Utah at BYU - Game Preview

The Utah Utes travel to Provo to take on BYU in the Holy War.

Facts and Factors:
Utah (1-1, 0-1 Pac-12) plays Brigham Young (1-1) on Saturday, Sept. 17 in Provo, Utah, in a nationally-televised ESPN2 game. The Kick off is set for 7:15 p.m. MT in LaVell Edwards Stadium. Radio is ESPN700 AM (espn700sports.com).

Utah leads the state's second longest rivalry series 54-34-4 over rival BYU, although the Cougars don't recognize six games (split equally 3-3) when it was known as the BY Academy.

Saturday's game marks the first time in 113 years that Utah and BYU will play as non-conference opponents. Utah is in their inaugural season as members of the PAC-12 Conference, while BYU is in their inaugural season as an Independent football school. Their last non-conference matchup was on Nov. 24, 1898 (a 5-0 Utah win over BY Academy). The two universities did not play again until 1922 as members of the Rocky Mountain Conference.

Playing in September will feel a bit strange for both schools, as the annual rivalry game has historically been played in mid-November. This is only the second September game played between the two schools, with the other falling on Sept. 27, 1958 (a 14-7 BYU win).

Utah has won six of the last nine games against BYU (2-2 in Provo). BYU will be making their home debut against Utah after opening the season on the road at Mississippi and at Texas.

Two rivalry trophies are at stake in Saturday's game: the Deseret Duel and the Beehive Boot. Both teams have won the Deseret Duel trophy twice in its four-year history, while Utah has taken possession of the Beehive Boot 11 times and BYU 22 times in the boot's 40-year history. Utah State, which won the Beehive Boot by a media vote over Utah last year (both teams beat BYU but did not play each other), has claimed the boot seven times.

When Utah has the ball:
Utah's offense enters week 3 with an average of just 20.5 points per game. While this number is far from intimidating, there are strides being made in the implementation of Norm Chow's new offensive system. The Utes have featured a balanced attack (48% Run/52% Pass) through the first 2 weeks of the season. Utah's offense has averaged a pedestrian 306 yards per game in 2011, but have been excellent this season when reaching the red zone, averaging 6.3 points per trip to the red zone in 6 trips.

On the opposite side of the ball, BYU will showcase their stingy defense that has allowed just 15 points per game to opponents in 2011 while giving up less than 250 yards per game. The Cougars will play in a 3-4 defensive system, where they will rely heavily on their linebackers to provide both pass rush, run support, and pass coverage. BYU's secondary will play off the ball, allowing underneath passes, without giving up the big play. When opposing offenses make a mistake or force the issue, BYU's defense is eagerly awaiting to capitalize.

At quarterback, Utah's Jordan Wynn will present the biggest challenge the Cougar defense has seen this season. While Wynn may not scare BYU with the deep ball, he has played well against BYU in the past, particular late in the game. On the season, Wynn has completed 55% of his passes, with 3 TDs and 0 INT. He'll likely continue to look to throw the ball to the outside more often than downfield. Wynn's surgically repaired shoulder may be healthy, but it is far from strong. In order to effectively stretch the defense, he will need time from his offensive line to plant his feet, and use his whole body to throw the ball. BYU will look to pressure Wynn, forcing him to throw from off-balance positions and from the front of the pocket with hands in his face. While BYU's Defensive Line isn't intended to generate loads of pass rush, Wynn will need to keep an eye on OLBs Jordan Pendleton and Kyle Van Noy.

Junior RB John White (103 rushing yards per game, 3 Total TDs) has accounted for 76% of Utah's rushing yards, and will continue to carry the bulk of the responsibility for Utah's run game. White's production has been a pleasant surprise for Ute fans on the season, and considering the less-than-impressive blocking in front of him, His 5.3 average yards per carry is tremendous. Given BYU's defensive 3-4 front, White should be able to reach the second level where he'd like to face 1-on-1 tackling attempts from BYU's talented LBs and hard hitting safeties. If White can break a couple of nice runs, it may force BYU's secondary to come closer to the line of scrimmage, and in turn, open up the passing game.

On the Offensive Line, it is a story of two halves for the Utes. On the right side, OT Tony Bergstrom, OG Sam Brenner, and C Tevita Stevens have been quite good for the Utes. On the left side of the Utah Offensive Line, things haven't been quite as smooth. OT John Cullen was expected to be a pillar that Utah could rely on, but against USC was the unit's weakest link. Next to Cullen is Junior College transfer Miles Mason. Mason started week 1 at Left Tackle in place of the injured Cullen, and slid down to Left Guard in week 2 after outplaying backup Vyncent Jones. Against BYU's large and strong defensive line, Utah's O-Line absolutely needs to get some push at the line of scrimmage. If BYU is able to hold their ground, or if BYU's DLinemen are able to occupy 2 blockers (thus letting their linebackers roam free), then Utah will struggle to run the ball all night.

On the outside, the young duo of Devonte Christopher and Dres Anderson exploded in week 2 for a combined for 17 catches, 213 yards and a touchdown. Christopher is the leader of the group, and is averaging 73.5 yards per game and 2 TDs. Luke Matthews got dinged up at USC, but should be available Saturday. If Matthews can't play, Griff McNabb will step in. At Tight End, Utah has a capable pair in Dallin Rogers and Kendrick Moeai. Through 2 games, the TEs have 11 catches. BYU doesn't have the athletes necessary to keep up with the Utes, but they know it. The cougars will sit back all night, letting Utah throw the ball underneath and hoping for a mistake. Utah will need to remain patient and methodical against BYU's secondary. If Utah does that, it should be a nice night for Utah's receivers.


When BYU has the ball:
BYU returns to the friendly confines of Lavelle Edwards Stadium after visiting both SEC and Big 12 country in consecutive weeks. In the first 2 games of 2011, BYU has averaged 15 points per game, with only 275 yards of offense and 3 turnovers. BYU has moved the ball well at times, but has a tendency to become a bit predictable at times. The cougars have produced only 23 points in 6 trips to the red zone (3.8 average). BYU ranks 97th in the nation in total offense, and 90th in total scoring. However, this is a young BYU team that will play better at home than on the road.

On the other side of the ball, Utah will bring a variety of defenses to Saturday's game, hoping to confuse BYU's young skill position players. Utah's defense has allowed just 16.5 points per game, and have forced 5 turnovers on the season (3 INT, 2 Fumbles). As a whole, the Ute defense is allowing just 337 yards per contest, with an average of 7.3 yards per pass attempt, and an average of 3.3 yards per rush attempt.

At Quarterback for BYU will be the extremely talented, yet extremely inconsistent sophomore Jake Heaps. It's no secret that Heaps was arguably the most highly recruited QB in America out of high school with his extremely strong arm and ability to make every throw in the book. Heaps has completed 61% of his passes, with 2 TDs (both to Apo) and 3 INTs. At times, Heaps will still try to force a ball into a gap that he should never have attempted.

BYU will feature Senior J.J. DiLuigi (5'9, 185) at Running Back, with a steady dose of Senior Brian Kariya and Sophomore Joshua Quezada. Kariya and Quezada are better suited to gain yards after contact, while Diluigi is better at avoiding contact. The cougar run game has been the biggest disappointment on BYU's offense thus far into the season. As a group, the cougars have ran for a combined 78 yards per game, led by Diluigi's 3.7 yards per rush average.

Despite a slight setback against USC, Utah's run defense will be one of the stiffest tests BYU will face all season. Star Lotulelei will be critical in occupying blockers off of BYU's massive offensive line. If James Aiono and Dave Kruger can step in and play at a high level as well, then Utah's linebackers will be much more affective in stopping the run. However, the Utes will need a better effort on Saturday than they got at USC. If BYU is able to get blockers into Utah's linebackers, the Utes will struggle to stop the run, and in turn will struggle to stop the Cougars.

On the Offensive Line, BYU might be the largest group Utah faces in 2011. The Cougar offensive line averages 6'5 and 309 lbs. While Utah's Defensive Line is considered very large as a group, BYU's size advantage will be a factor. Utah's pass rush will need to be supplemented by frequent stunting and blitzing. BYU's Offensive Line may consist of 4 future NFL players. Senior OL Matt Reynolds (6'6, 305) will be a first day NFL draft pick,

At Wide Receiver, BYU features a very young duo in Freshman Ross Apo (6'3, 206) and Sophomore Cody Hoffman (6'4, 208). Hoffman is a big target, and led BYU in receptions and tied for 1st in TD catches in 2010. Thus far in 2011, Hoffman has only 3 catches for 20 yards. Apo on the other hand has lived up to every bit of expectation placed on his shoulders. The freshman WR is averaging near 50 yards per game with BYU's only TD receptions on the season (2). Apo is clearly Heaps favorite targe, especially in the red zone. Heaps will force throws to Apo at times, and the Ute defense needs to be ready to take advantage of any opportunities. McKay Jacobson will be BYU's 3rd receiver when he's in the game.

In the secondary for Utah, Senior CB Conroy Black and Junior CB Ryan Lacy will show a variety of coverages in an attempt to slow down the BYU passing game. Thus far in 2010, BYU's receivers have struggled mightily to get separation downfield. Black and Lacy will need to continue this trend, and give Utah's pass rush a chance to get to Heaps. Ute safeties Eric Rowe and Keith McGill will play a big role in preventing any downfield passes. Strong safety Michael Walker will rotate with Rowe and McGill, and will offer strong run support.


Special Teams:
Kicker was an area of concern for Utah throughout fall camp, but Coleman Petersen stepped up to the challenge against Montana State, going 3/3 on XPs, and 2/2 on FGs (37, 44). Against USC, Petersen had his only field goal attempt blocked, but went 2/2 on XPs. Nick Marsh will continue to handle the kickoff duties, and was excellent in weeks 1 and 2. Against USC, Marsh also handled the punting duties in place of Sean Sellwood who had struggled mightily through fall camp and week 1. Marsh averaged 40.9 on 7 punts in week 2.

For BYU, Justin Sorenson will handle the place kicking duties, and is 3/4 on FGs for the year. Riley Stephenson will once again punt for the cougars. Stephenson has 10 punts on the year for an average of 37.3 yards.

Returning kicks for Utah will be Reggie Dunn, who has returned 3 kickoffs for an average of 28 yards, with a long of 38. Ryan Lacy will join Dunn deep. Lacy has returned 2 kicks for an average of 25.5 yards with a long of 30. Griff McNabb will likely handle the punt return duties.

Back deep for BYU will be Jordan Johnson who has returned 4 kickoffs for an average of 24.8 yards, with a long of 28. Mike Hague and Hoffman will join Johnson deep on kickoffs. On punt returns, J.D. Falslev has shown flashes for the Cougars, returning 4 punts for an average of 8 yards with a long of 28 yards. If you remove the 28 yard return, Falslev has only 4 return yards on 3 punts.

Every year in the Holy War, special teams seemingly play a critical role in the outcome of the game. Whether it's a kickoff return by Cliff Russell, a missed FG by Ryan Kineshiro, or a blocked FG by Brandon Burton, special teams have always played a magnified role in this matchup.


Thunderstorms are expected Friday, but the weather should clear up by midday on Saturday. Saturday should be mostly clear weather with a high near 74 and a low in the high 50s. Field conditions may be a concern for Utah as Lavelle Edwards Stadium has a natural grass surface. There have been instances in the past where BYU purposefully left the grass length a little longer than normal in attempt to limit the speed of the Utes.

On the injury front, BYU was without a couple of contributors at Texas, but are expected to be back near full strength against Utah. Junior LB Brandon Ogletree and Junior DB Mike Hague have returned to practice and are expected to play. BYU will be without true freshman OL Ryker Matthews who is now expected to redshirt after suffering an injury in fall camp, which subsequently ended a close battle for a starting OG position on the Offensive Line. For Utah, Senior FB Shawn Asiata and Junior RB Tauni Vakapuna are both expected to play on Saturday as well, despite not traveling with the team to USC due to injury. Junior WR Luke Matthews suffered a small injury vs USC, and missed much of the 2nd half. Griff McNabb replaced Matthews while he was out. Matthews is expected to play on Saturday as well.

Both head coaches bring significant experience and a defensive mentality to the game. Both teams feature some new assistant coaches as well. For Utah, the transition to new Offensive Coordinator Norm Chow has been easier than BYU's transition to new Offensive Coordinator Brandon Doman.


Home field advantage in this rivalry has never been much of an advantage. Both BYU and Utah have looked as comfortable on their opponent's field as their own field. Utah's defense couldn't be better prepared to face this BYU's offense. While Heaps is very talented, he will be a bit of a relief for a Utah secondary that have faced 2 very good QBs in Denarius McGhee (Montana State) and future NFL star Matt Barkley (USC). BYU's receivers are also the weakest group Utah has faced this year. While BYU's offensive line is excellent, BYU's running backs will not keep the Ute linebackers up at night. Utah will hold BYU to under 350 total yards of offense, and will force 2 turnovers.

On offense, the Utes will not explode with a massive offensive output, but they won't need to. Expect similar total yardage to BYU, but the offense will put together two long scoring drives, and will otherwise take advantage of excellent field position earned by their defense. Utah will win the turnover battle and the field position battle. with those two areas ultimately being the difference in the game.

BYU 17, Utah 24

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