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PROVO -- BYU has played two solid halves this season. Unfortunately, they haven't played them in a single game. After a dominant first half against the Texas Longhorns the Cougars fell apart in the second half to lead to a 17-16 loss against the No. 21 team in the nation. As BYU enters rivalry week against the Utes they will need to put together a full 60 minutes of quality football.
The Utes are coming off a disappointing loss in their first Pac-12 game at USC. They may be a great defensive team, but just like BYU their offense has struggled. These two teams may be more than in-state rivals; they may be mirrors of each other.
KSL takes a look back and a look ahead as we prep for game day.
What did we learn from the previous game?
The defense could be the best BYU has had in a long time. They have yet to give up a point to a starting quarterback. This may be a sign that when they just have to stay in their game plan the athleticism can take over games. The front seven dominated while Texas first-string quarterback Garret Gilbert was in. Once Texas switched to David Ash, a running quarterback, they had to slow down and think. The other quarterback Case McCoy capitalized off the slowed defense and drove the team for the 17 points.
The defense only gave up 289 yards of total offense to the Longhorns. The secondary made big plays throughout and Longhorns receivers needed spectacular catches for some movement, see Jaxon Shipley's catch, hurdle and run. Daniel Sorensen made an amazing diving interception and Travis Uale came up big early with a pick at BYU's three to stop an early Longhorn drive.
J.J. DiLuigi continues to lead the team in touches and yardage on offense. He had 17 touches and 63 yards. This is not a great average or total amount of yards, but shows that DiLuigi is reliable. Offensive coordinator Brandon Doman and quarterback Jake Heaps continue to look for him whenever a play is needed to spur the offense.
The tight ends were a small bright spot on offense. Austin Holt, Marcus Matthews and Richard Wilson each had at least two catches and they are proving to be reliable targets. Holt led the team in receiving yards.
The special teams play was pretty good. They gave up one 40-yard return and Jordan Johnson had a scary fumble that BYU recovered, overall though they played well. Riley Stephenson and Justin Sorensen both had good games. Neither player had bad kicks like they had against Ole Miss.
What lingering questions do we still have about BYU?
Has there ever been a less telling offseason than what BYU just went through? The defense looked lost and was getting beat regularly. The offense looked like a juggernaut from the 80's LaVell era. The tables have quickly turned. Can the offense return to the form they showed in scrimmages? Is this really who Heaps is? 22 of 38 for 192 yards will not do. With all the hype of working with receivers in the offseason and after ending last season improving every week this was supposed to be Heaps breaking out, not breaking down. Was last year just Heaps putting up numbers against bad Mountain West teams?
Heaps has been consistently off. One of the few incompletions that was on target was the interception on the miscommunication with DiLuigi. If DiLuigi runs the hook that Heaps thinks he's running it's a completion, but it was still an interception. The offense has been incredibly conservative and that was another play where Heaps went conservative and DiLuigi saw a big play. Maybe Heaps bought into his own hype and feels like he can do no wrong. Whatever is wrong will need to be fixed and he needs confidence or this season will see more than one heartbreaking loss.
With all that said, the running game has been horrid. With the exception of a few DiLuigi runs they haven't given Heaps any room to breathe. If the ground game isn't working then the more pressure Heaps is under to make plays. The running game hasn't had 100 yards in either game this season.
The receivers are still inconsistent. They were better than the Ole Miss game, but still didn't make plays when needed. The same could be about the offensive line. At times they were in complete control against Texas, but at other times they struggled to open consistent holes. As a strength of the team they need to improve. They weren't awful, only giving up one sack, but if BYU is going to run more they will have to lean on opponents and open holes late in games to take pressure of Heaps.
What those points lead to is whether this team can get into the end zone. If anyone, that wasn't a Ute fan, said BYU would have two offensive touchdowns after two weeks they would have been ridiculed. If they aren't able to change three close field goals into touchdowns the defense will need to step up into elite status to win games.
What can BYU expect from Utah?
This team is another team that looks and feels like BYU. Utah has a dominating defense that has held two offenses to 10 and 17 points. Brian Blechen has two interceptions and the Ute defense has a total of five. The defense has done enough to win against Montana State when the offense sputtered after the first quarter and keep them in the game against USC to allow the Utes a chance for a last second field goal chance.
The offense has questions coming from the quarterback position. Jordan Wynn admitted this week that offseason shoulder surgery has affected him. He has is just a hair over 50 percent on his passes. He is yet to throw an interception, but he is only averaging 4.9 yards per attempt. The team can win despite his poor play, but they won't win big games if it continues.
The running game is headed by John White IV. He has taken control of the job with 206 yards and a 5.3 yard average. If he gets going against BYU the Utes won't have to rely on Wynn and his aching shoulder and could simply grind down the clock and keep this game in the teen's where they feel their defense has the advantage.
While White will get the majority of touches on offense, DeVonte Christopher has proven to be the play-maker. He was quiet against Montana State with only two catches, but had 11 for 136 and a touchdown against the Trojans. He will test the BYU corners deep and he has underrated route-running ability to move the chains when needed.
White and Christopher will be the litmus test to whether this Ute offense will be successful. If they are both over 100 yards the Utes should win most of their games, if not the defense will have to step up greater than usual.
Don't be surprised to see wildcat formations; BYU suffers against speed in the backfield. Watch for Christopher to take direct snaps to get the ball in his hands early in the play.
What can we expect from BYU against Utah?
Expect BYU to try and run the football. They have devoted this week of practice to the ground game and look for them to try and get it going. Doman's offense is predicated on running to set up the play-action pass, so if the ground game isn't there don't be surprised to see another shaky game from Heaps.
The Ute defense held USC's Robert Woods to 106 yards, so this could be another quiet game for the receivers. If Ross Apo or Cody Hoffman get one deep ball completed it will be a huge victory. The tight ends and slot receivers should get a lot of targets in this game. The offense will look to wear down the defense with runs and quick passes to extend drives and keep the Ute defense on the field. There won't be a lot of deep balls thrown unless the running game is working early to suck up the Ute safeties.
The defense will be fine. Over the past few years the Utah offense has exposed BYU, but Wynn isn't 100 percent and even when he was he never played well against BYU. The Cougars struggle against running quarterbacks, so Wynn, while mobile, suits BYU's defensive strength. Expect the defense to play a little more conservative for early downs to eliminate big plays from the receivers and force them to run the ball into the BYU's big front-seven.
Notes and stats:
- This will be the 92nd time these teams have met. Utah leads the series 54-34, there have been four ties.
- This will be the 13th time since 1945 that neither team will enter the rivalry game with a winning record. It will be the third time since 1975. The last was 2002.
- This will be the first time since 1969 that the game has been played before Nov. 17.
- This isn't the first times these teams have meet in September. In 1958 the game was played on Sept. 27.
- The earliest game played in this series was the first game between the two recorded in Utah's record. It was played on April 6, 1896. (BYU doesn't consider football games before 1922.)
- Utah is ranked higher in total offense (89 to 100 respectively) and BYU is ranked higher in total defense (21 to 43).
Both teams are looking into a mirror again. Last week they played teams that looked similar to their own team and lost. This week it will be more of the same. Both teams have had poor quarterback play. In the losses they both had a chance to win. In the wins they didn't dominate as much as they could have. Both defenses want to make the teams pass. Both defenses are stronger against the run than the pass. Both have playmakers in the front-seven and questions in the back of their defense.
Oh, and you could throw in new conferences, coaches, returning players at the same positions and many other storylines.
Heaps and the offense will need to run the ball. If the team is held to less than 100 yards rushing again Utah can force Heaps into making one too many mistakes and this will be the Utes game. The same could be said for the Utes. If Wynn has to take over it could be scary for the Utes.
With all the similarities between the teams the differences will have to make the difference. BYU's offense is better than the Utes offense if for no other fact than the line. The Cougar's line has been steady at worst and at times excellent. The Utes line has looked sloppy quite often. Tony Bergstrom has had troubles coming blocking off the edge and that could prove the difference. Neither team will run the ball very well. Kyle Van Noy and Jordan Pendleton will get to Jordan Wynn and that will be the difference in another nail-biting "Holy War."
Prediction: BYU 23 Utah 20