The band played on.

The fans cheered.

And Utah State quarterback Darell Garretson wanted just one thing: Light the A.

As tradition dictates, the big block “A” on USU’s Old Main is lit blue after an Aggies victory. In the moments following last Saturday’s home win against Wake Forest, Garretson was on the field with his teammates while the band played the school’s fight song. On the video board was a shot of the “A” on Old Main and then came the countdown.

Five … four … three … two … one.

A pause for dramatic effect.

“Light it!” Garretson yelled, full of happy anticipation. “Please!”

Done.

“Hey!” he cheered, raising his hand as he raised his voice.

Before that happy moment the poor guy was in the midst of a conversation with a group of media types who’d tracked him down and cornered him following the 36-24 victory in which he filled in for injured starter Chuckie Keeton.

He bravely tolerated the intrusion and was telling us how he wasn’t nervous about stepping in for Keeton, that he was prepared for that moment, if and when it came. He did so when Keeton went down with a season-ending knee injury in 2013 and helped lead the Aggies to a Poinsettia Bowl victory over Northern Illinois.

When Keeton suffered an injury to his surgically-repaired knee last weekend, Garretson trotted onto the field, found his legs after a shaky start, and completed 11 of 16 passes for 121 yards and a touchdown.

As the band played, the “A” turned blue and his teammates milled around, Garretson said he’d be ready for whatever happened next. Surely in the back of his mind he wondered if that meant filling in for the remainder of the season.

“Those coaches are going to get me ready,” he said. “I’ve got to prepare myself and we gotta do what we gotta do.”

Turns out the news on Keeton wasn’t as bad as it could have been. In the moments following last week’s game it was too early to tell whether the preseason Heisman Trophy hopeful would be out for the year or just a little while. But on Monday coach Matt Wells confirmed it wasn’t a worst-case scenario.

“Chuckie is fine from a health standpoint,” he said. “The ACL (knee ligament) is intact, everything is good, it’s just banged up.”

Wells said Garretson will start this week’s game at Arkansas State, giving Keeton time to heal between now and the Aggies’ Oct. 5 game at BYU.

Under Garretson’s direction, Utah State is more than capable of beating Arkansas State, whose record is 1-2 this season.

But aside from the usual things, like protecting the ball, establishing the run, stopping the run and limiting the penalties, the Aggies absolutely must guard against a letdown after beating Wake Forest. And they certainly can’t afford to lose rhythm with Garretson, and not Keeton, running the offense.

Having been there and done that last season, the Aggies will be prepared for it.

Ex-Clearfield High School standout Zach Vigil, now an Aggies’ senior linebacker, enumerated the reasons why Garretson will get the job done.

“There are three factors that I see,” he said. “Number one is the confidence he has in himself. Two, the confidence the players have in him. And three, I know how to game-plan a little bit better for him. It was a little bit of a wildcard last year going into some of those games.

“We have a lot of confidence in him. That locker room won’t flinch, they believe in him. Chuckie (Keeton) can’t go this week, so he’s the next best quarterback in this program.”

And there you have it, carefully considered and confidently communicated.

I’d definitely give it an “A.”

Jim Burton is the Standard-Examiner’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 801-625-4265 or at jburton@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter @StandardExJimbo

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