Utah State battles key injuries, will face UNLV Saturday

LOGAN – Injuries have been one of the main storylines of the 2014 football season for Utah State. According to head coach Matt Wells, there have been five season-ending injuries to starters so far. Now backup quarterback Darell Garretson is out as well. It was announced by Wells this week that the sophomore will undergo surgery on the arm he injured last Saturday against Colorado State.

“It’s hard,” Wells said. “You can’t change it and we’re not going to sit around and mope and cry about it and have self-pity, so don’t give me any. We won’t accept it. We won’t have any. We’ll move on.”

With no timetable set for Garretson’s return, Craig Harrison will get his first start of the season. It will be against a UNLV team that is 2-5 on the year, but will be well-rested coming off a bye week after an overtime win against Fresno State. Wells said he assumes that win is one of the best in its program’s history.

Saturday’s game will start at 2 p.m. in Romney Stadium and will be a must win for the Aggies if they hope to keep the conference race close.

USU won last year’s game against the Rebels in Las Vegas, but it wasn’t easy. The Aggies scored the game-winning touchdown with just 3:56 left in the game on a JoJo Natson 12-yard touchdown run.

“That was a tough game last year, right down to the wire,” Wells said. “We pulled out every stop that we could to win that thing on the road. That was a test of our kids’ resiliency in really a little bit of a similar time that we’re in right now. We had to go on the road. Now we get to stay home and play an afternoon game, so our kids will all be excited about that. I promise you, we’ll come out with energy and emotion and play with tremendous effort.”

The Aggies are hoping it won’t be as close this year, but Wells isn’t underestimating UNLV and their ability to prepare for the game. He credited the Rebels’ offensive staff with coming up with one of the best game plans he has seen against a USU defense. This year, they have a whole extra bye week to prepare.

“When I say I have a lot of respect for them, I really mean that,” Wells said.

Harrison’s start will be his first this season. He played most of the second half against Colorado State, but that is nearly all the playing time he has so far this fall.

“He’s been in here and there in bits and pieces,” Wells said. “He’s cerebral and thinks about it. He does a nice job from that standpoint.”

Junior defensive end Jordan Nielsen said the feeling is similar to the one last year when Garretson had to step in after Keeton’s injury.

“This year, we trust Craig (Harrison) just as much,” he said. “We expect him to come out and play at a high level. We just need to step it up and help him out, too.”

Harrison’s backup will be Kent Myers, a freshman who earlier this year was on the scout team. Wells said that if called upon, Myers will be ready to go. Sophomore center Austin Stephens said the offensive believes in and will protect whatever quarterback is in the game.

“We don’t care who is back there,” he said. “We believe in everyone that gets back there and we believe they can do great things for us. It’s the same every week. We just got to rally behind him and get behind him and do the same thing we’ve been doing.”

Stephens said if the offensive line can run the ball more efficiently, it will make Harrison’s job easier. Utah State has struggled running the ball so far this year. The Aggies’ rushing attack ranks dead last in the conference and 97th nationally with only 929 yards on the ground this season. Wells said it is something they have addressed as a team.

“We have to block better and we’ve got to run the football better and more efficiently,” he said. “Some of that is on the running backs. Some of it is on the O-Line and some of it is on us as coaches. We’ve all got to do a little bit better job.”

Utah State is 14-7 all-time against the Rebels. The Aggies have won two straight. The last UNLV win in the series came in 2008 in Las Vegas.

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