BYU takes to the road again this week as they face in-state rival Utah State. BYU and Utah State are sporting 1-3 records, and each hopes to turn things around this week. BYU has won ten straight meetings against the Aggies; their last loss coming in 1993. Their previous loss to the Aggies? Ten games earlier. BYU has not scored fewer than 30 points against the Aggies since that 1982 loss.
What we know about Utah State
Utah State began the season with an impressive loss to Oklahoma. Now that may sound funny, but the final score was 31-24, and that against a team now ranked 8th in the nation. Since then, the Aggies have claimed a win against lowly Idaho State, and have lost big to Fresno State and San Diego State. The Aggies rank ahead of the Cougars in average passing and rushing yards per game, as well as points per game. BYU has a slight edge in points against per game, but both schools are giving up around 30. If there is a chance for Utah State to break their ten game losing streak against BYU, this is the year to do it – they’re at home, and BYU is, admittedly, having an off year.
BYU is coming into this game riding the longest losing streak they’ve had in a single season in the Bronco Mendenhall era. They showed great improvement last week as they kept things close with Nevada. With another week of practice, the offense should be even more potent this week going into Logan.
Keys to the game
Jake Heaps and the Receivers. This may be a key to every game from here on out. I suppose I’ll quit bringing it up once they’ve figured out how to throw and catch effectively. Heaps had decent numbers against Nevada, but 24/45 isn’t going to win a whole lot of games. Utah State is used to giving up a lot of points per game, so this BYU offensive group should be able to develop a rhythm against them.
Road Jitters. To be fair, Jake Heaps basically played the entire game at Florida State, so going up to Utah State shouldn’t seem as difficult. This is, however, the first official road start for the true freshman quarterback. Romney Stadium isn’t exactly one of the feared road locations in college football, although I do remember the Cougars seemed a bit off when last there in 2008. BYU was ranked #8 after having 5-0 start, having just beaten UCLA 59-0 and Wyoming 44-0. They went up 34-0, and the game ended 34-14, which is all well and good, but I remember watching that game and something just wasn’t right. The BYU players didn’t look like they were into the game, and I really think the future losses to TCU, Utah, and Arizona that season stemmed from that night in Logan.
Team Identity. Again, another key to the game I’d like to skip, but I feel that I can’t until it’s really established. Team identity is truly won in tough games against rivals or key conference matchups to win championships. But, it can also be won in contests against lesser opponents that allow your team to finally find what works best and how to win. BYU got both last year, at Oklahoma and Tulane (respectively). I think this game will be another one of the latter, and it will provide BYU what they need to finally click on offense and move forward.
The Nelson non-factor. It would have been pretty cool to have Riley Nelson come in and start against his former team. I’m sure that there are several Aggie defenders that wouldn’t mind getting a sack or two on him. Unfortunately, with Nelson on the sidelines, any remaining angst over his departure to BYU will be sidelined with him.
It’s a Trap. Maybe you can’t call any game a trap game for BYU this year. They shouldn’t be overlooking anyone – but if they do, it’ll be Utah State. With ten straight wins against the Aggies, preceded by a loss and another ten straight wins before that, anyone could get complacent.
In my season preview, I chose BYU over Utah State, 42-14. I’m going to stand by that one. Utah State showed promise after their loss to Oklahoma and the win the following week, but it seems they have remembered how to lose. It should be a good week to be a Cougar fan.