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(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah State Aggies quarterback Chuckie Keeton (16) controlling the offense on a touchdown drive as the University of Utah hosts Utah State, college football Thursday, August 29, 2013 at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City.
USU football: Aggies say they’re fighters, with Air Force in sight
First Published Aug 30 2013 09:16 pm • Last Updated Aug 30 2013 11:31 pm

Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton stood in front of the locker room, the red stain of blood on his teeth.

He was hurting. His whole team was hurting from the 30-26 loss to the Utes that had just ended minutes earlier.

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Utah State at Air Force

Sept. 7, 1:30 p.m.

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But he was already looking forward.

"I’d say the biggest positive that we haven’t seen but we’re going to see is how we bounce back from it," the junior quarterback said. "This is a locker room full of competitors and a locker room full of fighters, and I don’t think any team is going to play as hard as we will for the rest of the year."

The rest of the year starts next week, as the Aggies look ahead to their Mountain West opener at Air Force, well-known as a difficult early season opponent. The Falcons, despite a 6-7 record, were the second-ranked rushing attack in the country last year. The Aggies may now be out of the running for winning all of their games, but they have the chance to prove that they can win all of their Mountain West contests — starting in Colorado Springs.

Wells saw at least a few positives to take from defeat as his team started looking ahead.

"Our kids are high-character," Wells said. "They played really, really well and really hard. And that hurts them in there now. We expected to walk in and win. I think that belief will take us a long way."

Struggles at the beginning and the end of the defeat to Utah overshadowed a sensational offensive performance. Utah State piled up 487 yards on the Utes, including 399 total offensive yards by Keeton.

New starters at running back and receiver proved themselves, such as Brandon Swindall with two touchdowns, and Travis Van Leeuwen with 107 yards in receptions. That high-octane attack, provided it can find more consistency than it did at Utah, could shine against Air Force, which gives up size advantages against most opponents.

The Falcons’ main strength, the rushing game, also meets Utah State’s best defensive strength. The Aggies did give up 148 yards on the ground in the end, but they held Utah’s backs to less than four yards a carry. They’ll have to lock down Air Force’s triple option with renewed intensity.

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Still the problems will have to be addressed. Wells called some of the Aggies’ penalties "silly," particularly on two avoidable late hits. The secondary also had some serious holes in the middle of the defense that need to be addressed. And Keeton said the offense would reconvene to talk about scoring more points in the fourth quarter with the game on the line.

If Utah State wants to show it is the type of team that can recover from a tough loss, it begins with Air Force.

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