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MWC Championship: Five(-ish) to Watch for Utah State

Most people are familiar with USU QB Chuckie Keeton. Since Keeton's injury, others have had to step up and lead the team. Here's a list of the key play-makers for the Aggies as they aim for a conference title their first year in the MWC.

Harry How

In preparation for the conference title game later this week, we'll be doing articles/podcasts on a daily basis leading up to the big day. Today, I'll be focusing on the key players on the Aggie roster, the best of the best. There are two issues with this: 1- that the Aggies have been torn apart by injuries (starting players Chuckie Keeton, Joe Hill, DJ Tialavea, and Kyle Whimpey are all out with season-ending injuries); and 2- that there is so much talent in Logan this year that it's tough to pick just five or so players to focus on. With that in mind, I may fudge the count slightly in order to accommodate the situation. Without further ado, then, the top five(-ish) players to watch this weekend:

1. Tyler Larsen (and the rest of the O-line): Larsen is one of the premier centers in the country, and is the anchor of this very impressive line. Even with Kyle Whimpey out for the season, the remaining four starters have more game experience than most other O-lines in the country, combining for 150 starts. Jamie Markosian switched from left to right guard after Whimpey's injury, and Sini Tauauve'a took Markosian's spot on the left. It took some time for the line to adjust to the changes, as well as to get a feel for a new signal caller; they have worked things out, however, and in the past five games, they have facilitated an average of just under 34 points, and nearly 400 yards, per game. If USU is going to move the ball against Fresno and keep pace with their high-octane offense, it will start with the performance of Larsen and co.

2. Darell Garretson: The true freshman quarterback had to burn his redshirt when Craig Harrison was unable to perform satisfactorily as Chuckie Keeton's replacement; due to limited practice reps before stepping in, Garretson had a somewhat longer adjustment period than many fans hoped. He threw 2 interceptions against Boise State in the second half when he stepped in to replace Harrison, but also threw his first TD pass in the final minutes of that game. Since then, he has led the Aggies to a 5-0 record as a starter, completed 8 TD passes and 2 INTs, and thrown for over 1000 yards. He has improved consistently over the course of the season, and will be a key to the Aggies hopes against Fresno State.

3. Bruce "JoJo" Natson: The do-it-all wide receiver is not the Aggies leading target, but may be their most versatile weapon. He has caught 52 passes for 334 yards and 2 TDs, and has also rushed 21 times for 84 yards and another 2 TDs. On top of that, he has returned 32 punts (the most in the nation) for 351 yards (6th most in the nation) and yet another 2 TDs (tied for 2nd in the nation). He's as dangerous as he is small; the sophomore stands a mere 5'7" and weighs in at 151 pounds after eating at Chuck-a-Rama. His speed, however, combined with his size, makes him very shifty and difficult to contain. Look for him to have a big game, especially on special teams plays.

4. Kyler Fackrell (and Zach Vigil, and Jake Doughty, and Connor Williams): Fackrell leads a defensive front seven that scares the living daylights out of offensive coordinators, o-linemen, and quarterbacks. He has recorded 76 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, 4 sacks and an interception this season. He is excellent rushing off the edge, has good field awareness and covers well in space. His tackling is technically precise, and he doesn't often get beaten by fancy footwork. As a group, the linebackers and d-linemen lead the way to a defense ranked in the top 25 or better nationally in nearly every category (1st down defense, 3rd down defense, passing yards allowed, pass efficiency defense, rushing yards allowed, total yards allowed, tackles for loss, red zone defense, and scoring defense); the only exceptions are sacks (38th), 4th down defense (83rd), interceptions (36th), forced fumbles (46th), and turnovers forced, which is a combination of the interceptions and forced fumbles (39th).

5. Nevin Lawson: Lawson is a senior cornerback that leads the secondary for USU. Lawson is coming into his own as the season starts to wind down. He has made 49 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, and intercepted 4 passes. He is the guy who looks forward to being man-on against the opponent's best receiver. He went toe-to-toe with USC's Marqise Lee, widely held as one of the most talented receivers in the nation before being injured, and shut him down the entire game. He will be heavily relied on to minimize Davante Adams as a weapon for the Bulldogs. If he can keep Adams from having a big game, it will increase the pressure on Fresno State QB Derek Carr, and take away one of the best deep threats at Fresno's disposal.

So there you have it; there are enough talented players in place to give USU a shot at finding success in the championship game. Keep an eye out for them this Saturday, and shoot me a message with any questions, comments, jokes, complaints, or limericks!