Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
BYU junior defensive linemen Brett Denney, top, and Jan Jorgensen take down TCU's Jeremy Kerley during BYU's 32-7 loss to TCU in Fort Worth, Texas, on Oct. 16.

Editor's note: This is the first of a four-part series exploring the battles within the war.

UTAH OFFENSIVE LINE: Sophomore center Zane Taylor, a first-year starter, has blended in well. He's the man in the middle of an offensive line that is evolving into one of the best in the Mountain West Conference.

After giving up 19 sacks in the first seven games of the season, Utah has given up just three in four outings since then.

The protection has helped keep quarterback Brian Johnson healthy and lifted the Utes to a share of their first conference championship since 2004.

Senior right guard Robert Conley is a four-year starter and preseason all-conference honoree. He's a team captain and a veteran to reckon with on the line.

So, too, are Utah's other starters.

Junior left tackle Zane Beadles, senior right tackle Dustin Hensel and sophomore left guard Caleb Schlauderaff — who leads the team in pancake blocks — are also candidates for all-conference recognition.

Beadles has been a steady performer, and Hensel is credited with containing TCU's talented defensive end Jerry Hughes.

The average height and weight of the starting line tops 6-foot-3 and 306 pounds.

Trying to push them around, obviously, is a big task.

Then there's the depth issue.

Corey Seiuli, Tony Bergstrom, Tyler Williams, Louis Finner, Walter Watts, Daniel Bukarau and Viliamu Nau all entered last Saturday's 63-14 rout at San Diego State with varying degrees of experience this season.

All said, the offensive line is getting a good push on the opposition this season.

The Utes average 5.7 yards per play — 2.2 yards more than the opposition.

UTAH DEFENSIVE LINE: The Utes may have the best pair of defensive ends in college football. Junior Koa Misi and sophomore Paul Kruger headline a defensive front that has frustrated offenses all season long.

Misi, the left end, is third on the team with 57 tackles. He's made 8.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage including three sacks. In addition, Misi has four pass breakups, two forced fumbles and one recovery.

On the right side, there's Kruger. The 2007 Freshman All-American is putting on quite an encore. Kruger's 50 stops include 15.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. He also has four pass breakups and two forced fumbles.

Misi and Kruger aren't Utah's only strengths on the defensive line. Though a bit undersized, the Utes have also benefited from solid production inside.

Senior tackle Greg Newman has tallied 44 tackles (8.5 for loss). He's recovered two fumbles and picked off a pass this season.

Newman has also been a stabilizing force in the middle, helping redshirt freshman Derrick Shelby adjust to a starting role when junior Kenape Eliapo injured his foot in the season-opening win at Michigan.

Shelby has made 27 tackles (3.5 for loss) in 10 games with a fumble recovery, a forced fumble, a pass breakup and a sack.

Eliapo, meanwhile, has been back for three games now and is adding reps each week. His return to the regular rotation has given Utah some depth and more size on the line. Eliapo has made eight tackles in limited action.

Dirk Facer

BYU'S OFFENSIVE LINE: Early on in fall camp last August, projected starting center Tom Sorensen suffered a shoulder injury, forcing Cougar coaches to do some shuffling on the line. All-Mountain West left tackle Dallas Reynolds was moved to center, and his younger brother, Matt, a freshman, replaced him at that spot.

The BYU O-line is experienced, with four seniors — left guard Ray Feinga, center Dallas Reynolds, right guard Travis Bright and right tackle David Oswald. BYU's starting five weigh in at an average of 326.4 pounds and average 6-foot-6 in height.

Through the first six games of the season, the Cougars gave up only two sacks. Then, in the loss at TCU alone, they surrendered six sacks as Oswald had trouble with Horned Frog defensive lineman Jerry Hughes and his quickness. For the season, quarterback Max Hall has been sacked 20 times.

Besides protecting Hall, the other concern is opening up holes for BYU's ground attack. It has had difficulty at times, including, surprisingly, against San Diego State. That said, the O-line has has helped the Cougars roll up nearly 5,000 yards of total offense this season and average 36.4 points per game.

In last week's game at Air Force, Feinga suffered back spasms and was replaced by junior R.J. Willing. Feinga has been cleared to play this week against Utah.

Other backups on the line include sophomore center Garett Reden, sophomore left guard Terence Brown, sophomore right guard Jason Speredon and sophomore right tackle Nick Alleto.

BYU'S DEFENSIVE LINE: Junior right end Jan Jorgensen headlines a Cougar front that has registered 20 sacks for minus-165 yards this season. A first-team All-Mountain West Conference selection a year ago, Jorgensen has seen his

sack production decline — he has five this season compared to 14 in 2007 — but he has drawn more attention from opposing offensive lines. Jorgensen is credited with 49 tackles, 7.5 tackles-for-loss, 11 quarterback hurries and a fumble recovery.

BYU's other two starters are junior nose tackle Russell Tialavea and junior left end Brett Denney. Tialavea has recorded 16 tackles, including 2.5 tackles-for-loss. Tialavea missed all of the 2007 season due to a knee injury and was sidelined for one game, against UNLV, due to leg strain. Denney, who earned a starting spot during fall camp, has 30 tackles with 7.5 tackles-for-loss and a sack. He also has had a team-high three fumble recoveries.

Backup nose tackle Ian Dulan, a junior, and Matt Putnam, a freshman, also have seen extensive playing time this season. Dulan, who started a year ago, has 18 tackles, four sacks and three tackles-for-loss. Putnam, who backs up both Jorgensen and Denney, has 23 tackles, three tackles-for-loss and two sacks. Putnam's biggest sack came in the closing seconds of the win against UNLV, when he got to quarterback Omar Clayton. On the following play, the final one of the game, Clayton threw an interception in the end zone.

Jeff Call