LOGAN -- Utah State's Adam Kennedy had taken merely a half-dozen snaps before he found himself riding a golf cart off Merlin Olsen Field at Romney Stadium, visibly in pain.
As unfortunate as the senior's injury, at least the Aggies were relying on someone else to guide their victory over Southern Utah.
Despite Kennedy's strong performance in four straight season-salvaging regular-season victories, he didn't get the call from USU coach Gary Andersen to start Thursday evening. Instead, that choice was sophomore Chuckie Keeton. Known by many as the true freshman who nearly stunned defending national champion Auburn a year ago, this season-opening task was a bit easier. Keeton led USU to a breezy 34-3 victory over the new Big Sky Conference squad, setting career-highs in yards and completions along the way. In setting a new mark for the fewest points allowed in one game of the Andersen era, USU also marked its first home win to start a season since 1996, when it defeated Utah.
The Aggies now aim to earn their first victory in 13 tries over that same rival. The Utes come to Logan Friday night at 6 p.m. to resume a rivalry that hasn't been played since 2009.
Kennedy may yet recover in time for next week, but if USU does indeed find themselves suddenly short on proven quarterbacks outside of Keeton before they even face a member of the Football Bowl Subdivision, the 19-year-old does finds it ironic.
"It's funny -- well, it's not funny, but I come out and Adam in because we're ... trying to run the clock out," Keeton said about a contest that saw starting running back Kerwynn Williams removed in the third quarter, before a referee was even leveled for several minutes late in the fourth. "He said he'll be good, but no one knows right now. We were just praying in the locker room."
Regardless, Andersen was grateful that the competition allowed for his team's eight new starters, including five on defense, to gain experience heading into next week's ESPN2-televised game. That front held SUU to just a 3-of-15 third-down conversion rate and 209 total yards of offense, compared to 581 for the Aggies -- the 12th highest in school history. Keeton's 304 yards in the air were complemented by 119 on the ground from Joe Hill, a second-string tailback entering the game before Andersen removed Williams, a preseason all-WAC selection, in the third quarter. Williams' 66-yard effort was overshadowed by a performance from Hill that included career-highs not only in yards, but also in carries (11) and touchdowns (three).
Matt Austin and Chuck Jacobs proved to be the wide-outs that Andersen, Keeton and Kennedy praised through spring and August practices, combining for nine receptions, 183 yards and two touchdowns. Austin slipped under the SUU secondary to make a wowing haul along the sideline early in the third quarter to give his team full momentum.
Moments later, Hill's second score, a 19-yard scamper to his left, gave USU a commanding 28-3 lead with 11:53 left in the period and assured the crowd that they may be indeed be watching a team picked to make a legitimate push for the Western Athletic Conference title.
Even with one star potentially down, others are assured that another in Hill has risen -- something that the sophomore himself acknowledged was needed, in the absence of 2012 NFL draftees and running backs Robert Turbin and Michael Smith.
"Joe Hill got the game ball, without question," Andersen said. "He was explosive. His ball security was very good. I am proud how he carried himself in that setting (with Williams' exit)."
An absence that wasn't without company.
Utah St. 34, S. Utah 3
At Romney Stadium
S. Utah 0 3 0 0 -- 3
Utah St. 21 0 7 6 -- 34
USU--Jacobs 48 pass from Keeton (Warren kick), 8:51.
USU--Austin 35 pass from Keeton (Warren kick), 6:15.
USU--Hill 27 run (Warren kick), 1:01.
S. Utah--Cook 22 field goal, 7:49.
USU--Hill 19 run (Warren kick), 11:53.
USU--Hill 33 run (run failed), 14:51.
S. Utah USU
First downs 12 28
Rushes-yards 27-56 51-277
Passing 153 304
Comp-Att-Int 12-31-1 23-27-1
Return yards 0 40
Punts-avg. 9-45.7 3-40.0
Fumbles-lost 0-0 3-1
Penalties-yards 4-35 10-120
Time of possession 26:25 33:35
Rushing--S. Utah, H.Brown 9-21, Wilson 10-20, Crawford-Harris 4-12, Sorensen 4-3. Utah St., Hill 11-116, K.Williams 15-63, Marshall 9-53, Lee 6-20, Keeton 6-15, Toure 2-6, Kennedy 1-5, Team 1-(minus 1).
Passing--S. Utah, Sorensen 12-31-1-153. Utah St., Keeton 22-26-1-304, Kennedy 1-1-0-0.
Receiving--S. Utah, Moala 5-68, H.Brown 3-24, Ca.Morgan 1-29, McNabb 1-18, M.Brown 1-12, Jessop 1-2. Utah St., Austin 5-119, Jacobs 4-64, Reynolds 3-18, Bartlett 2-21, Natson 2-19, K.Williams 2-15, Webb 2-7, Hill 1-17, Andersen 1-16, Van Leeuwen 1-8.