By Doug Hoffman, USU Athletics
SALT LAKE CITY — Junior quarterback Chuckie Keeton’s 314 yards passing and 85 yards rushing were not enough as Utah State football suffered a 30-26 loss at Utah Thursday night at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Thursday night was the 111th meeting in series history, which is the oldest rivalry for both schools and the USU-UU series is tied for the 12th-most played series in the nation at the FBS level and tied for the 22nd-most played series in college football.
The loss Thursday also snapped a three-game road win streak for the Aggies, as USU is now 7-3 in its last 10 road games dating back to the 2011 season. USU is 16-4 in its last 20 games and the four losses during those 20 games has been by a combined 10 points as it lost to Ohio (24-23) in the 2011 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, and at No. 22 Wisconsin (16-14) and at BYU (6-3) in 2012.
Senior wide receiver Travis Van Leeuwen had a career-high five receptions for 107 yards Thursday night, while sophomore wide receiver Bruce Natson added a career-best nine catches for 83 yards.
Junior running back Joe Hill had a career-high 18 carries for 75 yards as the Aggies ended with 173 yards on the ground and 314 yards through the air for 487 total yards of offense. Keeton was 31-of-40 with two touchdown passes, posting new career-highs for both completions and attempts.
The USU defense was led by senior linebacker Jake Doughty with a game-high 16 tackles, his second-highest of his career and his fifth game with double-digit stops. Senior safety Maurice Alexander posted 1.5 sacks as part of a career-high 11 stops on the night. Junior linebacker Zach Vigil added 10 tackles, tying his career-high for the sixth time.
Utah was led by Travis Wilson’s 17-of-28 passing for 302 yards with two touchdowns and was sacked by the USU defense three times. James Poole rushed for 47 yards while Karl Williams added 45 yards and a score, both carrying the ball 12 times apiece.
Anthony Denham had six catches for 113 yards. Eric Rowe led the Utes’ defense with 10 tackles while Nate Orchard and Trevor Reilly notched eight stops each.
Utah got on the board first, taking advantage of a USU personal foul on the Utes’ third play from scrimmage and later scored on a 3-yard pass from Wilson to Dres Anderson with 11:47 to on the first quarter clock.
The Aggies responded on their first possession with Keeton leading the drive, starting with a 24-yard pass to Van Leeuwen. The drive stalled at the UU 9-yard line and junior placekicker Nick Diaz split the uprights from 26-yards out for the Aggies’ first score of the season with 7:37 left in the opening stanza to pull USU within 7-3.
Later in the quarter, Wilson hit Jake Murphy with a 30-yard pass, catch and run play for a 14-3 Utes’ lead.
The Aggies closed to 14-10 on their first possession of the second frame, with the first play of the quarter going for 36-yards on a Keeton to Van Leeuwen pass play. Keeton went back to the air two plays later with a 15-yard strike to sophomore Brandon Swindall for the young receiver’s first career touchdown catch, just 49 seconds into quarter number two.
Keeton connected with Swindall from 4-yards out with 10 seconds left, capping a 10-play, 85-yard drive and sending USU into halftime leading, 17-10. With his second score in the game, Swindall became the first Aggie player to snare two scoring catches in a game since Dec. 3, 2011 when Matt Austin caught two touchdowns at New Mexico State.
The Aggies opened the second half the same way they closed the first one with Keeton orchestrating a long drive, including a 16-yard pass play to Hill on a third-and-16 near midfield. Keeton capped the 10-play, 75-yard drive with a 15-yard scamper down the left sideline and leapt to the end zone getting the ball inside the pylon. The PAT was off left, but USU led, 23-14 with 11:52 on the third-quarter clock.
On Utah’s ensuing possession, the Utes converted a fourth-and-1, but the Aggie defense held strong, with senior safety Maurice Alexander busting through the line on a third-down play to sack Wilson, thwarting Utah’s drive.
The Utes closed to 23-17 with 2:24 to go in the third quarter on a 45-yard field goal by Andy Phillips and recovered the ensuing onside kick. Five plays later, Karl Williams went in from 2-yards out for a 24-23 Utah lead with 1:29 to go in the frame.
On its next drive that overlapped the end of the third quarter and the start of the fourth, Utah State drove deep into Utes’ territory before the drive slowed, and Diaz drilled a 24-yard field goal to give USU a 26-23 lead with 10:39 remaining.
Utah took the kickoff and marched down the field, with Phillips capping the drive with a 19-yard field goal with 6:38 for the Utes’ lead and the Aggies couldn’t counter. USU used its timeouts to hold the Utah drive, but the Utes kicked a 38-yard field goal with 19 seconds left for a 30-26 lead.
USU had a last chance, but Keeton’s heave to the end zone fell to the turf incomplete as time expired.
The Aggies stay on the road for their second game of the season, heading to Colorado Springs, Colo., to take on Air Force in USU’s inaugural Mountain West game on Saturday, Sept. 7 at 1:30 p.m. (MT) in a nationally televised game on CBS Sports Network. Utah State is playing consecutive road games for the first time since 2009.
USU returns home to host in-state foe Weber State in its annual Homecoming game on Saturday, Sept. 14 in a 6 p.m. kickoff. In addition to Homecoming, it is also the Aggies’ Hall of Fame game, honoring its 2013 induction class.
For Aggie football ticket information, fans can contact the USU Athletics Ticket Office over the phone by calling 1-888-USTATE-1 or 435-797-0305 during regular hours of operation. Fans can also buy their tickets in person at the USU Ticket Office inside the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum or online by clicking on the “Buy Tickets” tab at www.UtahStateAggies.com.
Fans can follow the Aggie football program at twitter.com/USUFootball or on facebook at Utah State Football, as well as on instagram at instagram.com/USUFootball. Aggie fans can also follow the Utah State athletic program at twitter.com/USUAthletics or on facebook at Utah State University Athletics.