BYU football: Can Cougars' defense contain Utah's John White?
Provo • Utah running back John White IV answered questions about his supposedly balky ankle after practice Wednesday by pronouncing himself ready to "pound" the BYU Cougars on Saturday and "get them out of town."
Now it is time to see if the Cougars have any answers for White, after he rushed for 174 yards and three touchdowns against them last year.
The Utes are 9-0 when White rushes for more than 100 yards, but 0-6 when he doesn't.
"They have a good running back," said BYU linebacker Brandon Ogletree. "We like him a lot. He's fast, he's explosive, and we have to contain him. When he rushes for more than 100 yards, they win their games, pretty much."
Meanwhile, BYU's defense has held its last eight opponents to fewer than 300 total yards. It gave up 481 to Utah last year.
"We have a lot of confidence in ourselves, and we know if we get the ball to our offense, they will move the ball, and hopefully score with it," Ogletree said. "That's what it comes down to, really. We are not going to back down from anybody, and they are not going to back down. It is going to be a really fun game."
Gotta run it
Turnovers and special teams blunders are often fingered as the reasons for BYU's last two losses to Utah, but the inability to establish a running attack against the Utes and their excellent group of linebackers and defensive linemen has certainly contributed to the setbacks.
In the 54-10 loss last year, the Cougars gained just 11 net yards on 22 attempts. In the 17-16 loss in 2010, the Cougars picked up just 65 yards on the ground in 37 attempts.
"I think it will be important [to establish a running attack] for both sides, knowing that turnovers have so much to do with the outcome of these games," BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "If you can run it, there's less risk [of turnovers] than throwing it, so I think both teams will work hard to establish some kind of ground presence."
The Cougars have rushed for 348 total yards in two games this season against opponents with defenses nowhere near the caliber of Utah's, using 10 different ball-carriers. Junior Mike Alisa was supposed to be the workhorse, but he has just 24 carries for 107 yards.
"There is going to be more [carries for Alisa]," Mendenhall said. "If it were trending, more in that direction. That's what we talked about [in practice Monday]. I think you will see an increased workload for him from week two to week three, and it will probably continue that way as we go [through the season]."
The Cougars did not have a 100-yard rusher in 2011. The last BYU back to eclipse 100 yards in a game was the since-departed Josh Quezada, who picked up 101 in the 2010 New Mexico Bowl.
Cougars make Top 25
Mendenhall still believes that rankings shouldn't be done until after the seventh week of the college football season, but now that the Cougars are No. 25 in the Associated Press Top 25, he appreciates the recognition.
"It is a token of respect, I guess," he said. "The expectation is that we are going to be there, and when we get a couple wins, people just assume, yeah, that's where they belong. It is way too early to put more credibility on that. But it is nice to be acknowledged."
BYU is 13-1 against Utah in meetings where BYU was ranked and Utah was not. Of course, all those meetings came in November, not September. The lone loss was a 20-17 setback in Provo in 1999.
Mendenhall is 9-5 in his eight-year tenure against the Pac-12. ... The Cougars have won six straight games dating back to 2011, the third-longest winning streak in the nation behind TCU (9) and Baylor (7). ... BYU is 62-3 in the Mendenhall era when leading or tied after three quarters. ... BYU receiver Cody Hoffman has been thrown to 10 times this season, making all 10 catches.
BYU at Utah
Saturday, 8 p.m.
TV • ESPN2