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What to watch for: Utah State at BYU

What to watch for: Utah State at BYU

By Matt Harris, KSL.com Contributor | Posted - Sep. 29, 2011 at 12:07 p.m.



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LOGAN -- It was a tough week in Aggieland as Utah State had to take a long, hard look at themselves to figure out what went wrong against Colorado State. The key for the Aggies moving forward is to not only figure out what went wrong, but to fix it... permanently. How will the Aggies respond to such a devastating loss? What can Utah State expect in their second road game of the season? Here are five storylines to watch for against BYU:

  1. The battle between the special teams of BYU and Utah State.
    It was two drastically different outcomes for the special teams of each respective team last week. BYU had stellar play from their playmakers, as Cody Hoffman returned a kick 93 yards for a touchdown, the first such play for the Cougars in 13 years. Utah State however lost two fumbles on punt returns, both of which came back to haunt the Aggies. The special teams have been an issue for Utah State all season long, as many people believe that the Aggies could be 3-0 if it weren't for the porous play of the return units.

    You can bet that head coach Gary Anderson and special teams coordinator Bill Busch have been spending plenty of extra practice time on correcting the mistakes that have doomed the Aggies in two of three games so far this season. Expect the special teams battle to be a key cog in determining the outcome of the game on Friday night.
  2. Utah State's rushing attack versus the BYU defense.
    The Aggies' run game has been well documented this year with prolific running backs Robert Turbin and Kerwynn Williams. The BYU defense is just as prolific, led by Kyle Van Noy, Uona Kaveinga, and Joe Sampson. Which side will give more?

    The answer may lie in the play-calling of USU offensive coordinator Dave Baldwin. Against Colorado State, the Aggies seemed to be somewhat conservative on offense, only throwing 15 times throughout the game while electing to run the ball 52 times. BYU is not Colorado State and will be able to sniff out the running game much better than the Rams did. Expect more play-action calls on Friday than normal to help open up the field and the offense for Utah State.
  3. Chuckie Keeton's psyche after the worst game of his USU career.
    Obviously, Keeton has only played in three games in his young career, being the first true freshman to ever start for Utah State. He has time to develop and plenty of opportunities to improve. However, because he is so young, there is the possibility that his less-than-stellar performance against Colorado State can affect him moving forward into this week's game against the Cougars. Keeton will need to be solid against BYU and expect him to make plays when called upon.

    This is no ordinary freshman. There is something special about the quarterback from Houston.
  4. The Utah State secondary against BYU quarterback Jake Heaps.
    The Aggies' secondary was burned last week by Colorado State quarterback Pete Thomas. At the most crucial times of the game, the secondary missed coverage assignments that allowed the Rams to get back into the game and eventually win. Jake Heaps, despite his problems with fumbling the football and accuracy on passes so far this season, is much more skilled than Pete Thomas.

    This game could be a stepping stone for Heaps as he tries to get BYU's offense back on track for what they are known for the most. The Aggies' secondary will need to buckle down and cover the BYU receivers or it could be a long day for Utah State.
  5. Both teams take the Battle for the Old Wagon Wheel personally.
    Last year, Utah State grabbed possession of the Old Wagon Wheel for the first time in 17 years with a 31-16 win at Romney Stadium. This year, Utah State looks to make it two in a row for the first time since 1973-74, and the first victory in Provo since 1978. Both teams are at what seems to be a crossroads game.

    BYU can hit the halfway point to bowl eligibility with the win and own a record of 3-2 on the season. Utah State can climb back to .500 on the season with a victory but can fall farther out of contention with a loss. A loss may be demoralizing for the Aggies as they try to earn a bowl berth for the first time since 1997.

Expect this game to be an all-out battle with the team that finishes with fewer turnovers walking away with the Old Wagon Wheel and bragging rights for another year.

Email: onlinesports@ksl.com

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Matt Harris

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