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Utes secondary vs. BYU receivers is key matchup Saturday

(Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utes defensive back Julian Blackmon (23) and Utah Utes defensive back Boobie Hobbs (1) defend North Dakota Fighting Hawks wide receiver Noah Wanzek (31) during the season opener at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

This weekend will provide someone the perfect opportunity to announce their presence with a swagger. Names can be made based on big plays on stages such as this weekend’s installment of the BYU-Utah rivalry that has captivated generations of Utahns.

Two talented-yet-inexperienced units — BYU’s wide receivers and Utah’s defensive backfield — could play a pivotal role in the outcome Saturday night at LaVell Edwards Stadium. Right now, both groups are unknowns compared to their predecessors. Whichever unit performs the best this weekend will set the table for its team to celebrate a victory.

“It always is a difficult task,” BYU sophomore wide receiver Talon Shumway said about facing Utah’s secondary. “They are going to be just as good as LSU’s, maybe better. Bottom line is we have to perform regardless of who we are up against. It is good to play against great teams, and so we are looking forward to a good opponent. We are going to be good to go.”

BYU lost its top three receivers from last season. This year’s top three — Aleva Hifo, Jonah Trinnaman and Shumway — entered the season with a total of 42 career receptions, 428 yards receiving and one touchdown. Despite the lack of experience, they’re expected to make a big impact in the offense’s second season in the hands of offensive coordinator Ty Detmer.

So far, BYU’s passing attack largely has failed to get off the ground in two games (296 yards total passing). Regardless of the previous results, Utah isn’t overlooking BYU’s weapons in the passing game.

“They’ve got speed at wide receiver,” Utah defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley said. “If you look at Jonah Trinnaman, you look at the [Aleva Hifo], those guys have some speed. The Shumway kid does a good job with body control. I think what teams have done — for whatever reason — they’ve found success frustrating the quarterback.”

The Utes’ secondary went into this season as arguably the biggest question mark on defense. After sending four players to the NFL from last year’s squad, the unit appeared — at best — a vulnerability. The lone returning starter, former Lone Peak star quarterback Chase Hansen, missed all but one week of preseason camp with an undisclosed injury.

Utah cornerbacks Julian Blackmon and Casey Hughes made their first career starts last week, while freshman Jaylon Johnson appeared in his first college game. Junior college transfers Corrion Ballard and Marquis Blair also played in their first NCAA Division I contest last week.

North Dakota featured a heavily run-oriented attack, and the Utes held the FCS foe to 14-of-31 passing for 187 yards. However, the Utes gave up pass plays of 20, 32 and 41 yards, including a pair of big plays on the same drive when North Dakota’s quarterback bought time for his receivers with his legs.

“I think they’re going to really test us in the secondary because we’re young, of course,” Blackmon said about BYU. “They know we’re young, and they’re going to try and test us. Honestly, we’re going to be ready, and they’re going to be surprised what they find when they test us.”

BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound junior, certainly has ability. And Mangum and his receivers certainly could use a breakout performance.

BYU’s offense has struggled mightily to achieve even a modicum of success through two games. BYU amassed 97 yards of total offense against LSU and held the ball for 18 minutes, 6 seconds — the fourth time since 1975 BYU has logged less than 19 minutes in time of possession.

“They are good. They are tough. They always have been,” Mangum said about the Utah defense. “So you have to give them a lot of credit. We have a good game plan we feel confident in, and just kinda focus on us and make sure we are executing and doing our job, and hopefully take advantage of certain looks that are given to us.”

AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL <br>BYU’s starting receivers <br>Talon Shumway <br>Position • WR <br>Class • Sophomore <br>Games-starts • 9-2 <br>This season • Shumway has five catches for 65 yards, including a 33-yard reception.<br>Aleva Hifo <br>Position • WR <br>Class • Sophomore <br>Games-starts • 15-3 <br>This season • Hifo has a modest five catches for 21 yards. <br>Jonah Trinnaman <br>Position • WR <br>Class • Senior <br>Games-starts • 15-9 <br>This season • Trinnaman has been limited to one 12-yard reception. <br>Matt Bushman <br>Position • TE <br>Class • Freshman <br>Games-starts • 2-1 <br>This season • Bushman has been the primary threat in the passing game with team highs in receptions (seven) and yards (99). He was also on the receiving end of the longest completion (36 yards). <br>Utah’s starting defensive backs <br>Julian Blackmon <br>Position • CB <br>Class • Sophomore <br>Games-starts • 10-1 <br>This season • Blackmon had an interception and two pass breakups in his first career start last week. <br>Casey Hughes<br>Position • CB <br>Class • Junior <br>Games-starts • 19-1<br>This season • Hughes made two tackles in his first collegiate start. <br>Corrion Ballard <br>Position • FS <br>Class • Junior <br>Games-starts • 1-1 <br>This season • Ballard made three tackles in his first collegiate start. <br>Chase Hansen<br>Position • SS <br>Class • Junior <br>Games-starts • 23-15 <br>This season • Hansen led the defensive backfield with six tackles despite missing most of preseason camp.

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