PROVO — As the Cougars and Aggies continue to prepare for Friday night's showdown at Romney Stadium, the Cougar defense looks forward to the challenge of containing Chuckie Keeton.
"He's a good quarterback, he's elusive, and he can make plays," said BYU safety Craig Bills. "It's exciting anytime that you're going against a quarterback or a player that makes plays. It's a good opportunity to show what you can do. We just need to play assignment sound and we'll be able to contain him and do other things with our defense."
The Cougars have had success against Keeton the last two years by holding him to 35 of 63 passing for two touchdowns, with an average of 162 yards passing a game. The Cougar defense has also held him to 16 rushes for 45 yards, an average of 2.8 yards a carry.
This season, the Cougars have lost the turnover battle in their last three games, while having four apiece with Virginia in the opening game of the season.
When asked about missed opportunities in creating turnovers, especially with two dropped interceptions last game, Bills responded: "Anytime you have an opportunity to create a turnover, you need to take advantage of it. It's frustrating, but that's what we're working on and we're going to improve."
The Cougars know that taking care of the ball will be key to defeating Utah State. In the Bronco Mendenall-era, BYU is 42-4 when winning the turnover battle, and 20-24 when losing that battle.
As always, the Cougars' keys to victory remain the same. "We have to stop the run, like we do in every game, we have to prevent big plays, create turnovers and I think we'll be good."
When asked why the defense is so effective and has been for so long, Bills said: "The system has been here nine years. We're in a system that we know what to do and if we play assignment sound, then we'll make plays. We're at an advantage where we know the defense really well and it's been the system for a couple of years now. We trust the coaches first and foremost; they prepare us as well as anyone in the country. Trust is a big part of it."
Meanwhile, the Cougars hope to build that same amount of trust and confidence with their players on the offensive side of the ball. The Cougars are looking for Taysom Hill to continue improving this week against a tough Aggie defense.
Quarterbacks coach Jason Beck assessed the Aggie defense, saying, "They're well coached, they have good schemes, so it'll be a good challenge for us."
Taysom Hill looks to build on his success against the Aggies as he completed 24 of 36 passes for 235 yards, with a touchdown and interception against Utah State last season in only the second start of his career. He also carried the ball 19 times for 80 yards.
Coach Beck also addressed the Cougars' blue zone struggles and what the key will be to improving this weekend. "The thing you face when you get down there is everything is just tighter, the windows are tighter, the defense can be more aggressive because they don't have the threat of giving up the big play behind them. We just need to be a little quicker, the decision making needs to speed up. You have to be most efficient."
The Cougars have squandered multiple opportunities to score in the blue zone the last two games. "The unique challenge is you've ran several plays, you're getting tired when you're getting down there, and so now you have to be at your best when you're there. We need to get in the blue zone mindset right away, let's speed it up, let's tighten it up and make it a little quicker."
While some Cougar fans have not been pleased with Hill's performance through the first few games of the season, Coach Beck feels that Taysom Hill is "one of the better (QB's) at just talking about something and then being able to go out there and do it. He's pretty good about learning from something that happens once; the next time he's usually made the adjustment and he's back at it. He's very smart and picks it up pretty well."
With four games under Hill's belt now, Coach Beck acknowledged: "We've been pretty happy with the way he's been playing and preparing all the way from spring to fall. More than anything, it's just the whole group, the execution of the 11 guys out there that's the biggest focus. As we continue to improve that execution as a group, it will just reflect well for everybody."
Cougar fans can tune in to hear Coach Mendenhall during Wednesday night's "BYU Football with Bronco Mendenhall" show at 7 pm on KSL Newsradio 102.7 FM/1160 AM.
Game time for BYU vs. Utah State is 6 pm on Friday, with pregame coverage on KSL Newsradio beginning at 4 pm.
Reggie Lewis is a KSL Newsradio BYU intern.