Cougar defense dialed in for Utah

After a 27-20 overtime loss to Utah State last week, the Utah Utes will look to rebound against their old rival BYU prior to heading into Pac-12 play. That is a task that might be more difficult than expected, given the struggles Utah has faced offensively and the fact that the Utes will be going up against one of the best BYU defenses in recent memory.

After throwing for 4,637 yards in his career, Utah starting quarterback Jordan Wynn has hung up his cleats and will no longer play college football after sustaining another injury last week. Utah threw for only 229 yards against Utah State, with those yards coming from Wynn, as well as his replacements, John Hays and Travis Wilson.

"We expect Utah to play hard regardless of who's playing quarterback," said Brandon Ogletree. "I mean, this is a rivalry game and Utah just lost to Utah State, so they'll want to bounce back from that. I think we'll be ready though."

Utah does not want to go into Pac-12 play and face Arizona State with a 1-2 record, especially with how good the Sun Devils have looked so far. Instead, Utah wants to right the ship.

"We expect everyone to leave it all out on the field," said Ogletree. "They like to run the ball a lot. I haven't heard much about [running back] John White and what his status is, but if he isn't able to go, I'm sure they'll have somebody else to plug in. Most college football programs usually do."

White sprained his ankle last week against Utah State, and an MRI he had this week turned up negative. Reports out of Utah mentioned that he was walking around hobbled on Monday, and while his status for this Saturday is unknown, he will more than likely get about 20 carries against BYU is he is able to go.

Even when having a better quarterback situation, Utah has relied heavily on the run. White finished second in the Pac-12 in rushing yards last year and 11th in the nation with 116.8 yards per game. He broke a 29-year-old school record by rushing for 1,519 yards last season as the primary offensive weapon for Utah.

When BYU lost to Utah last season, White rushed for 174 yards. Even if Wynn was playing this Saturday, the Utah offense would rely heavily on White's legs. With Utah's current quarterback situation, the Utes will likely rely even more on him as long as he is physically able, so the Cougar defense will primarily key in on stopping Utah's rushing attack.

"We have to limit their opportunities to run the ball first and foremost. We can't have White, or whoever it is back there, running all over the place," Ogletree said. "The run game was a big part of their offense last year and we expect that to be the same this year."

So who will be White's backup? The only other Ute running back to get any rushes against the Aggies was redshirt freshman Jarrell Oliver (5 feet 8 inches, 210 pounds), but he only rushed once for three yards.

The running back that could see the most playing time against BYU while spelling a hobbled White would more than likely be junior college transfer Kelvin York, who didn't get any carries against Utah State.

"We're going to be ready for any type of run game that will be thrown at us," said Ogletree. "We're a confident group of guys who feel we can handle anything that comes our way, so we just need to go out and continue to execute the way we know and we should be fine."

In Utah's season opener against FCS team Northern Colorado, White rushed for 121 yards. Against Utah State, White ran the ball 27 times for only 96 yards. The Utes will likely need to run for more than 150 yards against BYU if they want to come away with a victory.

"We have to limit their opportunities to run the ball," Ogletree said. "We have to make sure we keep Utah's run game in check whether it's a running back carrying the ball or a quarterback. We feel we can do that with the type of players and system we have here. We're confident we can do that."

The Cougar defense will look to place Utah's offense in a continual bind by controlling the line of scrimmage to limit the run game. Utah's offensive line has shown to be a weakness, and gave up three sacks against Utah State and allowed the Aggies to harass the Ute quarterbacks. Utah State had seven quarterback hurries against Utah.

The key will be for the Cougars to put Utah in second- and third-and-long situations.

"We have to win the first-down battle and put them in a position that limits their offense even more," said Ogletree. "We can't have them continually get second-and-short and then let them dictate what they want to do. If we can get them in second-and-long, then we can do things to eat up their passer. Then it opens things up for us and we can dictate how things go on the field more. Those are a few goals that I think we can do."

The Cougars should expect to see both Utah quarterbacks come in at various times. Hays, a senior, went 12 of 26 for 154 yards against Utah State and added 15 yards on the ground. Wilson, a true freshman, completed his lone passing attempt against the Aggies for a 28-yard touchdown and rushed the ball three times for three yards.

"I watched film of the Utah State game and was watching what Utah was trying to do," said Ogletree. "I know their quarterback Jordan Wynn got hurt and Hays came in. I think Hays is a good player but can't remember what his winning record is from last year, but he has experience, and if you want to bring a backup quarterback in you want someone who's played last season. I'm sure they feel pretty comfortable with him, but it doesn't change a thing for us."

Hays played in 11 games last year and started in nine. He only averaged 132.6 yards per game last year while Utah's offense relied more heavily on the rushing attack.

"Yeah, I don't think their offense has changed that much from last year or the year before," said Ogletree. "You know, what they've done, they've had some success with. They've become more of a running team and that's an aspect of their offense that's become more of a strength. I think with a new quarterback coming in they might try and lean on that part of their offense even more. I think we have more of a spread element to our offense than they do."

Utah has a few tight ends that it likes to use. One is 6-foot-4-inch, 250-pound David Rolf, who caught two passes for 46 yards against Utah State. The other is 6-foot-4-inch, 252-pound Jake Murphy, who caught one pass for two yards against the Aggie defense. Murphy did fare much better against Northern Colorado, hauling in six catches for 79 yards and two touchdowns.

"They have a pair of big physical tight ends that are good blockers," Ogletree said. "They can also catch well and are used in their passing game, but not quite as much as we do here with our tight ends. They mostly use the tight ends to block and hang their hat more on the run game."

Utah's tight ends will face much stiffer competition when they go up against BYU linebackers Spencer Hadley and Kyle Van Noy. But what about Utah's receivers? While Murphy lead all receivers in the Northern Colorado game, wideout DeVonte Christopher had a team-high six catches against Utah State.

DeVonte comes in at 6 feet 1 inch, 200 pounds and has been Utah's primary receiver the past two years. Preston Hadley will be in charge of shutting him down.

"They have a few playmaking receivers and we can't let anything get over the top of us," said Ogletree. "We believe we have the players to run with anyone they throw at us in our secondary and [against our] linebackers. We feel we match up well there, and so we're just going to play football and see what happens."

When Brian Johnson was Utah's quarterback, the offense had a lot of spread elements. However, now that he is Utah's offensive coordinator, there isn't as much of a heavy spread element to Utah's offense.

The Cougar secondary held Washington State's air raid offense to only 229 yards passing and will be ready for Utah's downfield passing attack.

"Against Washington State we had prepared a lot for downfield throwing," said Ogletree. "That was something that we really didn't see much from our offense going against them in fall camp. So, against Washington State we really prepared more for the spread and more downfield coverage and we did a good job against that. We were able to outmatch them physically and we out-executed them and you saw what the results were."

The Cougars also held Washington State to -5 yards rushing. But against Weber State last week, BYU's defense gave up two rushing touchdowns and 115 rushing yards.

"Against Weber State, that was a game we expected to win," Ogletree said. "I don't think we executed as cleanly as we wanted to, so we have a lot of film to look at. I think the expectation of a win might be partially responsible for that. I would say our focus probably wasn't where it should have been, but as a team I think we could have focused more.

"The plays that Weber State did gash us on, they didn't do so by being more physical than us. It was more just mental errors and, like I said, probably more out of our expectation to win. So, we have a lot of film to review and take a look at to help us clean up some things for Utah."

Ogletree's comments suggest that BYU's defense might have been looking past Weber State and towards the Utah game. However, there will certainly be no looking past the Utes this Saturday.

"I think our defense will be dialed in and focused 100 percent when we play Utah," Ogletree said. "That won't be a problem. We want to leave it all on the field and are going to come at them pretty hard. We want to put a lot of heat on them and, like I said, contain the run and pressure their quarterbacks. I don't think there will be any focus issues, knowing what we can do as a defense and knowing that our next opponent is Utah."

Key Utah offensive issues

Offensive tackle Sam Brenner will have the tough task of protecting Hays' blindside against Kyle Van Noy. On the other side is right tackle Percy Taumoelau, who also struggled. He'll be facing Spencer Hadley, who recorded seven tackles and two sacks against Weber State.

The Utah run game will go as the Ute offensive line goes. An already hobbled John White will give his best effort behind an offensive line that struggled to block and protect its quarterback against the defensive front of Utah State.

Hays will likely take the reins as the starting quarterback in Brian Johnson's first year as Utah's offensive coordinator. Whether it's Hays or Wilson at quarterback, Coach Mendenhall is going to confuse and pressure them from every angle. Utah's offensive weaknesses and hampered situations favor BYU all the way around.

"I think every team has things you can exploit," said Ogletree. "We've seen some of their weaknesses and I'm sure they've seen some of ours, and I'll leave it at that. Hopefully we can expose more of theirs than they do of ours."

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