Utah Offensive Line vs BYU Defensive Line
Heading into the season the Utah offensive line was one of the biggest question-marks for the team. Graduation and fall camp injuries forced the Utes to move players around to fill holes and kept them from creating strong cohesion as a group. As a result Utah has had to play starters with very limited experience, if any at all. In two games against very different opponents the line has surrendered four sacks and has allowed opposing lines to put a lot of pressure on quarterback Jordan Wynn. In contrast, last season the Ute offensive line allowed no sacks through its first two games and didn't give up its fourth sack until week nine against TCU. Wynn is smart and hasn't yet turned the ball over, but the offensive line will need to be a lot better if this offense is going to become more consistent.
Before the season, many in Provo believed this to be one of the best defensive lines in the country. The Cougars planned to return all three starters from their 2010 squad including dominant Nose Tackle Romney Fuga who was lost to injury early last year. Just before the season started, however, BYU learned that Defensive End Matt Putnam wasn't going to qualify academically and would be forced to the year out. This placed highly-touted, but much less-experienced, Graham Rowley into the lineup and slightly damaged what could have been a very dominant group. BYU rotates often at Nose Tackle in order to keep fresh legs on the field, but so far through two games BYU's defensive linemen have yet to get their first sack.
Utah Running Backs and Tight Ends vs BYU Linebackers
So far through two games the Ute running game has had its ups and downs. John White IV has looked great at moments and not-so-great at others. He is without question Utah's best running back out of a group that entered the season with a lot of hype but not a single start under their belts. White seems to have the most success on zone-blocking run plays. He has great vision and is very good at seeing his hole, then making one cut and running downhill. Although White fumbled on a mishandled pitch against USC, ball control does not seem to be an issue for him. His pass protection and blitz pickup are good enough to keep him in the backfield on 3rd downs. The Utah Tight Ends are all great receivers. They accounted for 10 catches in the opener against Montana State, are averaging just over 7 yards per catch, and give Wynn a great safety blanket. Pass protection between Moeai and Rogers has been good so far, but will need to be great against a very aggressive BYU linebacker corps that loves to bring pressure. Overall ,this position group for Utah is good and has played well so far, but nothing about either the Running Backs or the Tight Ends really stands out.
This may be the fastest, most aggressive set of linebackers the Cougars have ever had. They really get after the run and have the ability to cause a lot of problems for offenses in the pass game as well. In the season opener against Ole Miss, Outside Linebacker Kyle Van Noy ran down the quarterback, causing a fumble, which he recovered in the end zone for the game-winning touchdown. Although the BYU linebackers haven't recorded a sack this year, they have constantly been in the opposing teams' backfield disrupting plays and hurrying the quarterback. They are equally strong against the run and the pass and are a hard group to exploit. It should be noted that starter Brandon Ogletree suffered a mild concussion in the season opener and sat out of the game against Texas as a precaution . He should be cleared to play this weekend against Utah, but if he misses time this group is deep enough to not miss a beat.
Utah Quarterback and Wide Receivers vs BYU Corners and Safeties
Jordan Wynn was 15/23 for just 101 yards in the opener against Montana State and drew criticism from both fans and coaches. Head Coach Kyle Whittingham called his performance ‘abysmal'. He settled too much for short passes and was inaccurate when attempting to throw the ball downfield. He looked better against a much stronger defense last weekend at USC, but still struggled to complete 50% of his passes while facing constant pressure. Wynn improved from week one to week two but will need to take yet another step forward if he wants to win on the road against BYU. The Utah Wide Receivers also took a step forward from week one to two. They went from catching just four passes in the opener to catching a combined 20 passes against USC. They got open, made tough catches, and showed they have both speed and play-making ability. The speed of this receiver group will cause problems for defenses that choose to match linebackers up on the Utah wideouts. They are a big-play threat when their quarterback can get them the ball; the big question is CAN their quarterback get them the ball?
Brigham Young had to find replacements at both Corner and Safety this offseason. Corby Eason and Preston Hadley start at Cornerback for BYU and have done an above-average job in coverage so far. Though a little undersized (Eason is just 5'8") the Cougars have not given up a passing touchdown yet this year. Safeties Travis Uale and Daniel Sorenson are both first-time starters and have done a good job through the first two games. Last week against Texas both Uale and Sorenson came away with an interception. Coach Bronco Mendenhall loves to bring pressure from the secondary, so expect to see Corby Eason come on corner-blitzes more than once in this game. The defensive backfield has also fed off of the pressure and aggressive play of the linebackers. Top-end speed and athleticism may be the biggest knock on this secondary, but neither have seemed to be an issue through the first two weeks.
Utah Defensive Line vs BYU Offensive Line
The Ute defensive line has performed up to expectations through the first two games of the season. They controlled the line of scrimmage against Montana State and kept the running game in check all night. Against USC's bigger, better offensive line the Utes weren't able to dominate in quite the same manner, but were still able to create pressure and cause a few problems. The biggest issue this defensive line currently has is the lack of ability to create a consistent pass rush. As dominant as they can be against the run, they are almost the opposite against the pass. The defensive line only accounts for one of the three total team sacks this season. The depth of the line needs to be mentioned as one of its strengths, and through two games all defensive linemen are healthy.
It seems like every year BYU's offensive line has a great combination of size, ability, and experience, and this year is no different. These guys are big, averaging over 306 pounds across the line. They're experienced too, with their youngest starter a sophomore. They haven't, however, been as dominant as you expect from a BYU offensive line. Through two games they have already given up two sacks and their run game has struggled to gain ground in each. In 54 attempts ,the Cougars have averaged less than 2.5 yards per carry. They have also failed to gain 100 yards in each of their first two games as their size hasn't translated into dominance. This line will definitely get better as the season goes on but they certainly have some work to do.
Utah Linebackers vs BYU Running Backs and Tight Ends
Chaz Walker, Matt Martinez, and Brian Blechen, Utah's three starting linebackers, are three of the top five tacklers through the first two games. Chaz finished the season as the teams' top tackler in 2010 and has picked up where he left off. He doesn't play with a lot of flash but he always seems to be around the ball, especially against the run. Matt Martinez is very similar. He finished second in tackles behind Walker last year and is once again near the top. Blechen was moved from safety where he excelled in 2010 and the move seems to be paying off. He's the best linebacker in pass coverage and leads the team with two interceptions. The biggest weakness of this group is their ability to defend against the pass because of their lack of speed. Blechen has made a small difference in this area, but teams who run a lot of play action out of the backfield or throw quick routes to the flats can consistently exploit this group.
With starter J.J. DiLuigi returning, along with last year's backups Bryan Kariya and Joshua ‘Juice' Quezada the Cougars believed they had something special returning at running back. They have failed to live up to expectations though combining for just 134 total rushing yards through two games. Against Texas the Cougars ran for just 43 yards on 23 attempts for an average of only 1.9 yards per carry. Josh Quezada has been hampered by migraine headaches in each of the first two games limiting his carries and once again will likely see limited action against the Utes. The BYU Tight End group is deep once again. They are a staple of the BYU offense and could cause pass-coverage problems for the Utah linebackers. In two games this year the Cougars have kept their tight ends near the line of scrimmage and have chosen to throw shorter pass routes over the middle and near the sideline rather than running them down the field.
Utah Corners and Safeties vs BYU Quarterback and Wide Receivers
Corner Ryan Lacy intercepted USC Quarterback Matt Barkley giving him the first interception of the season for this very inexperienced defensive backfield. None of the four starters for the Utes had started a game in their careers before 2011, so there were a lot of questions at the beginning of the year. Against Montana State they were good, but did nothing extraordinary. A week later, against a much better quarterback and group of receivers, the defensive backs shined. Lacy's interception was the highlight as the Corners and Safeties kept one of the best QB/WR combo's in check. In week one Barkley was able to complete 34 passes for 304 yards and 3 touchdowns. Wide Receiver Robert Woods caught a school record 17 of those passes for 177 yards. Against Utah, however, Barkley completed 20 passes and tossed just 1 touchdown while also throwing 1 interception. Inexperience may have been an issue early on, but this group seems to have caught on just fine.
Last week against Texas, BYU Quarterback Jake Heaps tossed his second interception of the game, and third of the season, late in the fourth quarter which helped preserve a one-point Longhorn victory over the Cougars. Heaps came in to the year with very high expectations. He has been able to move the Cougar offense down the field fairly easily at times but has struggled getting his team into the end zone. The BYU Wide Receivers have certainly not shown the explosiveness fans were hoping for. Their inability to get open downfield has forced Heaps to settle for shorter pass options and has kept the BYU offense from breaking out. There is a silver lining though. Highly touted Wide Receiver Ross Apo has been a real bright spot for the receiving corps. He has both of Heaps' touchdown passes this the season and he seems to be the go-to guy for Heaps right now. He is the only receiver consistently making plays for BYU. Heaps likes to spread the ball around and he has a lot of options to throw to, but the lack of big-play ability is really holding this group back.
On The Field Matchups: Utah vs BYU
Ute Zone Top Stories
Utes make big impression on Texas wideoutAfter visiting Salt Lake City, three-star wide receiver Tyquez Hampton took some time to talk to UteZone about his thoughts on the Utes.
Ute ZoneYesterday at 4:18 PM
Shah, Jr. relishes the family legacyFor linebacker Sharrieff Shah, Jr., the opportunity to carry on a legacy was too much to pass up.
Ute ZoneMonday at 11:41 PM
Film Room: Utah vs. USCUteZone breaks down the biggest plays in Utah's win over USC.
Ute ZoneMonday at 11:16 PM
UteZone Roundtable: 9/25The UteZone staff talks about Utah's big win over USC, what we've seen from the Utes so far this year and what to expect against Cal.
Ute ZoneSunday at 8:50 PM
Position Grades: Utah vs. USCSteve Bartle grades each position group following Utah's big 31-27 win over USC.
Ute ZoneSaturday at 1:09 AM