Logan • His career-best passing night completed, BYU’s Taysom Hill happily jogged off the Romney Stadium field.
His left knee in a brace, Utah State’s Chuckie Keeton needed crutches to help him reach the home locker room.
The contrasting scenes of the quarterbacks pretty much tell you all you need to know about BYU’s 31-14 victory Friday — and everything that lies ahead for these teams.
Regardless of whatever disclaimers may accompany the victory in Keeton’s absence, BYU needed this kind of performance. So did Hill, whose three touchdown passes to Mitch Mathews provided more than enough offense to keep the Cougars comfortably in control after Keeton’s knee injury late in the first quarter.
Keeton’s diagnosis awaits, but “it doesn’t look good,” said USU coach Matt Wells.
The injury occurred when Uani Unga and Bronson Kaufusi tackled a scrambling Keeton in front of the BYU bench. “I could tell right from the beginning, just by the sound he made, that it wasn’t going to be good,” said BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall.
Maybe we all should have known more quarterbacking trauma would occur in this rivalry.
In the last two BYU-USU games, the Cougars’ QB picture was radically altered. Riley Nelson’s rally in 2011 made him BYU’s starter from that point forward, eventually resulting in Jake Heaps’ transfer to Kansas. Hill’s knee injury late in last October’s game ended his freshman season after he’d passed for 235 yards, even though BYU won only 6-3.
Almost exactly a year later, Hill showed more signs of genuine passing ability against another good USU defense. His touchdown passes to Mathews were all beautifully tossed, bracketing a moment late in the first half when Hill animatedly instructed Mathews about proper route-running.
Hill’s 17-of-31, 278-yard performance suggested there’s hope for him and BYU’s offense, after all. Once running back Jamaal Williams and receiver Cody Hoffman are fully utilized, the Cougars (3-2) may have some rhythm and continuity.
As long as other players do their jobs, “Taysom is Taysom,” said receiver JD Falslev, “and he’s going to make plays for us.”
The Cougars’ offense looked sharp in spurts in Logan, and that was sufficient to give them a victory they really needed.
BYU has dominated this series for nearly 40 years, but beating USU was meaningful. With a loss Friday, they would have gone 0-2 in the state for the second time in four seasons and faced a tough climb to bowl eligibility.
The Cougars probably would have won anyway Friday, considering how they shut down Keeton last October in Provo. Yet he means so much to USU that nobody can say for sure what may have happened.
Amazingly, Keeton’s first pass was intercepted by BYU linebacker Kyle Van Noy, who made an acrobatic catch and went 15 yards for a touchdown.
If that play was unthinkable from an Aggie perspective, consider the scene when Keeton lay on the field and then required help to walk off the field. He would return to the sideline later in the first half, on crutches and out of uniform.
So ended any hopes of the Aggies (3-3) winning this game — and presumably the Mountain West title in their first season of conference membership, with bowl eligibility now an ambitious enough goal.
Craig Harrison, Keeton’s backup, simply was not going to beat BYU. The same is probably true of Boise State next week. He should be adequate against New Mexico, Hawaii, UNLV and Colorado State, so USU’s season is not over — just spun wildly on its axis. BYU’s outlook is improving incrementally. So, not coincidentally, is their quarterback.