BYU welcomes a very dangerous Utah State Aggie team into LaVell Edwards stadium this Friday. It’s a team that should have knocked off Auburn on the road earlier this year and coming off of a tough loss at home to Colorado State.
It’s a matchup that historically hasn’t proven to be all that competitive most years, as BYU has owned the rivalry. That changed in dramatic fashion last year, however, as the Aggies beat down BYU 31-16, leading to some pretty dramatic changes within the Cougar coaching staff.
The Cougars will be looking for redemption while Utah State looks to prove that last year’s game wasn’t a mere fluke. The matchups are intriguing and relatively competitive across the board.
BYU rushing attack vs. Utah State
The BYU running game saw some life last week against Central Florida. After struggling to gain even 2 yards per carry, the Cougars were able to run for 127 yards and a respectable 4 yards per carry last week.
One of the big reasons was the return of senior running back Bryan Kariya, who rushed the ball 14 times for 52 yards and a touchdown. Offensive coordinator Brandon Doman simplified the run game and the offense in general, leading to some good success on the ground.
This week, they’ll be looking to improve from last week’s performance.
“Guys just need to get low and go,” said running back JJ Di Luigi. “We made some big improvements last week, but that has to continue this week. The offensive line will get better, we know that. But it’s up to us as running backs to make sure that we find those holes, hit them hard and keep aggressive.”
They’ll be facing a Utah State run defense that has been pretty darn good so far this season. The Aggies have yielded only 82 yards gained per game on a 2-yards-per-attempt average so far this season.
It’s a defense that has reminded Cougar players a lot of another team they’ve played this season.
“They’re almost just like Utah with how they play,” noted Di Luigi. “They run a lot of the same things, they run around well like Utah does and they’re very aggressive. They’ll be a challenge.”
The Aggie defensive system was installed by the former Ute defensive coordinator, so the similarities derive from what he brought in. It’s not exactly the same, however, as they use some nuances that differ from Utah’s base system.
“They run a 3-4 this year,” said tight end Austin Holt. “A lot of the concepts are the same and we saw some 3-4 against Utah, but that’s the big difference with them this year. It’s worked well for them — you saw them against a tough Auburn team and they were able to shut them down for the most part.”
The Aggie defense is led by senior inside linebacker Bobby Wagner, 6-1, 232. He’s the unquestioned leader of their defense and has recorded 336 total tackles during his career placing him ninth on the Aggie all-time tackle list.
“He definitely jumps out at you when you watch film,” observed Di Luigi. “He’s fast, he’s aggressive and he’s their best player, and he’s as good as anyone we’ve seen so far this year.”
It’s not just Wagner, however, as Utah State has a very good and experienced defensive line. It’s anchored at nose guard by junior Al Lapuaho, 6-3, 295, and defensive ends Bojay Filimoeatu, 6-2, 250, and Quinn Garner, 6-3, 263.
“They play hard and they come out you hard,” said Holt. “You can see why they’ve limited teams just watching film and how hard they play. They’re a good team.”
The Cougars used a spread offensive system to get the offense and the ground game going last week. It looked a lot more like the BYU offense of old with the pass helping to set up the run rather than the other way around.
As the approach found some success, it’s very reasonable to expect them to bring the same approach on Friday. The hope is to allow a power running attack to help finish the Aggies off, as it did last week against a stout Central Florida defense.
BYU passing attack vs. Utah State
The Cougar passing attack stalled big time in the second half last week against Central Florida. Receivers weren’t getting open and quarterback Jake Heaps made some head-scratching throws, leading to a lot of questions before this week’s game.
BYU finished their game with Central Florida averaging only 3 yards per pass and will definitely look to improve upon that number come Friday night.
“Pass game has to get better — everything needs to get better,” said Di Luigi. “I think we’re on the right track, but we can’t let up. We definitely need to be better on all areas if we hope to beat a very good Utah State team.”
The Aggies have given up only 187 yards through the air so far this season. They feature two inexperienced cornerbacks in junior college transfer Jumanne Robertson, 5-10, 176, and sophomore Nevin Larson, 5-10, 177.
The pass rush will be lead by their two rotating outside linebackers. Senior Levi Koskan, 6-4, 250, and junior Maurice Alexander, 6-2, 209, have combined for 4 sacks on the year.
“They bring some blitzes and they use a lot of nickel,” observed Holt. “They have some good pass rushers and they like to mix it up. So we’ll have to be ready for that.”
As surprising as the lack of run production has been, the Cougar air attack being grounded is certainly something most viewers weren’t anticipating.
Utah State has put up some good numbers in defending the pass, but they have yet to go against a potent passing attack. Whether the Cougars will prove to be potent remains to be seen, but they certainly look to have the potential.
Cody Hoffman will be the key here as will Ross Apo, if he recovers from his mild concussion and plays. Utah State will present a lot of man-coverage with BYU’s two towering receivers appearing to have an advantage against the Aggie’s undersized and inexperienced corners.
Look for BYU to finally find a way to exploit a defense deep in this game.
During last year’s matchup, receivers were getting open and Jake Heaps was getting the them the ball accurately and on time. The problem was with the receivers not being able to simply catch the football.
Look for that to change come Friday with the Cougars putting forth their best passing performance of the year.
BYU rush defense vs. Utah State
It’s been a lot of Jekyll and Hyde for the Cougar ground defense so far this year. We’ve seen them capable of stale-mating some pretty good rush offenses while being run all over by those same offenses in the second half.
Last week against Central Florida they yielded some long runs, which kept the game close.
Utah State is an offense that will look to run the ball and run it a lot. They’ve found a lot of success with their ground game this year, averaging a very impressive 316 yards per game on a six-run-per-carry average.
They’re led by junior Robert Turbin, 5-10, 216, who most consider to be the best running back in the state. He’s averaged 121 yards per game on a 5-yard-per-carry average.
“He’s the best running back we’ve faced so far,” said sophomore linebacker Spencer Hadley. “He runs hard and he just does everything well. He’ll be a huge challenge for us, but a challenge I think we’ll be up for.”
It’s not just Turbin, however, as the Aggies will feature two other running backs in senior Michael Smith, 5-9, 205, and junior Kerwynn Williams 5-9, 184. Both average around 60 yards per game on a 9- and 8-yards-per-carry average, respectively.
“They have some guys that can make some big plays,” said Hadley. “We’ll have to cut down on that and improve on that from what we gave up last week.”
It’s not just the Aggies' three-headed attack from the running back position that they’ll have to watch out for. Utah State features a running quarterback in Chuckie Keeton, 6-2, 185, who can cause an opposing defense a world of problems.
Keeton rushes for an average of 42 yards per game on a 4-yards-per-carry average.
“We saw a good running quarterback last week and it’s the same thing this week,” said Hadley. “We’ll have to contain him and not let him get to the edge.”
The key to stopping the Aggie offense will be in stopping the run. This is usually the key for stopping any offense, but it’s amplified against an offense and an inexperienced quarterback such as Keeton.
In none of their games has the opponent forced Keeton and Utah State’s offense to become a one-dimensional, drop-back offense. If BYU can manage that, they should see a lot of success.
Look for BYU to put two halves of productive run defense together. They should be able to manage Turbin with his north-and-south style, but it’s Williams who could cause the most problems for them with his big play ability on the edges.
BYU pass defense vs. Utah State
The Cougars have had some problems in defending the pass game here of late. Several mistakes in coverage led to some big plays made by Central Florida last week in keeping the game close.
“We have to do a better job at making sure that nothing goes over our heads,” said Hadley. “We have to cut down on big plays and make sure we know where we’re supposed to be (in coverage).”
The Aggies haven’t had to throw much, with Keeton attempting just 60 pass attempts through three games this season. He has been efficient with his attempts in completing 40 of those 60 passes for 465 yards and two touchdowns.
His two main targets are Matt Austin, 6-2, 198, and Chuck Jacobs, 6-0, 174. Austin has 10 receptions on the year for 151 yards and a touchdown, while Jacobs has hauled in nine catches for 76 yards and the other Aggie touchdown through the air.
“The key will be to make them throw it more than they have,” said Hadley. “He hasn’t had to drop back much and that’s our goal. It all starts in defending their run game and hopefully we can do that.”
Look for BYU to correct a lot of their gaffes in coverage made a week ago. Utah State will be looking to use play-action, and it’s up to the Cougar pass defense to make that play-action ineffective.
The key to stopping Utah State and a big key in winning the game will be to force the Aggies to become a passing offense. Should BYU hold the Utah State ground game in check, it’s very questionable if Keeton and the Aggie passing attack has the goods to beat them.
Prediction: BYU 27 Utah State 17
Look for BYU to find a lot more success on offense than they have so far this season. In being around practice this week, it’s easy to note that this team still has a huge chip on its shoulder, particularly the offense.
They figured out some stuff last week to help in their overall production and look for that to continue.
Utah State is much improved under head coach Gary Anderson, and look for them to give BYU all they can handle. This game should remain close throughout with BYU pulling away at the end.