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PROVO --BYU was able to answer the bell last week against UCF after their knockout the week before. They did just enough to get the 24-17 win, but a win is a win. There was a lot of good that came out of the victory over the Knights, but there are equally just as many questions.
A lot of players stepped up and the defense again came up big again. The Cougars are going to have to keep up their strong defensive play this week as they welcome Utah State who wants to extend their winning streak over BYU to two. The Aggies will be up for this game. Can the Cougars match the intensity that Coach Gary Andersen will bring down to Provo?
Here is a quick wrap up of last week's game and what to look at in the coming game.
What did we learn from the previous game?
- The special teams were truly special. This may not be the most fascinating part of the game, but it is so very important and last week showed that. The game ball could go to one of two players on the third facet of the game: Cody Hoffman and Riley Stephenson. Hoffman showed why he was so good last year. He is fast, powerful and can be decisive running. The first kick return for a touchdown in 13 years for BYU should say enough for what he did. Stephenson was amazing. The UCF muffed punt that led to the short BYU touchdown was thanks to him. He kicked the ball so far that the returner lost where he was, got turned around and forgot his training. Every punt was right where it needed to be. The rest of the unit did what it needed and was solid in the win.
- Leaning on the run is the key to victory. The numbers weren't great, but the running game controlled the end of the game exactly the way it should have. J.J. Di Luigi and Bryan Kariya both held onto the ball and let the offensive line do their job. It came late after they got the lead, but Kariya showed why he deserves to get the ball more. He is a solid north/south runner who, more times than not, gets positive yardage. Kariya should get the ball more and more as the season goes along, at least as long as Jake Heaps continues his struggles. Di Luigi is getting some touches, but needs more and needs them consistently. He is the little engine that drives the offense. The reason for BYU's success last year with the running game was the change of pace with using the three regulars (Di Luigi, Kariya and Josh Quezada). Each has his own style that prevents different challenges to the defense.
- Kyle Van Noy is really good. This linebacker group is close to great, and Van Noy, at most times, is considerably better than the other players. That is saying something because Uona Kaveinga has all the potential to play in the NFL in the coming years. Van Noy is the special player that every 3-4 defense needs. It helps to have Jordan Pendleton on the other side, but BYU did it last week without him. He is still young, but he jumps off the tape and still has room to grow.
- The playmakers are separating themselves. There are a couple good-to-great players on the team and they are showing who they are. Hoffman, Di Luigi, Kariya, Austin Holt and Ross Apo on the offense should be the core of this team. When Apo went down and UCF could focus on Hoffman they struggled. The backs can carry the team through the rest of the season with the exception of TCU. Holt needs to be more involved. Four of these five should be on the field at all times. They could do a lot of damage with all five having Di Luigi split out at wide receiver. Kariya can pound the rock and block a little and the rest of them have speed, including Holt who is a matchup problem for most teams. On defense Van Noy, Kaveinga, Travis Uale and Joe Sampson are making plays whenever they are around the ball. Sampson isn't starting, but the fact that he isn't speaks to the talent around him.
What lingering questions do we still have?
- Will Brandon Doman be able to stick to the run while Heaps struggles? Heaps committed to BYU after Doman wooed him with his confidence and a vision of what he could become. Now that Doman is the offensive coordinator will he pound the rock, despite knowing the type of talent Heaps has?. Doman has said they will run the ball and the last game showed what the run can do, granted it was a small sample size. Heaps is struggling, and according to KSL's Scott Johnson, the best thing for Heaps and Doman is to run the ball and have Heaps control the offense. Heaps may have to change his title from superstar to the dreaded game manager. He has the tools, he just may take a little more time.
- Can the offensive line step up? In all the talk of Heaps and the offensive woes the offensive line hasn't done what it needs. They are a veteran group, but they are shaky in pass protection and underwhelming in the run game. They haven't been awful, but they haven't been a BYU-caliber line. They will look better, but they just haven't been good enough yet.
- Can BYU get healthy? Apo's loss was felt quickly against UCF. Pendleton is a great talent and a perfect "Robin" to Van Noy's "Batman." Houston Reynolds is a good lineman in the interior. The list isn't long, but it is significant. Throw in the mystery that is Josh Quezada and you have four impact players with significant injuries. This doesn't include a few season-ending injuries to Ryker Matthews and Iona Pritchard. Most should be fine soon, but the toll for each loss will be noticed in the long run.
- Will the "bend-don't break" defense hold up? UCF did a lot of quick passes that frustrated most Cougar viewers. They got a lot of yards on them. The usual problems with running quarterbacks showed up again as Jeffrey Godfrey ran for two touchdowns. The defense gave up a lot of yards (399) but not a ton of points (17). Can that hold? Even in the Utah game the touchdowns came mostly from long plays. Can the red zone defense keep playing as well as they have?
What can BYU expect from Utah State?
- Utah State is a better team than last year. Last year the Aggies broke the Cougars back with a victory in Logan. They were better in facet of that game. The scary part is that this team isn't just better, but they are considerably better. One of the big reasons is running back Robert Turbin. He was arguably their best player two years ago, and then missed all of last season. He is now averaging over six yards per carry, has 364 yards and eight touchdowns, more touchdowns than the entire BYU team.
- Chuckie Keeton is surprisingly good. Rarely is a freshman quarterback considered an immediate impact player, but Keeton is just that and is just the type of quarterback that will give BYU fits. He is smart and the coaching staff plays to his strengths in the running game. He was an onside kick recovery away from being a household name. Their first game of the season in Auburn he showed why he was able to take this team over as their leader. If the Cougars can keep him in the pocket they will have a great chance at winning. He has a good arm, but with such a powerful and dominate running game the Aggies staff hasn't ask him to do much, but what he has done has been nothing less than impressive. Most of the receiver runs in the Auburn game were passes or screens out into space. He gets the ball to the wings quick off the snap.
- The Aggies will run with more than just Turbin. Michael Smith and Kerwynn Williams both have rushing touchdowns of over 40 yards. Smith averages nine yards per carry and Williams averages 8.9. With 152 rushes to 63 passes on the season it is clear what they will want to do against the Cougars.
- The defense is better than the numbers show. The group is led by all-WAC performer Bobby Wagner. He is averaging over 12 tackles per game and is the unquestioned leader of the defense. They are averaging 31 points given up per game. They did give up 22 in overtime and the last 21 seconds against Colorado State and 14 in the last 2:07 to Auburn. That is 2:38 away from 19 points per game. It did happen, but this team is better than the numbers look. Don't be surprised when this defense holds the Cougars a bit.
What can we expect from BYU against Utah State?
- Pound the rock. This has been preached for a while in Cougar camp, but this week they need to get the run numbers up and wear down the Aggie defense. The offensive line has an advantage against the Aggies and will be able to lean on them over time to create big holes late in the game.
- Play-action. If the run game is working early on Doman will dial up deep routes for the receivers out of play-action passes. It might get to a point where stretches of early down passes will only be out of play-action as to not open Heaps up. There will be open receivers deep and if Heaps can hit them it could start to build his confidence. If he misses them Cougar fans may never want to see another play-action pass.
- Stack the box on defense. BYU will get people as close to the line of scrimmage as possible to stop Turbin and company early. They may focus on the run more in this game than in any other so far. They are used to playing the run with Ole Miss and UCF running a lot, but Turbin is the one of the most talented backs they will see. The usual story applies where BYU will want to make them uncomfortable and force them into a one-dimensional passing attack. They will give up short passes to take them out of the run game.
Notes and stats:
- It is the 81st meeting of the two schools.
- BYU leads the series 43-34-3.
- Utah State won for the first time since 1993 last year. They haven't won more than one in a row since they won four in a row from '71-'74.
- Andersen is 4-3 against BYU as a defensive coordinator for Utah and head coach at Utah State, 1-1 at Utah State.
- Eleven of the last 12 games between these two games have been on a Friday night. The lone Saturday game was a 38-0 BYU victory on Sept. 23, 2006.
This game shapes up like last week's tilt against the Knights. BYU's defense wants to stop the run and force the Aggies to throw on second and long and third and long. The Aggies' offense wants to run and run a lot, using the pass as a change of pace and prevent BYU from stacking the box. The advantage should go to BYU. The other side of the ball will also be two teams wanting to control the run. The Cougars want to run and the Aggies want to have their front seven control the line of scrimmage. The Cougars should have the advantage here too. BYU's line on both sides of the ball should are bigger and more athletic.
Which young quarterback will make the big play will decide the game. Heaps is the better passer, Keeton is more athletic and has been more effective this year, but with limited opportunities. The Aggies haven't relied on Keeton like BYU has relied on Heaps. Both teams have given up a few big plays and there will be one or two this game as well.
BYU giveth and Utah State doesn't taketh away. BYU isn't very good with ball control, but the Aggies only have three takeaways in as many games. If one of them gets a distinct advantage, two or more differential, they will have the inside track to win the game.
BYU will have a will to run and will be the team that will control time of possession which will lead to a BYU victory.
Prediction: BYU 27 USU 21