coverage would have boosted the quarterback’s profile in a big way.
It was a missed opportunity for Keeton and the Aggies. Their big remaining games are against BYU and Boise State, but both will be aired in primetime on CBS Sports Network, likely opposite the week’s marquee match-ups on more widely-viewed networks. The Aggies play on ESPN this Friday night, but leading the team to a blowout over San Jose State won’t carry the same weight as an outstanding performance, even in a loss, against USC.
Keeton’s average day may ultimately have a negative effect on his Heisman hopes. Utah State and USC posted nearly identical stats almost across the board on offense, and Keeton’s inability to show up the Trojans’ struggling offense could make voters hesitant to seriously consider him for the prestigious award.
By the end of the season, the quarterback’s overall body of work may merit attention, but Keeton may not have a bigger stage than he did Saturday against USC, and unfortunately, he couldn’t capitalize.