Analysis: BYU-Utah State Position Preview
By Brennan Smith
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Oct 02 2013 11:10PM
All that remains in the in-state rivalry series will be settled this weekend as BYU travels to Utah State. BYU lost to the Utes, but regained some of their mojo with a 37-10 trouncing of Middle Tennessee State. Utah State also came up short to Utah, but looks like a force to be reckoned with in the Mountain West after a 40-12 victory over San Jose State on the road last week. Here’s a position-by-position look at this week’s matchup and which team will have the edge heading into Friday’s game:
Taysom Hill improved against Middle Tennessee State’s Conference USA defense, completing 14 of 19 passes for 177 yards. However, he continued to do most of the offensive damage with his legs, scoring on a 50-yard run in the second quarter and finished with 165 rushing yards. However, Hill’s numbers are still well below average. He’s completing only 40 perecent of his passes with an ugly four to one interception-to-touchdown ratio. The BYU coaches insist Hill’s starting job isn’t in danger, but if the middle of the season returns are anything like the first few games, it may be time to move on.
Chuckie Keeton, however, continues to dazzle and may be the best quarterback of the trio of Travis Wilson and Hill. Keeton tossed three touchdown passes, 260 yards and ran for a score against San Jose State and completely outshined the impressive David Fales. Keeton accounted for 312 total yards of offense and for the season, has thrown a ridiculous 17 touchdowns compared to one interception.
Edge: Utah State
Jamaal Williams, who was diagnosed with a concussion against Utah, looks like he’ll be back for the game against the Aggies. Williams has 383 yards on the ground and has been the bellcow of the offense despite not finding the end zone yet. It will be worth a close look to see how many carries Williams gets as he returns from injury. Hill is as much a threat as any runningback on the team and leads the Cougars in rushing with 621 yards and six touchdowns. Senior Mike Alisa may also see a few carries after he scored twice against Middle Tennessee.
Joey DeMartino has been solid for the Aggies so far this season, averaging over seven yards per carry and scoring four touchdowns along with 345 yards rushing. He had 120 of those yards alone against San Jose State and looks like he may be hitting his stride. Keeton is a threat on the ground as well, rushing for 286 yards and two touchdowns so far this season, while Joe Hill provides a nice change of pace backfield option. The Aggies may have a tough time after losing guard Kyle Whimpey for the season, especially against a stout BYU defense that surrenders only 119 yards on the ground per game.
BYU will get star Cody Hoffman back from a one game suspension this week, a boost to a receiving corps still trying to find its rhythm. Hill’s insonsistencies have kept the Cougars from flourishing in the passing game, with no receiver above 10 catches, only one receiver with a touchdown catch and Hoffman leading the team with only 170 yards receiving in four games. The Cougars will have a better chance this week to take advantage of a secondary that allowed 336 yards through the air to San Jose State. Although the Cougars have more talent on paper at the receiver position, until Hill can get them the ball, they are handcuffed to mediocrity.
Utah State has a bevy of options in the passing game as Keeton continues distributing the ball to different receivers. Brandon Swindall looks like Keeton’s favorite so far with four touchdowns and 195 yards receiving. Six different Utah State receivers have at least 13 receptions this season and eight different receivers have caught at least one touchdown pass. Keeton should be able to take advantage of a middling BYU secondary with a few big plays.
The Cougars offensive line fell apart against Utah, surrendering five sacks and eight tackles for loss. The unit rebounded against the lower tier defense of Middle Tennessee, but will face a stiffer challenge against the Utah State defense, which has seven sacks and 29 tackles for loss this season.
Utah State lost Whimpey, one of its best and most consistent guards last week, a big blow for the team’s pass protection. The team also gave up four sacks against USC and two against Utah, similar caliber defensive lines to BYU’s. Overall, USU has surrendered nine sacks this season.
Defensive Line and Linebackers
BYU’s defensive line held their ground and controlled the line of scrimmage for the entire game against Middle Tennessee, allowing only 212 total yards of offense. Linebacker Kyle Van Noy was all over the field, recording seven tackles, a pass breakup, a quarterback hurry and a safety. Overall, BYU’s front seven continues to be the most talented unit on the team and will have a tough test containing Keeton.
Utah State’s defense has been underrated this season. Minus a shootout against Utah, the Aggies haven’t surrendered more than 17 points in any game and have given up only 35 points in three games. However, the defense still gives up plenty of yards, especially in the passing game, surrendering 336 against San Jose State alone. Sophomore linebacker Kyler Fackrell has been dominant for the Aggies, racking up six tackles for loss, four sacks and two forced fumbles this season.
BYU’s defensive weakness this season has been in the passing game, where the team surrenders 202 yards on average and has given up six passing touchdowns. The unit held the Middle Tennessee passers to a pedestrian 105 yards passing, one touchdown and one interception, but will face a much bigger challenge in Keeton.
The Aggies struggled against San Jose State, surrendering 336 yards, but are generally keeping teams out of the end zone on passing plays. Overall, the defensive backs are holding opposing teams to a respectable 188 yards passing per game and have given up only four touchdowns through the air.
Edge: Utah State
Prediction: Keeton has been potent so far this season and will be able to take advantage of the Cougar secondary enough to secure the win. Hill has yet to prove that he can carry the Cougars with his arm and the Utah State defense is sound enough to limit an injured Williams while containing the mobile quarterback. The Aggies will take this one in a close victory.