Editor’s note: Brandon Gurney and Dan Sorensen, of utezone.com, break down the matchups when Utah has the football this Saturday. This is the first part of a two-part preview series.
Utah’s rushing attack vs. BYU
Overview of Utah (Sorensen):
The Utah rushing attack has been a bit of a work in progress this season, but has really come into its own over the past two games. Bubba Poole took over the starting running back spot against Oregon State and performed admirably, racking up 117 rushing yards along with 70 yards receiving. Poole is a versatile back that is dangerous in the open field, but isn’t afraid to run over defenders either. This week, Poole will once again lead the way against BYU, with Lucky Radley most likely being his primary backup.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the season has been quarterback Travis Wilson’s emergence as a true running threat. His execution of the read option over the past two weeks has been excellent, as he has racked up 235 yards and five touchdowns on 14.7 yards per carry over the past two games. If Wilson is able to continue that trend against a tough front seven for BYU, it could be a long day for the Cougars.
Overview of BYU (Gurney):
The BYU front is a solid unit that allows 120 yards rushing per game on a 3.0 run-per-carry average. It went up against a very potent Texas rushing attack and held it to just 132 yards, although the Longhorn’s lead back, Jonathan Gray, managed 90 yards on just 13 carries.
It’s a senior-laden group led by nose tackle Eathyn Manumaleuna, who anchors BYU’s 3-4 front. The 6-foot-2, 305-pound senior will also see time at defensive end, as his burst off the line and overall agility makes him well-suited for both positions. Sophomores Bronson Kaufusi and Remington Peck will see the majority of reps at defensive end.
Kyle Van Noy is obviously the headliner for the defense, but BYU is strong at all four linebacker positions, even in light of the suspension of senior inside Buck linebacker Spencer Hadley. Alani Fua showed great against Texas opposite Van Noy while Uani Unga is solid at Mike linebacker. Hadley’s primary replacement will likely be senior Tyler Beck, who has proven capable. Both Manoa Pikula and Austen Jorgensen could also see reps at Buck.
Key matchups for Utah (Sorensen):
The key matchup for the Utes will be how Utah’s offensive line handles an aggressive BYU front seven. Utah’s line play is significantly improved over last season and is a major reason behind why the Utes are averaging 248.7 rushing yards this season. BYU has thus far been stout against the run, and it will be up to the revamped line to open up holes in the BYU defense.
Another factor to look for is Utah line’s ability to wear down opponents in the second half. The Utes saw significantly improved production in the run game in the second half of the Utah State and Oregon State games, and will be looking to do the same against BYU.
Key matchups for BYU (Gurney):
BYU will have to maintain gap discipline in defending quarterback Travis Wilson with his ability to make plays outside the pocket. How effectively BYU’s linebackers and safeties prove in containing and tracking down Wilson will play a huge factor in Saturday’s outcome.
Peck has played solid at end, but is a bit undersized at 6-foot-4, 250 pounds. Peck will generally line up over right tackle and teams often prefer running the ball to his side as opposed to left tackle where Kaufusi resides. Peck's play against Utah’s starting right tackle Siaosi Aiono and right guard Junior Salt will be key for the Cougars.
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