The team chalked up a lot of its struggles on the ground against Texas to unfamiliarity. Those problems won’t be there against Utah, so it’s fair to assume that the ground game will be more effective on Saturday.
The new BYU offense was presented as one relying on a solid ground game to set up long pass play opportunities on play-action. So far this year, we haven’t been able to see that come to fruition with defenses being able to play their safeties deep due to the running game struggles.
BYU has seen some good success against Utah in past years. Kyle Whittingham is someone who has always been intent on stopping BYU’s pass first and the run second, testing then-offensive coordinator Robert Anae’s resolve to stick with the run.
Most years have proven that Anae’s resolve to stick with the run hasn’t been great, leading to somewhat meager offensive outputs by the Cougars. We’ll see if this changes with Brandon Doman at the helm.
Utah likely won’t be stacking the box at all from the outset, and the Cougars should have their chances to mount an effective ground attack as a result. Forcing Whittingham to cheat his safeties and linebackers toward the line of scrimmage will be key in this game for BYU.
BYU passing attack vs. Utah
BYU has simply had a lot of trouble getting the ball downfield. A lot of this is due to teams not having to respect the run with their defensive alignments.
The Cougar wideouts have not been able to mount consistent threats down the field, unable to beat man coverage on too many occasions. They all but disappeared during the second half against Texas, leading to a very meager output overall.
The good news is that the tight ends have started to emerge, showing some good ability up the middle of the field. The hope is that this will open things on the outside for Ross Apo and company, leading to some more BYU-like gains.
“We definitely need to open the offense up more, and it starts with us,” said Kariya. “We have to be successful running the ball, and if we do that, we know that Jake (Heaps) will be able to beat a defense downfield more often, helping our whole offense.”
Utah will present a man-free coverage system, switching off to some zone coverages on occasion. It’s a pass defense that gave up 264 yards passing a week ago to USC.
The Utes will feature a relatively new defensive backfield with cornerbacks Ryan Lacy, 5-9, 187, junior, and Conroy Black, 6-0, 186, a senior, along with safeties Keith McGill, 6-3, 200, a senior, and freshman Eric Rowe, 6-1, 185.
Up front, the Cougars are expecting a lot of pressure to be applied from a variety of blitz packages.
“They love to be aggressive on defense, and they’ll throw everything at you,” said Reynolds. “We expect them to be coming hard on Saturday. They always like to be physical and aggressive, and we have to match that with our play.”
A big key for the BYU passing game will be Heaps’ ability to stand in the pocket, allow routes to develop and take some big hits. Against Texas, he too often looked rushed in his progression, throwing it off his back foot to underneath patterns over and over again.
Last year against Utah, Heaps did very well in this regard, and will do well to draw on that play this time around. In order for the Cougar passing game to be effective, he has to be able to stand strong in the pocket.
The Cougar offensive front, with its experience, should be able to provide ample time for Heaps and the passing game.
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