Five Keys to the Game – Utah State
1) Texas A&M Receivers Versus Utah State Defensive Backs
Utah State knows that to have any chance at all against the Texas Aggies, they must crowd the box to stop the run, put pressure on Jerrod Johnson, and take their chances with a lot of man-to-man coverage on the receivers. Expect to see Utah State bring everything but the kitchen sink to disrupt the Texas A&M offense, and specifically the passing game. Thus, it will be imperative for the outside A&M receivers to get off the line quickly, shed the contact, and quickly take advantage of the man coverage and beat this Utah State defense deep early. If Johnson and the A&M receivers can hit on a couple of big pass plays early, the Utah Aggies will be on their heels and it will be a long game for the defense.
But it doesn't stop there. The tight ends and slot receivers will need to quickly recognize blitz packages and fill voids in the flat so Johnson has some quick options to counter the blitzes. If both the outside receivers and inside targets are successful at the task at hand, many opportunities will be there for long plays and scores. On the other hand, it won't be a good day for the A&M offense if the receivers can't find these openings quickly, as the weak link to this offense is the offensive tackle position and time in the pocket is a concern.
2) Texas A&M Offensive Line Versus Utah State Blitz
Utah State has made no secret of the fact that they want to take the game to the Aggie offense and try to create big plays on defense with stacking the box and blitzing the quarterback. After all, Jerrod Johnson clearly struggled in 2008 games when the opposition applied pressure, forced him out of the pocket and into bad decisions which led to turnovers. Frankly, creating turnovers is the only realistic way that the 18-point underdog Utah State can pull off the upset. You can also bet that Utah State is well aware of the struggles at left tackle, where Danny Baker and Michael Shumard will likely platoon on Saturday. The two veterans must find a way to hold the rope and give Johnson and his receivers reasonable time to execute and take advantage of a susceptible defensive backfield that will be asked to contain some very good receivers in man coverage. You can be sure that Nolan Cromwell will help in that regard as much as possible bringing the running back over to provide additional blocking help, but in an empty backfield, the left tackle along with the rest of the line must protect its quarterback plain and simple.
3) Texas A&M Defensive Line Versus Utah State Rushing Game
Utah State is a run-oriented offense. Against Utah, the Aggies managed just 121 yards passing while completing only 38% of their 26 pass attempts. No matter how you slice it, that's not good. The Utah Aggies will do most of their damage on the ground as finished with a net 221 yards rushing. Robert Turbin proved he's dangerous against the Utes rambling 96 yards for a touchdown and finishing with 148 yards on 13 carries. The Utah State quarterback also added 68 yards with his feet. The good news for Coach Kines is that the A&M defense can do some things to take away the run given the relatively weak passing game. Thus, the A&M defensive line must neutralize the line of scrimmage and allow the linebackers and safeties to have a clear shot at making the stop in run support. If that happens, this Utah State offense should be managed pretty easily on Saturday. If their offensive line gets push and forces the linebackers and safeties to make plays consistently 5-6 yards off the line of scrimmage, then Utah State will be able to sustain long, time consuming drives and will be able to wear down a fairly thin A&M defensive line. That will make this game a nail biter.
4) Texas A&M Linebackers Versus Utah State Quarterback
Utah State's quarterback, Diondre Borel, is quick and elusive. He's not afraid to take off from the pocket and do his damage with his feet. He managed a nice 32 yard run against the Utes in the season opener so he's capable of making big plays on the run. In recent years, a quarterback like Borel would give slow A&M defenses fits, especially the linebackers. Coach Sherman and staff have worked hard to improve overall team speed, and in game one the most dramatic display of that improved reaction and speed came at the linebacker spot. That speed will be needed this week to flank Utah State's mobile quarterback. The reality of playing a run quarterback is that he'll get yards and make some plays, but the key is to limit the big gains and especially stop scrambles on third down passing plays that move the sticks. Those plays take the air out of a defense. If the A&M linebackers can use their speed and instincts to contain Borel, it will be a good day for the Texas A&M defense and a long day for the Utah State offense.
5) Texas A&M Focus Coming Out of Bye Week
Yes, the 41-6 season opening win over New Mexico was a pleasant surprise for most A&M fans, and the team played a good, clean game. After such a good performance, most teams would like to immediately go to work to build on that win and that momentum, but unfortunately the Aggies had an early bye week. Now, that can be a positive or a negative. Either the team takes that good experience and becomes even hungrier and has a productive open week of practice to smooth off the rough edges, or they get comfortable and sit on their laurels a little bit. Historically, these long layoffs have wildly different results as you see that every year during bowl season with large blowouts in many games.
In 1996, Texas A&M ironically opened the season in Utah to face BYU on national television. The Aggies squandered a large first half lead and lost a heartbreaker in Provo. Coach Slocum and the Aggies immediately went into a bye week and had 14 days to prepare for Southwest Louisiana (now Louisiana-Lafayaette). The team came out flat, committing seven turnovers and allowing the Ragin' Cajuns to secure the greatest home win in program history. I was there to see the goal posts leave the stadium and taken to downtown Lafayette for an all-night party.
As long as this Aggie team comes out focused and ready to play, they should have a relatively easy time taking advantage of Utah State on both sides of the ball. Reports from practice indicate that the team has had very crisp, spirited practices. However, game day can do strange things if a team is not mentally ready. If they allow Utah State to sustain a couple of early long drives on the ground that soaks up plenty of clock, then this game could be a lot closer than most Aggie fans want to digest at this point.
Utah State: 5 Keys To Game
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