Kragthorpe: Utah State will need offense vs. Fresno State
This is not necessarily how Utah State's 2013 football team was designed, but the way the Aggies have evolved this season creates an intriguing matchup in Saturday's Mountain West championship game.
USU features a great defense and a barely adequate offense; FSU has a great offense and a questionable defense.
The Aggies' offense in its current state is not capable of keeping up with Fresno State, if the Bulldogs move the ball and score points at a level anywhere close to their usual production. USU produced a total of only 501 yards in victories over Colorado State and Wyoming in the last two games, but the Aggie defense was phenomenal, allowing a total of seven points.
Fresno State is an entirely different issue. The Bulldogs' offense, quarterbacked by Derek Carr and coordinated by former Utah assistant coach Dave Schramm, is highly effective. But as shown in a 62-52 loss to San Jose State last week, the FSU defense is vulnerable. It's up to what's left of the USU offense namely freshman quarterback Darell Garretson and running back Joey DeMartino to take advantage of that opportunity and give the Aggies a chance to win.
The Aggies will have to be more aggressive than they were against CSU and Wyoming. I'd never seen a three-and-out sequence with three completed passes, as happened on USU's opening possession last week, when Garretson kept throwing short routes.
This is the one time that USU really could have used QB Chuckie Keeton. While not devaluing Keeton's ability in any sense, I've observed the weird phenomenon of this season: USU certainly would have beaten Air Force, Weber State and San Jose State even without Keeton in September, and the Aggies actually have beaten New Mexico, Hawaii, UNLV, CSU and Wyoming since his knee injury.
But now I'm saying the Aggies would beat Fresno State if they had Keeton and they'll have an awfully tough time doing so without him.
If Matt Wells and his staff can pull off this upset, they will have produced the best one-season coaching job in USU history. I've pointed out that USU caught a scheduling break by missing Fresno State and San Diego State in the MW's rotation, but the Aggies did go 7-1 in conference play. They've done it mostly without Keeton and three other offensive starters, and receiver Travis Reynolds recently joined that list with a season-ending injury.
Think about this: Utah lost to New Mexico, Colorado State, Wyoming, Air Force and UNLV at least once in coach Kyle Whittingham's first three seasons. So those wins for USU shouldn't be easily dismissed.
Fresno State is in another category. Beating the Bulldogs on the road is asking a lot. But the Aggies deserve credit for giving themselves this opportunity.