BYU-Utah State tilt: Two top defenses to collide in Friday's showdown
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
PROVO — Nearly 20 years ago, BYU traveled to Logan and lost a shootout to Utah State, 58-56.
That zany, defense-less 1993 game featured 10 touchdown passes, including a 63-yarder, a 72-yarder and a 93-yarder. BYU quarterback John Walsh threw for a school-record 619 yards in a losing effort. The two teams combined to score 49 fourth-quarter points. In the end, the Cougars and Aggies produced a dizzying 1,318 yards of total offense.
That was then.
Heading into this year's showdown between BYU and Utah State Friday (8:15 p.m, MT, ESPN), a shutout seems much more likely than a shootout. That's because both teams' defenses rank among the nation's best in nearly every statistical category.
The Cougars are No. 4 in scoring defense, No. 5 in total defense, No. 2 in rushing defense, No. 11 in passing defense and No. 1 in red-zone defense.
The Aggies, meanwhile, rank No. 18 in scoring defense, No. 11 in total defense, No. 22 in rushing defense, No. 15 in passing defense and No. 19 in red-zone defense.
That would seem to indicate that it will be a low-scoring, defensive battle at LaVell Edwards Stadium, right?
"I never know," said BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall. "Just as soon as you start thinking that way, it might be 35-34 or something. I've seen (Utah State) play defense, and I think they're good. I think they're good on offense. Who knows? I think it will be a good game. I just can't predict the score."
"It never goes the way you think it's going to go," said Cougar linebacker Brandon Ogletree. "Their offense can definitely put up points, so if it's low-scoring, we'll be happy."
BYU's defense is riding two impressive streaks. The Cougar "D" hasn't allowed the opposing offense to score any points in the last nine quarters of play, and it hasn't allowed the opposition to gain more than 300 yards of offense in 11 straight games.
Both streaks will be in jeopardy Friday. USU's offense is expected to pose a stiff test for BYU's defense.
Aggie quarterback Chuckie Keeton threw for 402 yards and four touchdowns last week against UNLV, while running back Kerwyn Williams rushed 20 times for 113 yards and caught seven passes for 147 yards.
What concerns Mendenhall is the duo's "athleticism in space. The design of their offense is multi-faceted. They try to get their athletes in space against other athletes in space. It will be a collective approach for us to try to match them."
Mendenhall acknowledged that Keeton, a sophomore, has improved since last year. "He's always been a really solid scrambler and super-athletic," the coach said. "Now there's a little more patience and poise before he takes off — a little bit more balanced."
"They have a really good quarterback. He's pretty elusive," Ogletree said. "I really like their running back and he does good things with the ball in his hands. They have a tough O-line. They play hard. They're really confident in what they can do."
The Cougar defense is also playing with confidence, and Ogletree is happy with the way he and his teammates have performed so far this season.
"We're kind of pleased with how many shutouts we've had," he said. "That's pretty uncommon. Anytime you can shut a team out, that just means there's no huge breakdowns. Coming into the season, we knew we would be good; we just didn't know how good. I think we still don't know how good we'll be. We'll find out."
While each game presents a new challenge, the goals don't, Ogletree added.
"Our main goal every week is to stop the run, limit the points and then get the ball out," he said. "That's what our focus is every week. We can always get better at that."
Meanwhile, BYU offensive coordinator Brandon Doman knows that Utah State's defense can cause trouble for his offense, which is still trying to find a rhythm. While the run game amassed 396 yards last week against Hawaii, the passing game has work to do.
The Aggie defense is formidable, Doman said.
"They play really hard and they're coached really well. That combination poses a lot of threats. They do a lot of different things defensively — they change up the coverage, they change up the fronts, they change up the blitzes. When players know what to do, they play fast."
"They're a very well-coached team. They're very disciplined," said Cougar quarterback Taysom Hill. "They don't run crazy defensive schemes as far as their coverages, but they get to it in different ways that offenses aren't used to. They're a good defense. They're not going to give up the big play. But hopefully we'll be able to march downfield on them … We'll have to see what works on Friday."
Cougars, Aggies on the air
Utah State (4-1)
at BYU (3-2)
Friday, 8:15 p.m. MT
LaVell Edwards Stadium, Provo
TV: ESPN Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
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