BYU Cougars vs. Utah Utes football: The match-ups

Published: Friday, Sept. 14 2012 11:38 a.m. MDT

Brigham Young Cougars wide receiver Ross Apo (11) gathers in a pass for a touchdown in front of Utah Utes defensive back Conroy Black (9) during play as BYU and Utah play Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011

Scott G Winerton, Deseret News

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PROVO — BYU travels to Rice-Eccles stadium on Saturday to take on a Utah football team that is looking to rebound from its loss to Utah State last week. BYU was embarrassed by Utah last season 54-10 and subsequently seeks to show that last year was an anomaly.

As if this rivalry game needed any extra story lines. It’s BYU vs. Utah, and it's still a game that brings out a lot of emotion and typically some great and competitive football.

So how does BYU match up with Utah this season and what can fans expect come Saturday night? We looked over the match-ups and interviewed players and coaches in order to give a glimpse into what should happen.

BYU rushing attack vs. Utah

BYU rushed for 225 yards last week, and although that stat looks great unqualified, it was done against a rather porous Weber State defense. Michael Alisa was again BYU’s go-to guy in the backfield, carrying the ball twice as much as any other running back. Alisa did okay with his workload, running the ball 11 times for 53 yards.

Utah gave up 164 yards last week to Utah State on a 4.7 yards per carry average. Starting running back Kerwynn Williams ran the ball 17 times for 95 yards and a touchdown, while quarterback Chuckie Keeton ran it 17 times himself for 86 yards.

Utah boasts what is believed to be one of the best defensive fronts in the country, led by its two dominant defensive tackles Star Lotulelei (6-4, 320) and David Kruger (6-5, 300.) Lotulelei is considered by many to be the top defensive tackle in the country.

“Their defensive line is very good, and they’re always good at Utah,” said running back David Foote. “It’s going to be a challenge to run it against them because they‘re so good — they‘re probably the best defensive front we‘ve faced so far this year.”

At linebacker, Utah has a load of talent but isn't as experienced as the line it backs up. Outside linebacker Trevor Reilly (6-5, 245) is the most experienced Ute linebacker, and Dave Fagergren (6-0, 225) is Utah's leading tackler at the other outside position.

Cougar question marks

While BYU has been relatively effective running the ball off-tackle, it’s struggled mounting an effective attack up the middle. Offensive line coach Mark Weber tried a bunch of different interior line combinations, and it’s apparent that the Cougars lack some consistency there as a result.

Utah’s defensive strength is with its two interior linemen, leading to a lot of question marks surrounding how effective BYU’s interior offensive line can be in providing a consistent running attack up the middle.

Key quote

“The key is to be assignment sound,” said Foote. “We need to make sure that we’re completing our blocking assignments and that we follow our blocks effectively. We came out a little bit slow against Weber State last week, and we need to start out better and establish a good running attack from the very start.”

Outlook

It should be some tough-sledding for BYU up the middle of Utah’s defense, but look for it to try and exploit Utah off-tackle. BYU has found most of its early success running the ball off-tackle, and Utah looks more exploitable there than in the interior.

Overall, it’s tough to prescribe much overall success for BYU in its ground game, and look for Utah to hold BYU to under 100 yards rushing. Utah has a lot of talent among its front seven defenders, and look for it to galvanize its overall effort after a somewhat porous effort against the Aggies.

BYU passing attack vs. Utah

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