Brandon Gurney, who covers BYU, and Kraig Williams, who covers Utah State, break down the matchups when BYU has the football this Friday. This is the second part of a two-part preview.
Overview of BYU rushing
The Cougars average 307.2 yards per game on the ground, including ouputs of 550 yards against Texas and 309 yards against Middle Tennessee State. Both Virginia and Utah held BYU to just under 200 yards on the ground.
The Cougars employ a lot of read option with quarterback Taysom Hill at the helm. Hill leads the team in rushing and averages 141.2 yards per game and 8.6 yards per rush. Sophomore Jamaal Williams sat out last game with a concussion, but is expected to play against the Aggies. Williams averages 126 yards per game and 5 yards per rush.
BYU rotates its backs frequently and will often run out of an inverted wishbone formation, which features three backs. Paul Lasike and Michael Alisa have both contributed heavily and offensive coordinator Robert Anae indicated that freshman Algie Brown could see more reps after his standout performance against Middle Tennessee. Adam Hine suffered a concussion last week and is questionable for Friday.
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When Gary Andersen left Utah State for Wisconsin, many thought that the Aggie defense would take a hit. New defensive coordinator Todd Orlando kept a lot of the same principles that made USU a great defense in 2012 and has kept the Aggies in the upper echelon of defenses.
Week to week the defense has gotten better against the run. In week one against Utah, the Aggies allowed just 3.36 yards, a mark that has decreased every week. Last week San Jose State mustered just 101 yards of rushing offense on 35 attempts (2.89 yards per carry) in a 40-12 blowout.
The linebackers are the star in USU’s base 3-4 defense. Middle linebackers Jake Doughty and Zach Vigil lead the team with 50 and 46 tackles respectively. Outside linebacker Kyler Fackrell will move around the formation and spend a lot of time on the line of scrimmage and can make big plays, leading the team with six tackles for loss and two fumbles forced.
Safety Maurice Alexander is a converted linebacker and might see some more time near the line of scrimmage if the Aggies decide to load the box. The Aggies will rotate a lot of defensive linemen, but rarely do they show up in the box score. B.J. Larsen, Paul Piukala and the rest of the D-line focus on taking up blockers to let the talented linebackers make the majority of the plays.
BYU's offensive front vs. a stout Aggie defensive front is the key matchup. Anae made no bones about it — his team was beat in the trenches against Utah and that was the difference in the game. The Cougar offensive line has yet to produce more than 200 yards rushing against a quality defensive front and this will need to change should BYU hope to come out of Logan with a win.
Another key matchup will be the offensive line against the crowd. Illegal procedure penalties have become too common for this front and this will be the first time it plays in front of a truly hostile crowd. The front will have to remain composed and limit mental mistakes to sustain drives.
Jake Doughty and Zach Vigil teamed up for 20 tackles and a fumble forced against Air Force, the most run-heavy team Utah State has seen this season. Containing Taysom Hill is going to be a much bigger task, but the Aggies must be stout in the middle to keep the Cougars from moving the ball. The defensive line has done its job in every game, so it will likely come down to Doughty and Vigil being able to make tackles in space and in one-on-one situations to keep the Hill and the Cougar run game from exploding.
Until Taysom Hill proves able to beat a defense with his arm, teams will continue to stack the box against him. The Aggies will likely put eight men in the box and even spy Hill with a safety or a linebacker. Utah State's strength is at linebacker and the Cougars will do extremely well to muster more than 200 yards rushing against what will likely prove to be the best defense they've faced this season.
This is strength-on-strength matchup. The Cougars can run the ball and the Aggies are geared to stop that from happening. Utah State will likely follow the blueprint that Utah laid out a few weeks ago and load the box to keep BYU from getting the ground game going.
With that in mind, look for the Aggies to hold the Cougars under their absurd 300 yards per game on the ground and end up somewhere closer to the 200 yards BYU gained against Utah two weeks ago.
The good news is BYU's passing game saw some good production last week. The bad news is it was against a rather porous Middle Tennessee defense. Regardless of how weak the Blue Raiders were, Taysom Hill performed at a very high level — completing 14-of-19 attempts for 177 yards.
BYU averages 185.2 yards per game through the air, but has struggled with consistency in three of the four games played. Hill's completion percentage is a paltry 40.6 percent, which obviously needs to see improvement.
The receiving corps will receive a huge boost with the return of senior Cody Hoffman. Hoffman served out a one-game suspension last week, but will play against the Aggies and claims his ailing hamstring is 100 percent.
Much like the rushing defense, the pass defense has looked better every week. The Aggies had a few breakdowns in the defensive backfield against Utah in the opener, and even against Air Force the following week, but the mistakes have been smaller and further between in recent efforts. Last week San Jose State was able to top the 300-yard throwing mark, but barely completed 50 percent of their passes and had three interceptions.
Cornerback Nevin Lawson is the biggest name of the group and has done an excellent job this season playing some pretty good wide receivers in USC’s Marquise Lee, San Jose State’s Chandler Jones and Utah’s Dres Anderson. Tay Glover-Wright is very athletic at the other cornerback spot and the two will likely split time on BYU’s Cody Hoffman. At safety, Brian Suite and Maurice Alexander have gotten much better in pass coverage in the last few weeks.
Kyler Fackrell is the Aggies' best pass rusher. The sophomore has four sacks on the season, with three coming in the last two weeks.
A lot of Hill's accuracy issues can be chalked up to not having good, consistent pass protection. Utah State has a capable pass rush and the offensive line will need to give its quarterback adequate time to go through his progressions and deliver accurate throws.
BYU is going to go as far as Taysom Hill can take them, so it will be incumbent on Fackrell and the Aggie pass rush to make Hill uncomfortable in the pocket and keep him from making plays on the run. Expect a lot of aggressive exotic blitzes from defensive coordinator Todd Orlando to keep Hill guessing where the pressure will be coming from.
Cody Hoffman has yet to break out with a big game this season, but could be primed to have a highly productive outing against the Aggies. He's likely to see plenty of one-on-one opportunities, which he should be able to exploit. The issue isn't Hoffman's ability to get open and make plays on the ball, but Hill's ability to simply get the ball to him. Look for Hill and Hoffman to connect for more than 100 yards on Friday.
By the numbers Utah State ranks 27th in the nation in yards per passing attempt, 13th in completion percentage allowed and 32nd in total passing yards allowed. At times the Aggie defense can be too aggressive and allow a big pass interference penalty or leave a corner on an island downfield. With the defense likely selling out against the run there will be opportunities for Hill and the Cougars to go downfield. The Aggie defense may allow a big play or two, but it doesn’t look like this will be the week that Hill breaks out for a big game with his arm.