Riley Nelson attempted 29 passes in his one half of play last week against Weber State — far more attempts than most thought would be necessary. This was largely a result of BYU surprisingly being neutralized with its ground game for much of that first half.
Cody Hoffman was back in action last week and looked like his old self, collecting seven receptions for 115 yards and a touchdown in largely just one half of work. Ross Apo missed the Weber State game but will look to provide good play opposite Hoffman against the Utes.
The Utes gave up 216 yards passing last week in a 22-32 effort by Keeton. Utah corners look solid, but there are some questions at safety with Brian Blechen serving out a three-game suspension and Eric Rowe unlikely to play due to injury, although he’s still listed as Utah’s starting safety.
Rowe will be replaced by either Tyron Morris-Edward (6-1, 200, sophomore) or Terrell Reese (6-0, 205, sophomore) at free safety, while Quade Chappuis (5-11, 198, junior) will continue to spell Blechen at strong safety.
Utah poses two quality pass rushers at defensive end in Joe Kruger (6-7, 280, junior) and Nate Fakahafua (6-3, 250, sophomore). Trevor Reilly will be used at end during some pass rushing situations, and he wreaked havoc with his pass rush against BYU last season.
Utah will run a lot of man coverage and should attempt to jam BYU’s receivers consistently off the line, which has led to success in past years.
"They run a lot of man, but they've been playing a lot more zone this year it seems," said Nelson. "Like always, they have a lot of talent at defensive back, and we'll have our work cut out for us."
Cougar question marks
Will quarterback Riley Nelson stay composed and stay away from his tendency to throw wounded ducks off his back foot? Nelson has made a living off of improvising, which can be a big boon or a big bust. He threw his share of passes against Weber last week that should have been picked off, and against Utah, those same passes will likely be picked off and could even turn into pick sixes. Nelson has to avoid his tendency to play outside of his ability and avoid throwing up desperate passes off of his back foot or against his body.
To Nelson’s credit, he seems to fully understand the need to stay composed.
“I need to be poised and calm and just execute our game plan,” said Nelson. “I need to get the ball out of my hand on time if I can get my pre-snap reads and my post-snap reads and deliver the ball on time and quickly, hopefully I don’t give those guys a lot of opportunities to hit me. I also need to make sure that I avoid making dumb and inaccurate throws.”
Avoiding turnovers is the biggest key to BYU’s offensive success and to BYU’s success overall. BYU needs to be patient with its running attack and in taking what the Utah defense gives it. Look for Nelson to largely stay within the offense, but also expect him to throw up some ill-advised passes outside of the pocket that could go for boons or busts. You don’t change your stripes as a player regardless of the opponent.
Cougar rush defense vs. Utah
BYU allowed a surprising amount of yardage by Weber State last week on the ground after stalemating Washington State for -5 yards rushing. CJ Tuckett, Weber’s starting tailback, had 80 yards on just 12 carries last week.
Utah has struggled to provide a consistent running attack so far this season, which is surprising given it returns star running back John White. The problems exist mostly along Utah’s offensive front which, like BYU’s front, hasn’t provided much of a push upfront during its two contests.
John White may not play on Saturday, but his status won’t be known until game time. Should White not play, or at least be limited, Utah will likely rely on freshman Jarrell Oliver (5-8, 210) and junior college transfer Kelvin York (5-11, 223.)
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