By Jeff Hansen
BYU is coming off a much needed win against Hawaii, while Utah State continued their great play against UNLV last week. The two teams each have momentum and confidence as they head into the rivalry game on Friday.
When watching the Aggies play, there is one word that comes to mind: Speed. On both sides of the ball, the Aggies have as much speed as anyone on BYU’s schedule. Utah State’s defense is allowing an impressively low 14.2 points per game, while the offense is scoring 28.2 per game. In comparison, BYU’s defense allows just 10 points per game, and the offense scores 29.8. This game will be another defensive struggle for the Cougars.
On both sides of the ball, Utah State has playmakers. If BYU can limit those playmakers, then they have a great chance of winning the game. On the other hand, if BYU allows the stars from Utah State to take over the game, the Cougars will join the Utes in the “Utah Sports Doghouse” while the Aggies boast that they are the best team in the state. So, let’s focus on a few of the players that will keep BYU busy throughout the entire game.
RB Kerwynn Williams: When Utah State lost Robert Turbin and Michael Smith to the NFL last year, most assumed that they would see a significant decrease in rushing production. It’s hard to believe that Utah State doesn’t miss their two NFL backs, but they are definitely doing well in their absence. Williams leads the team with 519 yards rushing on just 89 carries; an astounding 5.8 yards per carry. Williams is a different back than Turbin was for the Aggies, he’s quick and shifty instead of a pure power runner. Not only does he carry the ball well, he catches the ball out of the backfield. Utah State runs a spread attack with a lot of short passes and easy reads for QB Chuckie Keeton, and Williams is the perfect receiver coming out of the backfield. He leads the team with 18 receptions on the year. If BYU is going to have any chance in this game, they will have to contain Williams, both on the ground and through the air.
QB Chuckie Keeton: BYU has forever been known as Quarterback U. Utah saw quarterbacks Alex Smith and Brian Johnson both win BCS bowls. But currently the school with the best quarterback in the state (arguably) is Utah State. Chuckie Keeton is a special, special talent that leads the Aggies this year. Keeton is coming off a monster week against UNLV where he threw for 402 yards and four touchdowns against the Rebels. Keeton has speed and can scramble around the field. He’s also got an arm and can light up the scoreboard through the air. Utah State’s offense is suited perfectly for Keeton. He doesn’t have to throw the ball 30 yards downfield, or make difficult reads and go through multiple progressions, but rather short drops and quick passes. Quarterbacks like Keeton have given BYU fits in the past (Colin Kaepernick, Jake Locker, Christian Ponder) and Keeton is every bit as talented as them. BYU’s defense must find an answer for Keeton in order to stay in the game.
LB Bojay Filimoeatu: The linebacker from West Valley City is big and very fast. He is an anchor on the Utah State defense. Against the University of Utah, Filimoeatu played as well as anyone on the field. Every time there was a big play on defense for the Aggies, Filimoeatu was involved. The most impressive aspect to Filimoeatu’s game is his ability to stop the run. Unfortunately for BYU, the run will be the most important aspect to their offense. Whether it is guard pulls or tight ends getting into the second level on defense, BYU will need to keep Filimoeatu away from the ball carrier as much as possible to win the game. If you don’t believe me, ask John White IV how he feels about Filimoeatu.
HC Gary Andersen: This goes without saying, but the most important player for Utah State is their head coach. Coach Andersen has revolutionized football in Logan. He knows how big a win would be for his team. He will have his players motivated and will have a great game plan, as the Aggies seek revenge on BYU for the win that the Cougars stole in the closing seconds of the game last year. Obviously BYU can’t stop Anderson from calling a great game, but they can out-coach him. Bronco Mendenhall has been known for his less-than-stellar performances in big games, but he has a chance to silence some of his critics this week.
The teams are evenly matched in almost all areas of the field. Special teams will prove to be important this week. Field position will be vital, and Riley Stephenson will play a huge role for BYU. Points will also come at a premium and field goals could be the difference. Again, Riley Stephenson will play a huge role for BYU.
Defensively, it’s simple. Keep doing what you’ve been doing the last few weeks. Contain the big players, force a couple of turnovers, and get off the field quickly. No need to elaborate, just keep up the solid play.
Offensively, there are question marks. Michael Alisa is out. Jamaal Williams played great against Hawaii, but was that a result of a bad Warrior defense or the emergence of the next great BYU running back? The tight end rotation changed last week. We saw better blocking, and a touchdown from Devin Mahina. Again, was that because of a bad Hawaii defense or signs of significant progress?
The biggest question is who will play quarterback for the Cougars. Riley Nelson is still hurt. If the reports are true and he really does have broken vertebrae in his back, it should take 4-6 weeks to recover. Nelson is tough, and will do everything he can to get on the field against his former team.
If I was on the BYU coaching staff, then Taysom Hill would get the start this week, but it’s unclear what Mendenhall is planning on doing. It’s harsh, but I think if injured Riley Nelson starts then BYU loses this game 14-23. If Taysom Hill starts, then BYU will come out on top, 23-17.