Logan • Chuckie Keeton entered this season at Utah State far from a sure thing.
Last year, as a freshman, the quarterback proved to be more of an athlete than a quarterback playing behind center. So, as impressive as he was at times, there was one big question: Could Keeton take the next step as a sophomore?
It wasn’t going to be easy. For the second straight summer, he was forced to beat talented drop-back passer Adam Kennedy for the starting position. Even more importantly, Keeton wouldn’t have running backs Robert Turbin and Michael Smith to feed the ball to.
However, going into Saturday’s matchup at Texas-San Antonio, Keeton has answered all the questions. He has exceeded expectations by a wide margin.
“I knew he would be good, but I truthfully never thought he was going to be this good,” said USU offensive coordinator Matt Wells.
How good has he been? Through eight games, Keeton has thrown 16 touchdown passes and just four interceptions. In that time, he has thrown for 2,015 yards, has a 67 percent completion rate and has taken just 13 sacks all season while racking up 300- and 400-yard passing games.
Keeton’s throwing improvement has been drastic and almost unforeseen. In a state where quarterback play this season has been inconsistent, Keeton has been the most steady.
Along with Quinton Patton from Louisiana Tech and David Fales from San Jose State, Keeton is a prime candidate for the Western Athletic Conference offensive MVP award.
And he has two more years to improve his craft.
“I think he’s going to go down as one of the greatest players to ever come through this school,” said senior wide receiver Matt Austin. “He’s taken the next step this season when we all needed it. Without Robert Turbin and Michael Smith, the rest of the offense really needed him to step up. He’s done everything we asked and even more. I think we are going to see him playing on Sundays [in the NFL].”
The transformation began in a swimming pool. Keeton worked with Wells to tighten his throwing motion with the resistance of water. It continued in spring practice, where Keeton showed an accuracy well beyond that of his freshman season. And it peaked during preseason camp, where Keeton separated himself from Kennedy — the QB who led Utah State to five consecutive wins and a bowl berth at the end of 2011 when Keeton was out with a neck injury.
Still, there were fans who preferred Kennedy, who had a better winning percentage than Keeton as a starter last season. And there were doubts about Keeton adjusting to the new passing offense that Wells implemented.
“It wasn’t a lot of pressure on me, because I feel like nobody puts more pressure on me than myself,” Keeton said. “I knew that I had to improve — not just as a passer, but in all phases of my game. That’s why I worked as hard as I did during the offseason. I knew that having a good freshman year really didn’t mean much if I didn’t improve on it. It was kind of like proving myself all over again.”
The result? Keeton went 22 of 25 for 304 yards and two touchdowns in USU’s season opener against Southern Utah. He lit up UNLV for 404 yards. He threw for more than 250 yards in the first half against San Jose State. And the dual-threat ability is still there. Keeton has twice rushed for more than 80 yards and has gone for 75 yards on the ground in another game.
Where Keeton could only throw screen passes and deep balls last season, he now has the command of the entire playbook. He can change plays during pre-snap reads, and the Aggies’ offense has scored more than 30 points in four of its past five outings.
“Chuckie has proven to be an amazing young man,” USU coach Gary Andersen said. “His leadership is the biggest thing. He has taken this team and made it his. I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
Chuckie Keeton file
• Has led Utah State to a 6-2 record for the first time since 1982
• Missed the last six games of 2011 with a neck injury suffered at Hawaii
• Has a 151.2 quarterback rating in 2012
Utah State at Texas-San Antonio