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BYU vs. Utah: Breaking down the matchups when BYU has the ball

By Brandon Gurney and Dan Sorensen

Published: Thursday, Sept. 19 2013 1:20 p.m. MDT

Editor’s note: Brandon Gurney and Dan Sorensen, of utezone.com, break down the matchups when BYU has the football this Saturday. This is the second part of a two-part preview series. Part one can be read here.

BYU’s rushing attack vs. Utah

Overview of BYU (Gurney):

The Cougars are coming off a record-setting rushing performance against Texas two weeks ago. The team exploded for 550 yards rushing behind a rejuvenated offensive line and the powerful one-two punch provided by quarterback Taysom Hill and running back Jamaal Williams. Williams is currently the nation's No. 3 rusher at 163 yards per game while Hill comes in at No. 5 with an average of 150.5 yards per game. Paul Lasike was used frequently against the Longhorns and provides a nice change-up from Williams with his straight-ahead, bruising style.

BYU employs a lot of read option, which suits the running strengths of Hill perfectly. Against Texas, offensive coordinator Robert Anae called a good share of designed runs for Hill unlike he did the first game against Virginia. This will undoubtedly continue this week in light of the tremendous success of the ground attack against Texas.

Overview of Utah (Sorensen):

Utah’s defensive strength is unquestionably its ability to stop the run. The team is tied for 14th nationally in rushing defense, allowing only 96.7 yards per game. The Ute defensive line is once again the strength of the defense, led by seniors Tenny Palepoi and Trevor Reilly. Reilly is Utah’s leading tackler in terms of total tackles (19) and tackles for a loss (four). Palepoi headlines a deep rotation at defensive tackle and has recorded 15 tackles and 3.5 tackles for a loss.

Linebacker Jason Whittingham saw his first action of the season against Oregon State last week, and was constantly around the ball whenever the Beavers tried to run. Fellow linebacker Jared Norris has also quietly emerged as a solid playmaker for the Utes as well. Norris and Whittingham’s ability to pursue the play will be key if the Utes hope to slow down the Cougars’ ground game.

Key matchups for BYU (Gurney):

The big key for any offensive production rests squarely on the offensive line and its ability to continue the amazing improvements from week one to week two. Utah presents what could easily be considered the sternest test yet for this group with standouts such as Tenny Palepoi at tackle along with defensive ends Trevor Reilly and Nate Orchard.

If BYU's runners can consistently get to the second-level of pursuit, then it's hard not to like their chances. The Utah linebackers are generally not proven playmakers and could be gashed consistently by the abilities of Hill and Williams.

Key matchups for Utah (Sorensen):

The biggest matchup of the day will be whether Utah defensive ends Trevor Reilly and Nate Orchard are able to contain BYU quarterback Taysom Hill and force him back toward the middle of the field. Utah boasts capable defensive tackles and has seen solid play from the middle linebacker spot this year. Reilly and Orchard will need to stay sound in their technique and make plays when Hill decides to pull the ball down and run.

Outlook (Gurney):

Rushing yards won't come as easy this week against a Utah front that should prove more capable than Texas. Ute coaches are preparing for BYU as they would against Air Force, and that should work well in limiting the Cougar's overall production.

That said, BYU should prove more effective running the ball than it has most years in the rivalry game. There's every reason to expect continued improvement from the offensive line, which should pave the way for the Cougars' best rushing output against Utah since 1996, when they rushed for 366 yards. Matching that 366-yard mark will be extremely difficult, but BYU should prove more effective than it has against Utah in recent years.

Outlook (Sorensen):

Despite what they did to Texas, don’t expect rushing yards to come easy for the BYU offense. Look for Utah to stack the line of scrimmage and force Taysom Hill to beat them with his arm. Utah should be able to get a push up the middle with its defensive tackles, so look for the Cougars to attack the edge or use misdirections and delays to counteract the Utes’ aggressive front four. BYU should be able to move the football on the ground with limited success, but don’t expect the Cougars to see the kind of success they had against Texas.

BYU’s passing attack vs. Utah

Overview of BYU (Gurney):

To say BYU's passing attack has been anemic through two games might be a gross understatement. Quarterback Taysom Hill has struggled mightily with his accuracy — completing a shocking 33 percent of his passes for a 152 yard average.

Receiver Cody Hoffman is coming off a sore hamstring, which kept him out of the Virginia game. He found some production with Hill last week against Texas, but will need to be more involved this week against Utah. BYU's inside receivers, such as JD Falslev and Brett Thompson, have been relatively quiet so far this season, as has most of the outside receivers, including Ross Apo, Skyler Ridley and Mitch Mathews.

Overview of Utah (Sorensen):

Utah’s secondary has shown its youth this season, especially as it surrendered 440 passing yards to Oregon State’s Sean Mannion. Utah’s early struggles aren’t overly surprising, as its top four corners Keith McGill, Reginald Porter, Davion Orphey and Justin Thomas are all taking their first college snaps at the position. However, despite the numbers, the corners have shown signs of potential, and they could turn into a solid group by the end of the season if they continue to progress.

At safety, Utah has experience with junior free safety Eric Rowe and senior strong safety Michael Walker, but little depth. Rowe and Walker have both played well against the run this season, but both have yet to make a game-changing play in the passing game. The lack of interceptions from the secondary through three games is troublesome, and is a trend the Utes will try to reverse against BYU.

Key matchups for BYU (Gurney):

Utah's defensive backs provided decent coverage last week against Oregon State but proved ineffective in making plays on the ball. Few receivers make better plays on the ball than Hoffman, which could certainly work to BYU's advantage in his coverage matchups.

Utah will likely sell out trying to stop the run, which should provide many one-on-one opportunities for the Cougar receivers. Hill will need to prove more accurate, and his receivers must prove more consistent in simply catching the football than they have in order to take advantage.

Utah didn't provide much of a pass rush last week against Oregon State, but still has guys that will need to be accounted for — particularly Reilly and Orchard. Limiting the hits Hill takes both inside and outside of the pocket will be key for Saturday's game and for the duration of the season.

Key matchups for Utah (Sorensen):

The primary matchup in the passing game will be how senior cornerback Keith McGill is able to match up against BYU receiver Cody Hoffman. Hoffman was BYU’s big play threat last season, but has been slowed by injuries so far this season. McGill is a big, aggressive cover corner, and will likely match up one-on-one with Hoffman throughout much of the game. If he’s able to hold Hoffman in check, it could be a big day for the Utah defense.

Free safety Eric Rowe will be another key player to watch for the Utes. Rowe has been solid but unspectacular this season. He’s often in the right spot at the right time, but has been inconsistent in his ability to finish the big play, especially interceptions. Utah needs Rowe to be a complete playmaker against both the run and the pass if it wants to win on Saturday.

Outlook: (Gurney)

Hill should improve on his 33 percent passing, and should have a lot of opportunities to beat Utah deep, assuming he'll see a lot of zero and one cover situations. He's yet to show he can take advantage of aggressive coverages, but should have prime opportunity to do so against Utah.

Look for Cody Hoffman to be the beneficiary of Utah's aggressive coverages along with Mathews, who is my sleeper in this game. Hoffman is obviously capable, but it's time for Mathews to show the same great playmaking ability he's shown in most practice sessions.

Simply stated, Hill and his receivers must make Utah respect the pass. If they do so, it will go a long way in boosting BYU's chances of winning the game.

Outlook (Sorensen):

BYU quarterback Taysom Hill hasn’t shown any kind of consistency as a passer this season. Although he’s capable of the big play, and will likely make a few against the Utah secondary, Utah should be able to keep him in check. If Utah can keep Hill from completing long passes, and keep his completion percentage below 50 percent, the Utes will have a great opportunity to win the game. The Utah secondary is capable of accomplishing both tasks, but will need to play much better than it did last week against Oregon State to succeed.

Email: bgurney@desnews.com

Twitter: @BrandonCGurney

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