They’re physical. I mean, my gosh, they’re athletic and they’re physical. They’ve done an excellent job recruiting and training and developing their players. It just goes year in and year out. The defensive line, and their backers, in my opinion, are the strength of their defense and their defensive backs aren’t that far behind. —BYU offensive coordinator Robert Anae, on the Utah defensive front
PROVO — There are many factors that will determine the outcome in Saturday’s game, but one of the most important factors will be the war in the trenches.
BYU presents an offensive line that saw an amazing turnaround two weeks ago against Texas. While the line’s output was impressive, coaches and players know they’ll have their work cut out against Utah‘s defensive front.
“No doubt in my mind. Absolutely Utah has a better defense than Texas,” observed offensive coordinator Robert Anae.
The Utes held Oregon State to just 48 yards rushing last week while limiting the Beavers' leading rusher, Storm Woods, to just 2.8 yards per carry.
“They’re physical. I mean, my gosh, they’re athletic and they’re physical,” Anae assessed. “They’ve done an excellent job recruiting and training and developing their players. It just goes year in and year out. The defensive line, and their backers, in my opinion, are the strength of their defense and their defensive backs aren’t that far behind.”
For this reason, coaches are pushing the offensive line that much harder in practices in preparation for Saturday’s game. According to Anae, the goal is to increase the amount of reps each offensive line group takes.
“We want to push these guys as far as they can go with each day of practice,” Anae said. “It’s yet to be determined who will start against Utah or how many reps each guy will get. We’ll make the determination throughout the week, and it’s going to be like that every week.”
Defensively the Cougars will work to limit an offense that put up 48 points and 279 yards rushing last week. A lot of that work was done by quarterback Travis Wilson, who led the team with 142 yards and three touchdowns on only 13 carries.
“He can run the ball well. He’s fast and when he gets in open space and yeah, he’s just fast. I don’t know how else to say it,” said coach Kelly Poppinga about Wilson. “He throws the ball well and, as an overall quarterback, he’s just a very good quarterback. Anytime you have a guy that can run and throw like him it puts a huge strain on the defense.”
Gap discipline is key in defending the read-option, and specifically, Wilson.
“You just got to make sure you maintain your pass rush lanes,” Poppinga said. “It’s just really doing exactly what the defense tells you to do and if we do that, we’ll be fine. We’ll have some things to contain him, but for the most part, if we’re assignment-sound, we should be OK.”
Wilson has also shown an ability to make plays when everything else breaks down, which will also be a challenge.
“We know we need to stop him from using his legs to be creative,” Poppinga observed. “When the time comes when we know he’s going to throw it, we got to hit him. We got to hit him in hopes of taking away some of his aggressiveness. We need to get after him.”
As stated, Poppinga likes his front and its ability to limit what Utah does in the ground game. It will be a challenge, but a challenge players relish.
“It’s Utah, so there’s just about everything that goes on down there in the trenches, but I love that about this game,” said senior nose tackle Eathyn Manumaleuna. “You love a challenge like this. Their guys are big, they’re nasty, they talk a lot, but that’s what makes this game so fun for me. I can’t wait to get it going.”