BYU vs. Utah: The Breakdown

It is the most highly anticipated game of the year and will certainly be dissected and scrutinized more than any game for either team. The G-man gives his pre-game analysis of how each position stacks up and predicts what will happen in tomorrow's game between the Cougars and the Utes.

Quarterback:

Utah: Brett Ratliff is not the same quarterback that Cougar fans saw end last season with two outstanding performances. Ratliff has been good in a few games, bad in others, and quite ordinary in most of Utah's outings. Ratliff is averaging just under 200 yards passing per game while accounting for 19 touchdown passes to the tune of a 56.9-percent completion percentage with a 129.6 pass efficiency rating.

BYU: John Beck, meanwhile, has a 173.8 pass efficiency rating, 26 touchdowns, a 71% completion percentage, and a 313.5 yards per game average, and he did most of that in the first three quarters. Beck is one of the top five quarterbacks in the country.

Conclusion: Statistics do not lie. Beck is clearly the better quarterback going into Saturday's game. He has simply been playing at a different level this year, while Ratliff has seemingly regressed in the last 12 months.

Edge: BYU

Running Back:

Utah: Utah does not have a running back who averages more than 50 yards per game. Darryl Poston comes closest at 48.3 yards per game with a 4.0 yards per carry average. Quarterback Brett Ratliff is the second leading rusher on the team, and a defensive back has become Utah's short-yardage specialist.

BYU: Curtis Brown became BYU's all-time leading rusher last game. He is having a very productive season despite sharing the carries with Fui Vakapuna and Manase Tonga. On top of his 77 yards rushing per game, Brown is also BYU's leading receiver. Vakapuna's 43.6 yards per game average is just below the average of Utah's leading rusher.

Conclusion: BYU's running backs are primary play-makers for their offense, but Utah's RBs give way to a defensive back and other positions during critical third down situations. Utah has not been able to mount a consistent running attack all season long.

Edge: BYU

Wide Receivers:

Utah: The Utes have a solid group of wide receivers led by Derrek Richards, who has hauled in 45 passes and six touchdowns this year. Brian Hernandez is second with 37 catches and one touchdown in just nine games this year. Brent Casteel is Utah's big-play threat. He has 33 catches for seven touchdowns. Brandon Godfrey, Marquis Wilson and Freddie Brown will also get into the rotation.

BYU: Like the Utes, BYU will rotate their receivers throughout the game. While Utah rotates six, BYU will stay with their effective four-man rotation of Michael Reed, Zac Collie, McKay Jacobson and Matt Allen. Like Utah's group, BYU's receivers are very solid and have been consistent performers all year long. None of the WRs have more than 25 catches, but none of them have less than 21 heading into Saturday's matchup.

Conclusion: Utah's passing game is almost entirely centered around getting the ball to their wideouts. BYU will look to its tight ends and running backs far more often. Both units are similar, and BYU's receivers would likely put up at least the same numbers as those of Utah if they saw the same number of passes come their way.

Edge: Push

Tight Ends/Inside Receivers:

Utah: The Utes use their H-back almost exclusively for blocking. Utah's primary H-back/tight end is Matt Sims, who has only 4 catches the entire year.

BYU: Jonny Harline is BYU's second-leading receiver. Opposing defensive coordinators seem to game plan more for Harline than any other BYU receiver. Daniel Coats has been a very productive blocker and will catch one or two passes per game.

Conclusion: The tight ends and inside receivers are primary options in BYU's offense while Utah rarely uses theirs for anything more than blocking.

Edge: BYU

Offensive Line:

Utah: The Utes have a solid offensive line made up of a bunch of juniors and seniors. They will be led by Tavo Tupola who is arguably the best offensive tackle in the conference since Eddie Keele's season was cut short. The offensive line has been unable to mount a consistent and productive running game in large part due to Utah's stock of subpar running backs, but they have proved efficient in pass protection, allowing only 11 sacks all season.

BYU: The Cougar offensive front has been quietly consistent and productive throughout the season. The Cougars do not amass their offensive statistics without a productive offensive front. They have allowed just 13 sacks while helping account for almost 150 yards rushing per game.

Conclusion: Both units have proven to be effective all year. Utah's OL has not put up big rushing numbers, but if they had a back like Brown or Vakapuna running behind them, it seems like the Ute O-line would open the holes for them. Neither unit allows their quarterback to be sacked with any of regularity.

Edge: Utah

Defensive Line:

Utah: The Utes will feature Martell Burnett at one of the defensive end positions in their 4-3 base system. Burnett is the Ute's second-leading tackler and top sack-man on the defensive line with 36 and 5.5 respectively. It is a solid front that has given up only 112 yards on the ground per game while helping account for 22 sacks on the year.

BYU: The Cougar front three have proven to be solid all season long, although they have not accounted for many sacks and individual tackles because they are primarily used to take up blocks so the Cougar linebackers can run free. The BYU D-line has given up 117 yards rushing per game while helping account for 17 sacks.

Conclusion: Utah's DLs make more plays in their system although both units have given up very similar numbers. Utah's defense blitzes far more often than BYU's, perhaps leading to better sack numbers. It is hard to give the distinctive edge to any unit here.

Edge: Push

Linebackers:

Utah: No unit on Utah's defense has struggled more than their linebackers. It is a unit that was bitten by injuries early in the year and has problems making plays in the open field. Joe Jionanni is the leader of the group. The middle linebacker is the Ute's second-leading tackler with 82.

BYU: The Cougars feature the best linebackers in the conference and the best individual linebacker in Cameron Jensen.

Conclusion: The Cougar linebackers have proven to be the best in the conference, while Utah's LBs have consistently missed plays throughout the year.

Edge: BYU

Secondary:

Utah: Eric Weddle of course headlines Utah's group. He has proven to be a much more effective safety, but he was forced to switch to cornerback due to lack of depth caused by injury to that position. The secondary was billed as the strength of Utah's team entering the season, but they have been a bit disappointing throughout the year. Duning conference play, they gave up more passing yards than any other MWC secondary, and that is before they played the league's best passing offense.

BYU: BYU's secondary has without question been the most improved unit on the team and the most pleasant surprise for Cougar fans. The group has given up only 193.7 yards per game and has proven to be consistent play-makers throughout the year.

Conclusion: Again, the units have been very similar statistically throughout the year, and while it was unthinkable to give the edge to BYU heading into the season, the Cougars' numbers have played out better than Utah's against conference opponents.

Edge: BYU

Predictions:

1. Utah will throw the kitchen sink at the Cougars

As the clearly inferior team heading into the game for the second year in a row, Kyle Whittingham and his staff are likely to take the same approach as they did last year. That means throwing in a bevy of uncommon formations and plays.

Unlike last year, the Utes have already shown much of their hand in previous games, including radical defensive formations, multiple reverses on offense, and short-yardage plays that call for a direct snap to Weddle, which has proven to be Utah's most consistent third-and-short play call.

2. BYU will not show much new stuff to the Utes

If it ain't broke, why fix it? Offensively and defensively, the Cougars have proven more effective than Utah in just about every aspect of the game heading into tomorrow's match-up. Meanwhile, the coaches and players have preached consistency throughout the year. Look for BYU to do what they do best without many kinks or changeups.

3. BYU will win the special teams battle

While most are focusing on the offensive and defensive comparisons, it is the Cougar special teams units that will give BYU a distinct edge in tomorrow's game. Look for BYU to win the return battles to the tune of better field position throughout the game.

4. Curtis Brown will have a monster game

Look for Curtis Brown to rush for over 100 yards and come close to that total in receiving yards. The biggest mismatch the Cougar have is in the flat against Utah's woeful linebackers. Look for offensive coordinator Robert Anae to exploit Utah's LBs in the flat often in this game. Brown versus Utah's linebackers in the open flat will prove to be effective throughout the game.

5. Utah will score some points

The Ute offense will no doubt play its best game of the year and throw kinks at BYU that will lead to more yards than they usually get and more yards that BYU's defense has been giving up. New Mexico's offense showed how to move the ball on BYU, and Andy Ludwig will surely learn from that game.

6. BYU will score more than 40 points

The Cougar offense has been peaking with more play-makers popping up in every game and the regular contributors maintaining their play. The offense is rolling and will roll again this Saturday against a very average Ute defense.

Top Three

BYU's top three offensive performers other than John Beck will be Curtis Brown, McKay Jacobson and Nathan Meikle

Final Score: BYU 45, Utah 21


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