BYU vs. Utah: the match-ups

Published: Friday, Sept. 16 2011 1:00 p.m. MDT

In this file photo taken Nov. 27, 2010, Utah's Brandon Burton knocks the ball away from BYU's Cody Hoffman, right, and into the hands of his teammate Brian Blechen for the interception as Utah and BYU play at Rice Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City. Saturday, Nov. 27, 2010.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News archives

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The Cougars play this Saturday against their bitter rival Utah in a game normally reserved for the end of the season. As is almost always the case, this Saturday’s match-up looks to be a very competitive one based on this season’s early results.

For the first time this year, BYU will be facing a team it is very familiar with. There are some changes with Utah’s offense, but with two games of film to go on, the defense feels it has a good grasp regarding what those changes are.

Both teams come in having struggled offensively with their new systems but have shown good performances with their tried-and-true defenses respectively. Both teams are coming off of heart-breaking losses on the road from a week ago and will be raring to go on Saturday.

BYU rushing attack vs. Utah

After a barely average outing against Ole Miss, the Cougar ground attack stalled big time last week against Texas. The Longhorns looked to be vulnerable against the run coming in but used a lot of pre-snap confusion and lateral quickness to render the Cougar ground game completely ineffective.

For a unit that returns its entire running battery intact from last season, Saturday’s results were surprising.

“The majority of our offensive struggles fall on our (offensive line) shoulders,” said starting left tackle Matt Reynolds. “When we don’t run the ball well, we take it personally. It’s something we take pride in, and unfortunately we didn’t run it well last week, so that’s been a focus this week.”

Against Utah, the Cougars will again feature their three-headed monster in the backfield, dividing the carries between JJ Di Luigi, Bryan Kariya and Joshua Quezada. It’s a group that won’t be breaking off any spectacular runs but hopes to return to the consistent output that fans have grown accustomed to.

With Quezada ailing a bit, look for coaches to perhaps use Michael Alisa more, as he’s proven to have some pop through the first two games. It will be interesting to note how coaches manage the left guard spot, as Houston Reynolds struggled quite a bit last week.

Utah will be presenting the same 4-3 base defense that BYU players have become very familiar with over the years. It’s a defense that knows BYU very well in turn and has been able to do certain things to throw BYU off in past years.

“They know how to use their schemes to mess with offenses,” observed Cougar running back Kariya. “They do a lot of shifts right before the snap of the ball, which can be difficult. They like to cut our pulling lineman, just chop him down and clog up the lanes as well. They’re doing what they always do based on what we’ve seen on film, but I’m sure they’ll be throwing some new stuff at us as well because they like to do that in these games.”

Utah was able to hold Montana State to just 75 yards rushing the first week, but USC seemed to be able to find some cracks in week two. The Trojans were able to run for 152 yards with running back Marc Tyler running the ball 24 times for 113 yards.

The Utes will feature some good experience along their front seven with four seniors in defensive end: Derrick Shelby, 6-3, 271, at right end, James Aiono, 6-3, 305, at tackle, Chaz Walker, 6-0, 223, at middle linebacker, and Matt Martinez, 6-0, 225, at rover linebacker.

Their most exciting players along their front seven may be sophomore end Joe Kruger, 6-7, 270, and converted safety Brian Blechen, 6-2, 230, who will be starting at stud linebacker.

“They’re like they always are,” observed Reynolds. “They’re very quick to the ball, they’re fast, they cover a lot of ground and they’re just very good. They take advantage of any mistakes you make as an offense, and we’re going to have to be on top of our games for sure on Saturday.”

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