The latter point in particular was troubling — as the Utes expected they might not match up with Pac-12 teams up front — likely felt it their offensive play would be adequate, especially for non-conference play.
For Utah's offensive line to show as poorly as it did Friday night reveals a glaring weakness in a team that is otherwise on level with most Pac-12 teams. With talent like John White in the backfield, it is no surprise that the Ute offense would revolve around the run game. The general thought in the Utah camp is that there was simply not enough push from the Ute offensive line to spring the run game, which led to other problems. Without its bread and butter, Utah was left to other devices such as the passing game, which has not been the team's strong suit of late.
The Utes will look to be creative with personnel in order to combat weaknesses at the offensive line, such as integrating the tight ends into the mix-up front, or adding a fullback element to help on pass protect.
Offensive line issues notwithstanding, the Utes feel that most of what went wrong at Utah State is very much solvable and came down to a lack of execution and missed assignments. Frustrated by the obvious mental letdowns, the Utes seem very much aware of what needs to be fixed. Knowing and doing are two different things, however, and much remains to be seen for the Utes.
Defensive secondary has always been a strength for Utah. How has it dealt with the loss of Brian Blechen and who will step in for Eric Rowe?
Any time this Utah team is without Brian Blechen, it is a weakened team, with no disrespect to his very solid stand-in Quade Chappuis. When the lights come on, Blechen just has a nose for the ball and his sixth sense can't be replaced. So far, due to quality of opponents, the Utes haven't been hurt too badly by his absence, which will likely change going into the rivalry game with BYU.
Losing both Rowe and Blechen for this game is a tough obstacle for the Utes to overcome, but Ute defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake has a methodology for distribution of reps throughout camps and the season that allows his younger, lesser-known players to be very prepared for these types of situations. Safety is unquestionably Utah's thinnest defensive position unit and in Kyle Whittingham's defense, safety is perhaps the most complex and difficult to master.
The next Ute safeties in line are intelligent, quick, athletic and talented but are not battle tested, and there is no way to predict how they might react in a big-time, emotionally fueled, nationally televised game.
Walk-on wide receiver-turned safety, Tyron Morris-Edwards and Terrell Reese were neck and neck for the backup spot through fall camp, and either could realistically get the start at free safety in place of the injured Rowe.
Both will be solid stand-ins, but inexperience may get the better of them in this contest. Morris-Edwards has great natural instincts and Reese is extremely assignment-sound and both have potential to make up for mistakes with big play ability. Look for Morris-Edwards to get the nod Saturday with Reese right there waiting in the wings should things not go well early in the contest.
Utah's front seven is thought to be among the best in the nation. How good are these guys and who should cause BYU problems besides Star Lotulelei?
Unquestionably, the Ute defensive line is one of the best in the nation, and the linebackers have huge potential and upside. However, to date, the group as a whole has underachieved. To be fair, the unit is extremely young and relatively inexperienced. The linebackers boast a single senior in Dave Fagergren, who walked on the team and worked his way to a starting role. While junior Trevor Reilly is officially listed as the starting stud linebacker, he has, and will continue to spend his time on the line at defensive end.
With Reilly's versatility and the relative inactivity of the backers thus far, BYU could expect to see Reilly back in the stud linebacker role more than on the line Saturday. The linebackers boast an embarrassment of speed, talent and athleticism and much is expected from this group. Once the light bulb comes on for this group, look out.
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