Kragthorpe: USU's defense, Utah's offense both surprising
The rankings are related, considering how Utah and Utah State have met this season, and they're remarkable.
Through four games, Utah is 112th in total offense among 120 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision and USU is 11th in total defense.
Which performance is the bigger surprise? It has to be USU's defense. The Aggies finished 50th last season, and they have improved markedly under Dave Aranda, their new defensive coordinator. It helps that USU has played Southern Utah of the Football Championship Subdivision, while the Aggies' other opponents Utah, Wisconsin and Colorado State have struggled to find themselves offensively.
The irony is that Utah exceeded its average by posting 325 yards against USU in a 27-20 overtime loss.
USU's physical play up front has been particularly impressive. The Aggies actually will get a better gauge of their overall defense Saturday when UNLV comes to Logan, following the Rebels' 38-35 victory over Air Force.
BYU is No. 7 in total defense, but that's not as newsworthy as USU's ranking, simply because of the Cougars' strong performance last season and the Aggies' recent history.
Utah's low offensive ranking is alarming, mainly because the Utes' 298-yard average is favorably skewed by their season opener against Northern Colorado, possibly the Big Sky Conference's worst team. The Utes finished 110th last season, but obviously expected to show improvement in 2012. Utah posted only 209 yards in Saturday's 37-7 loss at Arizona State.
Brian Johnson, the Utes' first-year offensive coordinator, is responsible for the product. Coach Kyle Whittingham's unconventional staffing approach is partly to blame for Utah's struggles. In addition to promoting Johnson to fill Norm Chow's coordinator vacancy, Whittingham moved Jay Hill from defense to offense and hired Dan Finn to replace line coach Tim Davis, who moved to Florida.
The result is Johnson has nobody with experience at another school in a BCS conference to advise him in the offensive meeting room.