The Utes have been effective in defending against the run during most games this year. They operate out of a man-heavy system from a 4-3 base alignment. The Utes give up an average of 94.9 yards rushing per game.
Utah's strength defensively comes from its overall team speed at defensive end and at linebacker. At end, the Utes will field two very good ones in Paul Kruger and Koa Misi. At linebacker, Stevenson Sylvester and Mike Wright will play the part as primary run stuffers.
Utah is light up the middle, where they start Greg Newman and Derrick Shelby. Backing up Newman and Shelby is a lot of beef, however, in the form of Kenape Eliapo and Sealver Siliga, who both weigh in at well over 300 pounds.
The Cougar running attack has been merely adequate in most games this season. Harvey Unga is running well and Fui Vakapuna has come on here of late as a real threat out of the backfield when running the football.
Prognosis: With both teams returning much of their fronts intact from a season ago, one could well prescribe a similar outcome in the running attack to we saw last year. Last year the Cougar offensive front was able to handle the Ute defensive front during most running plays.
Should offensive coordinator Robert Anae prove patient with the run game, then the Cougars should be able to run for more than 100 yards against the Utes. The Cougar offensive front seems to play to the level of its competition during most games, and given their overall stature and tendencies fans, can expect the Cougar front five to push around the Ute front seven a bit to the tune of a successful running attack.
Key Matchup: Ray Feinga, Travis Bright and Dallas Reynolds vs. the Ute interior line, which can be exploited by a physical running attack.
What I'll be Watching: I'll be watching to see how committed Anae is to the run. For the Cougars to be successful in this game, they need to run the ball successfully, and the matchups dictate that the Cougar should be able to do just that against Utah. Should Anae abandon the running game early like he did against TCU, it will spell trouble for the Cougars.
BYU pass offense vs. Utah
The Utes are very good at defending the pass with an experienced secondary and good pass rushers. They return both starting cornerbacks from a year ago in Bryce McCain and Sean Smith. At safety they return the very athletic Robert Johnson and Joe Dale. R.J. Stanford will sub in frequently as the team's primary nickelback.
Paul Kruger is the one to watch with the Ute pass rush, as he's one of the better pass rushers in the country. Koa Misi can provide an effective pass rush on the other side, which has been the side that has given the Cougar pass protection the most trouble here of late.
While the Cougar offensive line has seen good success throughout the year in pass blocking, they were exploited a bit by Air Force last week. Should the Cougars hope to win Saturday's game, they'll have to do better with pass protection to cut down on turnovers and other miscues.
Prognosis: The Cougar offensive staff spent a large part of the offseason looking for ways to perform better against athletic and aggressive man-heavy defensive teams. You saw the results of this against UCLA, when the Cougar offense romped.
It's no secret that Utah is very similar defensively to UCLA, and could fans see similar results against the Utes to what they saw against UCLA this Saturday? Probably not, but it does indicate the staff has figured some things out that can exploit the Ute's aggressive man-heavy defensive system with. Look for Max Hall and company to put up some good stats come Saturday.
Key Matchup: David Oswald vs. Koa Misi
What I'll be Watching: There are a lot of good matchups here, but I'll be focusing squarely on how Utah chooses to defend Dennis Pitta and Austin Collie. Lately teams have focused on shutting down Pitta first, which has led to a lot of downfield opportunities for Collie, who is currently playing as well as any wide receiver in the country.
Utah has a lot of confidence in Sean Smith and their other corners. Last year Smith was used to shut down Pitta, which he was able to do well. Smith is a very physical corner who plays more like a safety with his coverage. Should Utah choose to use Smith on Pitta and single-cover Collie, then fans can expect a huge game from Collie.
The Cougar passing game will also rise and fall with how effective they are in protecting Max Hall. I like Matt Reynolds' matchup against Kruger. While Kruger is a load, I feel that Reynolds should be able to handle him, as he's handled every end he's gone against so far this season. Fans need to worry much more about David Oswald defending against Koa Misi on the other side of the line.
BYU run defense vs. Utah
Utah will come at defenses from a wide variety of formations and in an even wider variety of plays when they run the football. They'll run straight at a defense from the I-formation, direct snap it to Matt Asiata, spreading a defense out, or use a ton of misdirection on reverses and double reverses. The uncommon running play is very much common within the Ute offensive system.
Their primary running backs will be Matt Asiata and Darrell Mack. Both players are accomplished runners who have been effective all year. BYU will also have to watch out for Corbin Louks, who subs in occasionally at quarterback and it used primarily to run the football.
The Cougars had their moments last week against Air Force, but were again caught too many times lacking in containment on the edges. Given Utah's propensity to test a defense's containment, the Cougars will have to prove better this week in order to successfully defend Utah's running attack.
Prognosis: Utah has the goods to really chew up some yardage against the Cougars. While the defensive line of BYU is fine, it's the linebackers that will have to step up their game in order to hold the Utes in check.
The Cougars did very well with keeping containment on the Utes a year ago, but that was primarily due to Bryan Kehl and David Nixon being so effective as the two outside linebackers. Kehl is gone now and the onus will be on Coleby Clawson to keep containment and limit Utah's opportunities outside and on the edges.
Inside, I really like what I've seen from Russell Tialavea here recently, as he's been defending against the run much better. I also like how Matt Ah You stepped up against Air Force, and hopefully that continues this week against the Utes.
Key Matchup: Coleby Clawson vs. misdirection
What I'll be Watching: BYU needs to shut down Utah's gadget plays early. I'll be watching for how disciplined BYU's front will be, and if they stop Utah's misdirection and direct snaps to Asiata and Louks early, then it should limit Utah's effectiveness considerably in the run game.
BYU pass defense vs. Utah
Utah's offense has a good balance of running and throwing the football. Through the air the Utes are averaging about 230 yards gained per game. Brian Johnson is experienced and has a very good grasp on the Ute offense.
His primary receivers will be Bradon Godfrey, Brent Casteel and Freddie Brown, among others. The Ute receivers are very much like their quarterback in that they're experienced and very able to make plays when they need to.
The Cougar pass defense has been improving since the TCU game. Brandon Howard in particular has really seen improvements, but he and his teammates will have their work cut out for them against Utah. Not having Scott Johnson in the lineup certainly hurts, but the team will try to compensate with Brandon Bradley taking his spot.
Prognosis: I like how BYU has taken away the deep pass in recent games, and look for that to continue against Utah. Utah uses short drops and attacks the flats and the middle, which is the best way to beat BYU's 3-4 zone-heavy base defensive system. Should Utah offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig prove patient in spreading the Cougars out and then attacking the flats, then the Ute offense should see some good success.
Key Matchup: Jan Jorgensen vs. Zane Beadles
What I'll be Watching: Look for the Cougars to be a bit more aggressive with their overall defensive scheme in this game. It's well known that Brian Johnson doesn't do well when pressured, and look for more pressure to be applied come Saturday.
I'll also be watching to see how the Cougar corners defend the Ute wide receivers off the line of scrimmage. Should they sit back, then Utah's quick-hitting passes could cause a lot of problems. Bradley is someone that can jam receivers very effectively while throwing them off their routes, and we'll see if his skills here are utilized come Saturday.
Conclusion: Look for a high scoring game come Saturday, as both offenses look to match up well against the opposing defenses. Both quarterbacks have proven very capable in two-minute drill situations, which may make this game go down to the last second. Hey, it's a Utah vs. BYU game, so isn't that what fans can expect anyway?
Final Score Prediction: BYU 31, Utah 28