Dick Harmon: BYU, Utah Utes football: Talent, strength in the trenches determining factor
PROVO — A good generalization of Saturday night's non-shootout rivalry game between BYU and Utah goes something like this: Two offenses will come out in neat jerseys and helmets and flounder around like hooked walleye in a boat bottom.
An ESPN2 audience scattered in pockets of Big Ten, ACC and SEC territory will be impressed with Utah's defensive front four and BYU's front seven. They'll notice extreme physical football right before they nod off and miss an exciting game that will be decided on the final play.
While tuned in, they'll be amazed at the size of Ute tackle Star Lotulelei, the NFL potential of linebacker Brian Blechen, and the range of safety Keith McGill. They'll be impressed with the 4.4 40 speed of Cougar outside linebackers Jordan Pendleton and Kyle Van Noy. Commentators will know all these names and speak them often.
So, what's up with the matchup between BYU's offense ranked 108th in total offense, and Utah, which fields the 97th ranked offense?
Certainly play of quarterbacks Jordan Wynn and Jake Heaps is huge.
But I think the key is the play of the two respective offensive lines.
The team with the toughest, deepest, best-conditioned, best-executing offensive line will win. The squad with blockers who have the ability to endure physical play from very good defenses late into the fourth quarter will produce a victory.
The offensive line that can keep on the field will win.
Offensive line play will determine sacks on Heaps and Wynn and how often and effectively they are pressured. The offensive line that fails will enable the other defense to disrupt timing, force bad decisions and rattle confidence. That simple aspect could turn the game completely on a fumble or interception.
Offensive line play will determine who runs the ball and who cannot. And that will determine who can extend drives, convert 3-and-2 situations, control the clock and keep the other defense on the field too long.
Offensive line play will determine timing, a big chunk of execution and dishing out of physical play, which will definitely come from both defenses. Who has the offensive line that will flinch first, wear down the quickest, fail or miss the most assignments?
You tell me which one will choke the most, and I'll accurately pick your winner.
Last week I picked Utah and BYU to lose on the road. One of the prime reasons was the difficulty of the offensive line play in the face of very good defense.
In the end, both those games could have gone either way. BYU should have won by scoring more points in the first half at Texas. Utah should have defeated USC because it had the game-tying field goal locked and loaded and ready to go, and an overtime victory wasn't out of the question.
But in Austin, Texas started to dominate BYU's offensive line. In Los Angeles, Utah's line allowed a blocked field goal.
You'd expect Utah's stars John Cullen and Tony Bergstrom to have great games, but will Miles Mason and Tevita Stephens join Sam Brenner in delivering their best?
We know all about the prowess of BYU All-American Matt Reynolds, but how good is his brother Houston, and although we know the rest are mature, how top end are senior center Terence Brown, Braden Brown and Braden Hansen?
Bottom line: The offensive line that best copies their respective defensive line mates will deliver the win.
This week's picks:
Stanford 42, Arizona 7: Andrew Luck will run the Pac-12 leader to 3-0 with an easy cruise game.
Nebraska 38, Washington 17: Steve Sarkisian is about to get his wings clipped. The Huskies aren't tough enough to battle the Huskers in the trenches.
Oregon 58, Missouri State 3: The Ducks average 48 points a game and, as should be expected, are romping over teams that are not LSU.
Notre Dame 21, Michigan State 17: I'll pick a bounce back game for the Irish. Look for Notre Dame's 3-4 defense with linebackers led by Manti Teo to slow down the Spartan power run game.
Arizona State 31, Illinois 21: I like the 6-8 quarterback who can move and has an elite arm. The Sun Devils are showing they'll contend as Pac-12 divisional champion.
Texas 28, UCLA 21: This will come down to a battle in the trenches, and Texas has the ability to wear down opponents.
Oklahoma 28, Florida State 24: The Sooners have an experienced quarterback in Landry Jones who is gaining momentum as a playmaker. FSU's warm-up games were blowouts over Louisiana-Monroe and Charleston Southern.
BYU 17, Utah 16: Featured defenses in a slugfest. Just like we're used to, this one goes down to the wire and it is anybody's game. Turnovers and field position will determine the outcome.
Last week 8-1, overall 13-3 (.812)
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