BYU vs. Utah: Breaking down the matchups when the Utes have the ball

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 18 2013 4:10 p.m. MDT

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.

Outlook (Sorensen):

Running the football could be rough going for the Utes, especially early on in the game. However, if the Utes are able to establish the passing game, then look for the rushing attack to improve as the game goes on. I don’t expect any 100-yard rushers for the Utes, and it will be a tall task to reach their season average, but Utah should be able to adequately move the football on the ground, even against BYU’s front seven.

Outlook (Gurney):

Utah has a solid offensive line, but generally unspectacular running backs — Wilson is an obvious threat to beat a defense with his legs and will have to be accounted for. BYU is senior laden and very talented at the most critical defensive positions and should do well in limiting Utah’s ground game as a result. Look for the Cougars to contain Wilson and limit the offensive line’s push up field to the tune of less than 100 yards rushing.

Utah’s Passing Attack vs. BYU

Overview of Utah (Sorensen):

Quarterback Travis Wilson has shown tremendous growth as a passer since last season, and he has been an effective weapon for the Utes despite his three interceptions against Oregon State. Wilson is completing more than 67 percent of his passes and is averaging 281 yards per game through the air. Wilson has shown a big arm thus far this season and is averaging more than 16 yards per completion.

One of the reasons behind Wilson’s success has been the strong play from his receiving corps and tight ends. Dres Anderson is Utah’s primary receiver and has been a big play threat for the Utes, averaging 26.3 yards per catch and hauling in three touchdowns. Seniors Anthony Denham and Sean Fitzgerald have been big, reliable targets as well.

Tight ends Jake Murphy and Westlee Tonga are among the better tandems in the West and could be major factors in the Utah passing attach on Saturday. Fans should also keep an eye on running backs Bubba Poole and Lucky Radley coming out of the backfield. Both are sure-handed receivers that have big play ability when they’re able to find a crease.

Overview of BYU (Gurney):

BYU has allowed an average of 213.5 yards passing through two games played this season. Texas mustered 313 yards through the air last week on 44 passing attempts.

The strength of BYU’s passing defense is at safety where senior Daniel Sorensen has proven capable in covering a lot of field along with junior free safety Craig Bills. Cornerbacks Robertson Daniel and Skye PoVey have proven adequate through two games and will be helped out again by true freshman Dallin Leavitt at boundary. Senior Mike Hague is expected to see his first action of the year and could add considerably to the overall depth at corner and at nickel.

BYU’s primary pass rush will come from its outside linebackers and from Kaufusi at the end position. BYU generally goes with a two-man front during pass situations and will throw a variety of blitz packages off of staggered formations in hopes of confusing the opposition’s front.

Key matchups for Utah (Sorensen):

The key matchup for the entire game will be Utah’s receiving corps vs. BYU’s secondary. Much has been made of BYU’s depleted secondary. However, in two games, neither opponent has proven to have the ability to truly test them.

Fans should expect Utah to do just that, especially with Anderson, who has game-breaking speed. Tight end Jake Murphy has yet to have a breakout game this season, and Utah is expected to dial him up more in the game plan and use Murphy’s combination of size and speed to create mismatches.

Key matchups for BYU (Gurney):

Mendenhall mentioned that Utah receiver Dres Andersen is faster than anyone BYU has, which creates potential problems — especially on deep patterns. BYU’s corners have proven adequate, but were beat deep by Texas on a few occasions last week.

Hadley was considered the Cougar’s best cover guy at inside linebacker and was likely going to receive the assignment of covering Ute tight end Jake Murphy. His replacements are adequate, but their ability to keep Murphy in check is a potential problem area.

Outlook (Sorensen):

If Utah wants to win, they need to establish the passing game and force the BYU secondary to make plays. Murphy and Anderson will get their yards on Saturday, but need to be able to find the end zone. Look for Travis Wilson to have a big day numbers-wise. If he can avoid throwing costly interceptions, he’ll put the Utes in a position to win.

Outlook (Gurney):

BYU looks more vulnerable to the pass than to the run, as is the case most years. Wilson has proven capable to beat a secondary with his arm, but has also proven to make some bad reads, which contributed heavily to his three interceptions in the second half against Oregon State.

Look for BYU to play soft coverages, which Wilson can exploit if he remains patient. Opportunities down the field should open up as the game wears on, which the Ute passing arsenal could take advantage of as well. If BYU can limit Utah’s deep opportunities then it should be able to keep it well in check otherwise.

Gurney and Sorensen will break down the matchups when BYU has the football on Thursday.

Email: bgurney@desnews.com

Twitter: @BrandonCGurney

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