Utes football: Utah defense preparing to face BYU quarterback Taysom Hill, Cougars' offense

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 18 2013 5:45 p.m. MDT

Utah's Pita Taumoepenu (50) celebrates a tackle for loss during the first half of a game against Oregon State at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013.

Matt Gade, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — From one extreme to another. That’s the challenge Utah defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake and the Utes face Saturday at BYU. Seven days after taking on a prolific passer in Oregon State’s Sean Mannion, they’ll face one of nation’s leading rushers in BYU quarterback Taysom Hill.

“We’ve got to shift our thoughts,” said Sitake, who is well aware that Hill is a dangerous runner. He rushed for 259 yards and three touchdowns in BYU’s 40-21 win over Texas earlier this month.

Even so, there may be much more to it.

“We’ve just got to prepare for everything. Obviously his biggest weapon right now is the run game and that tempo that they run is quick, so we have to be ready for all that,” Sitake explained. “We just have to shift now to a team that runs the ball heavily, but at the same time they can throw the ball. They have one of the best receivers I have ever seen in college football playing for them and he’s 100 percent and I can’t imagine them not utilizing him.”

Cody Hoffman’s full recovery from a hamstring injury has given opposing defenses something else to think about when playing the Cougars. So, too, have weather conditions that are forecast to be more favorable to a successful throw game than BYU's first two contests, which were both marred by weather delays.

“We’re trying to prepare for both parts of the game, but we have to be able to take away the run game. That’s been our thing here. We have to try to make them one-dimensional somehow,” Sitake said. “It didn’t work for us last weekend. We have to improve on that. I’m just glad that we have an opportunity to keep playing ball and show that this defense is a lot better than we showed last week.”

The Utes surrendered 491 yards in last Saturday’s 51-48 overtime loss to Oregon State. Mannion inflicted much of the damage, completing 27 of 45 passes for 443 yards and five touchdowns.

“Right now we’re preparing for everything,” said Sitake, who noted that BYU has a strong running back in Jamaal Williams (326 yards) and a capable passer in Hill.

"You’ve got to give him at least a little bit of a break because he threw the ball in some horrible conditions,” Sitake continued. “Watching him on film he’s been able to make some good throws and he’s got a strong arm. So we’re not going to take that for granted.”

Although Hill has completed only 22 of 66 passes for 304 yards with two interceptions and only one touchdown this season, the Utes are mindful of his capabilities.

Utah defensive end Trevor Reilly believes they’re prepared for anything after opening the season against dual-threat quarterback Chuckie Keeton of Utah State.

“Hopefully we can contain Hill a little bit better than we did Chuckie Keeton on the scrambles and stuff,” said Reilly, who considers Keeton a mix of both Mannion and Hill.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham notes that the contrasting styles between Mannion and Hill will present some challenges this week.

“However, if you look at what we’ve done pretty good this year defensively — it’s stop the run — so maybe that presents an intriguing matchup in that respect,” he said.

While Utah’s defense ranks 11th in the Pac-12 against the pass (297.7 ypg), the Utes are third against the run (96.7 ypg). BYU’s offense, meanwhile, enters the rivalry game averaging 368.5 yards running and 152 passing.

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