Logan • If Utah State was an injury away from competing with BYU on Friday night, the Aggies will never know.
But their injuries had little to do with how well Taysom Hill threw in his first visit to Logan. The Cougars’ quarterback took center stage as BYU (3-2) stormed its way to a 31-14 win over Utah State (3-3, 2-0) in the Old Wagon Wheel rivalry.
BYU receiver J.D. Falslev called it “a very big step forward” for a BYU team that has searched for consistency early this season.
The Cougars affirmed their place atop the Aggies in the in-state hierarchy with gusto, as Hill answered doubts about his arm with three passing touchdowns in the rout. An injury to Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton hobbled the Aggies’ own passing attack, helping BYU’s defense keep them from sniffing the Cougars’ heels after the first quarter.
Bronco Mendenhall said afterward he had faith in his quarterback, who entered the game with only one passing touchdown and four interceptions. Considered run-oriented entering the game, BYU struck a finely tuned balance against the Aggies’ secondary.
It was “just a matter of time,” Mendenhall said. “And our staff and our players just coming together to what we’re doing.”
Hill entered the game as one of the nation’s least efficient passers, but he didn’t take long to shine throwing the ball. He hooked up three times with fellow sophomore Mitch Mathews for touchdowns, showing touch on a 6-yard pass to the corner of the end zone, but also strength on a 43-yard bomb for a score.
Wrapping up with a career-high 278 passing yards, Hill showed the kind big-play throwing ability he lacked early in the season.
“He threw the ball very well tonight, better than I had seen on film,” Utah State linebacker Zach Vigil said. “He’s a great athlete, he adjusted, and he executed. He out-executed our defense.”
Utah State’s own offense floundered after an air-sucking, gut-wrenching injury to Keeton, the team’s biggest star.
The Aggies fortunes crashed late in the first quarter: Uani Unga tackled Keeton on a third-and-long scramble, and Keeton’s left knee buckled as he fell to the turf.
After being helped of the field, Keeton left the stadium on crutches. He later returned to the sideline in street clothes. Coach Matt Wells said he wasn’t yet sure of Keeton’s status for the season, but “it doesn’t look good.”
Junior Craig Harrison stepped in at quarterback, but the Cougars smothered Utah State’s attack. Harrison finished with 186 yards on a 18-for-41 night, rattled often by BYU’s pass rush or unable to find many holes in the Cougars’ coverage.
The Cougars gave up 397 yards but only allowed Utah State in the red zone twice. Added to a game-opening pick-six by Kyle Van Noy, it wrapped up a strong night for BYU’s defense.
Utah State first scored thanks in part to a defensive play of its own: A Vigil-forced fumble set up a quick 15-yard touchdown drive, capped by a pass from Keeton to Travis Van Leeuwen.
Utah State did manage a touchdown drive with Harrison at the helm, an 88-yard campaign that finished with a 8-yard pass by Harrison. With only 1:34 left down 17, it was a mere drop in the bucket.