Cougars to face talented Aggie defenders

Against an average Middle Tennessee defense, quarterback Taysom Hill completed 14 of 19 passes with one interception while leading the team in rushing yards (165). The BYU offense will have to be more effective against the Aggies this Friday if they want to leave Romney Stadium with a victory.

The strength of Utah State's defense is the secondary. Against USC, the Aggie secondary didn't back off one bit. Instead they played a man-press coverage, feeling their cornerbacks and safeties could match up with USC's receivers. The Aggies lost to USC on the road by only three points.

"We've looked at that USC game and we saw how Utah State defended their offense," said Coach Beck. "They have a good defense and two really talented cornerbacks that cover really, really well. They're two of the better guys we've seen."

Those two cornerbacks are 6-foot, 175-pound senior Tay Glover-Wright and 5-foot-10-inch, 186-pound senior Nevin Lawson. Both Glover-Wright and Lawson have been given the charge to play strictly man-press coverage this season, and that includes against standout Trojan receiver Marquise Lee.

"They've been able to run against everybody they've played," said Coach Beck. "They just play a regular man coverage on their guys and haven't really done anything special but played their normal game. They also have two solid safeties as well and are one of the better secondaries we've seen so far."

USC quarterback Cody Kessler completed 13 of 27 passes for only 164 yards. The Trojans only totaled 282 yards of offense, with 118 of that coming on the ground. Last week the San Jose Spartans fared much better against USU (336 passing yards), but the coverage scheme was still the same. BYU's offense shouldn't expect anything different than man-press coverage.

"They didn't change anything up, and so we're expecting them to do what they've always done in the past and that's play man-press coverage," Coach Beck said. "They play very physical and feel they have the type of talent to match up with anyone. It's going to be a challenge."

The good news is that after being suspended last week, Cody Hoffman returns to the offense as someone Taysom Hill trusts and goes to often. Meanwhile, Mitch Mathews and Ross Apo stepped up last week for a combined seven catches for 85 yards. If BYU's passing game is to be successful, Hill will have to be more on time with his passes than he's been in previous games. The coverage will be tighter, but with man-coverage there is also great opportunity for large gains if the execution is spot on.

"What they kind of do is man you up and stick that extra guy in the box to stop the run and have a guy in the box for the quarterback as well," Coach Beck said. "That's kind of what we're expecting. We're expecting them to do against us what they did against USC: man our guys up in a one-on-one situation and stop the run while trying to put pressure on the quarterback. It's aggressive play and that's what we're getting ready for."

If the chemistry between Hill and the receivers takes a step back, the offense could be in a lot of trouble. Utah calculated that BYU's passing game wasn't as developed as its ground game and stacked the box at times with seven and even eight guys, begging BYU to pass. Utah State will more than likely do the same, but with true man-press coverage, whereas Utah went to a man-zone coverage.

"What Utah did was interesting and we weren't expecting that," said Coach Beck. "If you go back and watch the Oregon State game, they have a really good receiver and Utah played man-press against them. But with us they backed off. It's in the back of our minds that Utah State could do something similar as well, but at the same time I think they have a little more confidence in their guys to cover in the man-press."

More than likely the reason Utah backed off is due to BYU's size at receiver, electing to keep everything in front of them while they stacked the box to contain Hill, Jamaal Williams and Paul Lasike in the run game. If Utah State goes to a similar game plan, the Cougar offensive line is going to have to provide time for Hill to pass.

"It's going to place more on our shoulders to get a good push in the run game and provide more time for Taysom to throw the ball," said Brock Stringham. "It's all on us. If we can get a good push to let the running backs get good yardage in the run game, we should be fine, because we think Utah State is going to play man-coverage on the outside. If we can open up holes in the run game and get into the second tier of their defense, then I think we'll be fine. If we struggle to do that and can't give Tayson enough time to throw the ball, it's going to be a long game. Like I said, it's all on us."

What BYU's offensive line will see is both a four- and three-man front, much like BYU's defense utilizes. Probably one of the better linemen in the Aggie trenches is 6-foot-5-inch, 275-pound junior defensive end B.J. Larsen. At nose guard, 6-foot-3-inch, 278-pound senior A.J. Pataiali'i anchors the defense. At the other defensive end position is 6-foot-3-inch, 278-pound senior Connor Williams.

"Up front they do a little bit of everything," Coach Beck said. "They'll play an even and odd front and will go back and forth with that and try and mix it up with their blitzes."

"They're tough man and they play very, very hard on defense," said Coach Atuaia. "Their defensive linemen are really good and their linebackers are good. It's going to be a tough test to match their intensity with what we're going to do."

The tendency of the Aggie defensive front is for the defensive linemen to play a two-gap, much like BYU does, and allow its linebackers to roam side to side to make the play.

"It's different than what Utah did when they stacked the box," said Stringham. "When Utah stacked the box, their linemen rushed specific gaps and used their linebackers to come up and fill the holes. Utah State plays a two-gap while still coming at you to make a play in the backfield. Their linebackers mostly just scrap along the line towards the play, so we have to be strong up front and make sure we can open up holes so our backs can get into the second tier of their defense. If we can do that, then I think we can win big."

"They do a good job of always keeping their safety or nickel guy in coverage and letting the linebackers just be able to play the run and be physical and sound in their gaps and assignments," said Coach Beck. "So, yeah, they're well coached, you know, good schemes, and it will be a challenge for us."

The return of Williams and Hoffman will definitely help is all facets of the offense. If BYU is to beat the man-press coverage of Utah State, the offensive line will need to open up holes for Williams, Lasike, Michael Alisa and Algernon Brown while giving Hill and his receivers time to beat the coverage.

"It's huge," said Hill about having Williams and Hoffman back this week. "Jamaal is a guy that a defense has to prepare for. It's the same thing for Cody. You know, even if we're not getting them the ball regularly, defenses have to account for them, so that's really big. So, it's good to have them back. At the same time I was really impressed with the way Ross played, with the way Mitch played, and those guys stepped up. I expect those guys to continue to do those things."

"We have to give Taysom time to throw the ball," said Stringham. "Like I said, at the same time we have to win the game up front. If we can't establish the run, it's going to make things more difficult for Taysom because it won't open up the passing game. So, we have to do our job and play physical. It's going to be a challenge because we think they're going to try and stop the run up front and force us to pass the ball successfully against their man-press coverage. It should be interesting to see how it all plays out."

Brock Stringham audio

The offensive line has had its ups and down this season. With De'Ondre Wesley being injured and with Stringham not 100 percent healthy, there is a lot of uncertainty about what the offensive line will look come kickoff.

In the audio below, Stringham talks more about the Aggie defense, the status of BYU's offensive line, and more.

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