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Utah State rallies around true freshman QB

Earlier this season, Utah State had its own Heisman Trophy campaign going.

The university, just as Northern Illinois did for Jordan Lynch, who finished third in the Heisman Trophy balloting last week, set up a website for junior quarterback Chuckie Keeton, who averaged 307.1 yards of offense as a sophomore in 2012.

Early this season, it was looking like the campaign was justified, with Keeton lighting up the scoreboard the first five-plus weeks of the season, averaging 317.2 yards of total offense a game and throwing 17 touchdown passes with only one interception.

Unfortunately for Utah State, the electric Keeton suffered a season-ending knee injury Oct. 4 against BYU.

When Keeton went down, Utah State initially went with junior Craig Harrison. But midway through their next contest against Boise State on Oct. 12, the Aggies switched to true freshman Darell Garretson out of Chandler, Ariz.

He’s obviously not the same as Keeton, but Garretson has completed 60.6 percent of his passes for 1,325 yards and nine touchdowns to five interceptions in six starts.

After losses to BYU and Boise State, the Aggies went on a five-game winning streak before falling to Fresno State in the Mountain West Championship.

“When [Garretson] first came in, a lot of people expected him to be a little nervous. We didn’t see that from him,” Utah State sophomore wide receiver Bruce Natson said in a phone interview from Logan, Utah. “He came in poised. It’s a different Garretson from when he first came into camp. He came in like he’s already been here before.”

Utah State does not make true freshmen available to the media, so Garretson could not comment.

Aggies offensive coordinator Kevin McGiven said Utah State carried about half the offensive concepts it normally does during Garretson’s first start Oct. 19 against New Mexico. But now, McGiven is using more of the playbook in the Aggies’ offense, which is primarily a spread attack with lots of movement. Utah State also shows some pro set.

“Every week is kind of a new experiment for [Garretson] as far as what he sees from a defensive standpoint,” McGiven said. “Those game reps you get are invaluable.”

The Aggies have relied on senior tailback Joey DeMartino, who has 1,078 rushing yards on the season. He’s another guy who wasn’t a starter at the beginning of the year. Junior Joe Hill was the Aggies’ main back before suffering a torn ACL Sept. 27 against San Jose State.

DeMartino has recorded four 100-yard games in the Aggies’ six contests to go along with seven touchdowns.

“We didn’t think that Joey D could be a feature back in our offense, an every-down type guy,” McGiven said. “He’s proved to be that. He’s a pretty versatile back as well. He can catch the ball out of the backfield, he can be an interior runner.”

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