LOGAN — BYU and Utah State have met on the football field more than 80 times since the very first game in October 1922. The latest installment in the battle for the Old Wagon Wheel trophy is scheduled in Logan tonight. This game could be a make-or-break game for each teams’ success for the remainder of this season.
Coaches often say things such as “football is a game of inches” or “the game will probably come down to one or two plays.” While most fans think those are just clichés, there is no doubt that some players have the capability to alter the outcome of the game based on their individual performances.
Here is a look at some of the players that could impact the game:
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This one is pretty obvious. Keeton has been outstanding to this point of his career in Logan. After throwing for more than 3,300 yards last season, the Aggies were expecting the junior quarterback to deliver and so far, he has. Through five games, Keeton has completed 71 percent of his pass attempts for 1,362 yards with 17 touchdowns. He has also rushed for an additional 224 yards and two more scores.
Last year, the BYU defense held Keeton in check en route to a 6-3 win in Provo. If he is able to get away from the Cougar front seven and make plays with both his arms and his legs — as anyone who has watched him play knows he is capable of — he could be a big reason that the Aggies win at Romney Stadium.
This is another obvious game-changer to keep an eye on. Van Noy will be one of the best, most athletic players on the field on Friday night. Most likely, the Aggies will be forced to find #3 before the snap to make proper reads and will also be game planning to limit his impact on the game. However, the other four teams BYU has played have done the same thing and Van Noy has still impacted every game.
He currently leads the team in total tackles with 29 through four games. He also has registered one sack, three pass breakups and nine quarterback hurries. Van Noy will be instrumental in coach Bronco Mendenhall’s game plan, both in blitzing and in coverage. He has also delivered some big hits during his Cougar career, which could affect the play of the USU offensive players. If the Aggie offensive line can’t block Van Noy effectively, he could end his BYU career with three wins against the Aggies.
The Provo native has had a steady — but not explosive — career so far with the Aggies. The senior registered only 40 receptions and three touchdowns in his first three seasons with a high yardage mark of 214 yards in 2011. He has great size at 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds. He has also proven that he is willing to make difficult catches in traffic and should have a size advantage over the Cougar secondary. This advantage could ultimately be very beneficial, especially in the red zone.
This season, Van Leeuwen is one of Keeton’s favorite and most reliable targets. With 21 catches for 287 yards and one touchdown, he is on pace to have more catches and yards than his previous three years combined. Look for the BYU secondary to try to contain the Timpview High product. If they are unable to do so or if they lose track of #7, a big play is always possible.
Before his injury against the University of Utah on Sept. 21, Williams was one of the leading rushers in the entire nation. In the first two games of the season, his average was more than 30 rushing attempts per game and an astonishing 163 yards per game. He has been a major focus of the Robert Anae offense along with quarterback Taysom Hill and his impact on a game was evident in the loss to Utah as the BYU rushing attack was slowed down even more after his injury. The one thing missing from his stat line this season are touchdowns, but those will most likely start to pile up as the season goes on.
Assuming the reports of Williams returning to the field after his injury are true, expect him to be featured prominently as he was against Virginia and Texas. The Aggie defense is very good against the run, but Williams has the size, speed and athletic ability to gain stats and could possibly explode for a huge outing similar to games that he had as a true freshman last season. On top of his stats, he brings ball security to the Cougar running backs, which could be a huge factor in the turnover battle.
After starter Kyle Whimpey was lost for the season due to a knee injury against San Jose State, the Aggies used a combination of senior Tauauve’a and junior Vavau on the offensive line. The two played and didn’t appear to be tested much from the Spartan defense last week, but the BYU defense should provide a much stiffer test.
If these two can rotate throughout the game and keep pressure off of Keeton, it will be a big factor in the outcome of the game. If the pressure can get past these players, the Cougars may be able to contain and frustrate Keeton.
The hard-hitting senior safety has been stout in all aspects of the Cougar defense so far this season. He has registered 20 total tackles, including two tackles for loss. Sorensen has also registered one of only two interceptions this season for the BYU defense, but he has also broken up six pass attempts. Sorensen has a nose for the ball and seems to be in the right places to make a much-needed stop or a saving tackle.
Expect Mendenhall to continue to deploy Sorensen — as well as his defensive partner Craig Bills — in coverage to help the platoon of cornerbacks in pass coverage, while also being instrumental in stopping Keeton if he is able to get past the Cougar linebackers and into the secondary. If Sorensen can be the quarterback of the defense and keep the secondary from giving up big plays to the Aggie receivers, it will help BYU as they try to get the road victory.