Game Preview: Utah at Utah State

The Utes head north for a battle with the Aggies and old friend Gary Anderson

Facts and Factors:
Utah (1-0, 0-0 Pac-12) plays at Utah State (1-0, 0-0 WAC) on Friday, Sept. 7 in Logan, Utah. Kickoff in Romney Stadium is at 6 p.m. and the game will be televised nationally on ESPN2. Radio is ESPN700 AM (espn700sports.com) and SIRIUS/XM 91.

Utah State is Utah's oldest rival and the series, in its 110th game, is the 12th-longest in NCAA FBS history. Utah's first football game ever was against USU in 1892. The two teams did not play in 2010 and 2011.

Utah has won the last 12 games against Utah State (and 20 of 22), including the last six games in Logan.

Utah's record in road openers against the Aggies is 8-2. See page 2 for more series information.

Utah's record against current WAC schools (Utah State, Idaho and San Jose State) is 97-41-6.

Aggie head coach Gary Andersen is one of four former Utah assistant coaches on the USU staff, while the Utes have three former Aggie coaches on their staff. See "Connections" for more.

Utah was picked to finish second in the Pac-12 South in the 2012 preseason media poll.

Utah has made 10 bowl appearances since 2001, going 9-1 with a 2-0 record in BCS bowl games. Utah is one of just three teams in the country to win six bowl games in the last seven years (with Florida and TCU).

When Utah has the ball:
The highly anticipated debut of Utah's new offense under Offensive Coordinator against Northern Colorado didn't answer many questions for Ute fans who grew frustrated last season with the inconsistent one dimensional approach of the Ute offense. Brian Johnson showed dozens of formations and personnel groups, that will certainly cause opponents to spend extra hours in the film room in preparation for the new look Utah offense. As a unit, the Ute offense controlled the ball, did a good job of creating favorable matchups, and were crisp in their substitutions and play calling. Still, the Ute offense put up just 34 points of offense against a atrocious Northern Colorado defense, despite having incredible field position all game. Much like last season, Utah's offense will continue to lean heavily toward running the ball, rushing on 62% of plays, while passing on just 38% of plays.

On defense, the Aggies debuted a new Defensive Coordinator last week in Dave Aranda, who joined the team in January 2012. Aranda's transition should be pretty smooth with Gary Anderson at the helm. Anderson's defensive reputation as a head coach is well earned, and mirrors much of what Kyle Whittingham tries to do at Utah (highly aggressive while disguising what they are doing each and every play). In week 1, the Aggies faced a respectable offensive opponent in Southern Utah, and absolutely put the beat down on the Thunderbirds, allowing just 6 points and 209 total yards of offense.

At quarterback for the Utes, Jordan Wynn took the field last week for the first time in nearly a year. The results were mixed. Utah's passing game failed to generate a single play that went for over 20 yards. While Wynn completed 19/27 passes (70%), his average yards per pass attempt reached 7.4 yards, a number which would be impressive against a higher opponent, but when you're competing such a high % of passes, should be higher. Wynn did an excellent job in 2nd and 3rd down situations, keeping the Utes out of 3rd and long situations, and executing well enough to convert on 60% of 3rd downs.

At the center of the offense is John White, who put up 119 yards on 24 carries (5.0 per carry) against UNC. White was brilliant in week 1, showing speed, burst, power and excellent vision. White possesses a unique ability to identify the smallest of gaps, and break through the hole with such little effort. White may have rushed for 1 or 2 additional touchdowns if it were not for Freshman QB Travis Wilson's effectiveness running the ball out of the wildcat package. Backup RBs Kelvin York and Jarrell Oliver both saw plenty of action as well. Both looked good at times, but neither came close to the 5.0 yards per carry mark that White had set.

At wide receiver, the Utes have a ton of depth, and will continue to struggle to find playing time and pass attempts to go around. Of the 21 pass attempts against UNC, Utah's Running Backs and Tight Ends received half of the targets. Standouts Devonte Christopher and Dres Anderson will need to get more looks this week, as the duo appear to be the Utes best "big play option" from within the offensive scheme. Christopher finished week 1 with only 2 catches, though he had a couple of deep balls thrown his way, one drew a pass interference penalty, and the other probably should have as well. Dres Anderson's offseason hard work appears to be paying dividends, as Dres finished with 4 catches for 53 yards. Dres was targeted once down field, the result was a UNC interception. Kenneth Scott received a lot of compliments throughout camp, and earned a start during week 1. While his blocking was excellent, Scott finished with one catch. Senior captain Luke Matthews did not have a catch last week. At Tight End, the Utes had two breakout players. Sophomore Tight End Jake Murphy was a beast in the passing game, leading the Utes with 6 catches for 78 yards and 2 TDs. Starter David Rolf was solid in all aspects of the game, blocking strongly and also made a couple of very difficult catches.

On Offensive Line, the Utes had their hands full trying to replace two all-conference tackles. Miles Mason got the start at left tackle, being bumped out from Guard. The slimmed down Mason looked rusty on week 1. After missing much of fall camp with an injury, Mason didn't look extremely well conditioned. On long drives, Mason gave away nearly every pass/run read. Opposite of Mason was first year Junior starter Percy Taumoelau. Percy was effective early on, but suffered a ding in the first half that limited his effectiveness until he got his legs back. Seniors Sam Brenner and Tevita Stevens were the best offensive linemen for the Utes. As a unit, this group did not allow a sack, and never let UNC near Wynn on passing plays. Playing more from the shotgun on passing plays should make the line's job easier as well. On rushing plays, the Utes only averaged 4.1 yards per carry, a number that should have been much higher against an undersized and outmanned UNC defense. Utah's linemen looked like they had not spent a ton of time together as a unit, failing to get their timing down on many pass plays, and failing to get off of blocks in time to get to the second level. If Utah is going to continue to rush the ball on over 60% of offensive plays, the line will need to get better.

On the defensive line, Utah State will show a new 3 man front. Junior Defensive End Connor Williams is the best pass rusher of the group, while Senior DE Al Lupuaho is the better run defender. Redshirt Freshman Travis Seefeldt will start at NT and try to eat up blockers. Last week versus Southern Utah, this Unit produced about 5 tackles, 1 sack, and 2 QB Hurries…which is respectable for a 3-4 defensive line.

At linebacker, Utah State lost the best defensive player in the conference in Bobby Wagner (now starting at MLB for the Seattle Seahawks). Wagner was a tackling machine, and his production will need to be picked up by the defense as a whole, as no one player will be able to replace Wagner's production. Senior OLB Bojay Filimoeatu is a physical presence off the edge (260 lbs), and will rush the passer frequently. Inside, Zach Vigil, Jake Doughty and Tavaris McMillian all saw plenty of time against SUU. One player to keep an eye on is LB La'Bradford Harold, a freshman from Crowley, Texas.

In the secondary, Utah State is led by Free Safety McKade Brady, who started every game at Safety for the Aggies last season, and is an all-conference nominee this season. Brady was third on the team in tackles last season, and led the team in tackles against Southern Utah. Brady, a transfer from BYU, can play either safety position. At corner, the Aggies return both starters from last season. Jumanne Robertson is the bigger of the two, and plays with great speed. Robertson is a second-team all WAC preseason selection. Nevin Lawson will start opposite of Robertson, and plays with great physicality. At Nickel, Terrence Alston will be a factor as well. Alston joined the Aggies last season from Junior College, and got better as the year went on. This year, Alston will fill a role at Nickel very similar to how the Utes utilize their own Nickels. Aggressive coverage, with blitz packages drawn up and strong run support. Alston had a sack in week 1.

Advantage: Utah

When Utah State has the ball:
The new look Aggies (new logo, new color scheme, new uniforms new field) will be led by first year Offensive Coordinator Matt Wells. While Wells is in his first season as an Offensive Coordinator, he was highly successful as the Quarterbacks coach last season, and was very influential in the passing game. Wells will also have Mike Sanford to work with this season, the former Utah offensive coordinator. Utah's State's offense is dynamic, and will feature many different formations, schemes, and ways to attack a defense. Expect aggressive play from this unit. The Aggies are a HEAVY run-based team, rushing on 68% of plays last season, and rushing on 70% of plays in their week 1 blowout win over Southern Utah.

Defensively, the Utes bring a very physical defensive front to the field, led by their defensive line and hard hitting linebackers. Utah's athleticism and discipline will be put to test, trying to contain Utah State's QB, while keeping him in the pocket as much as possible. Against Northern Colorado, the Utes gave up just 1.5 yards per rush, and 3.0 yards per pass attempt. Both are as good as you will see anywhere. While Northern Colorado was a bad opponent, Utah did not let them past midfield the entire game.

At Quarterback, Utah State is in a competitive yet comfortable position. Dynamic Sophomore QB Chuckie Keeton is a big time athlete, who changes a game entirely with his feet. Keeton is a preseason 2nd team all-WAC nominee. Keeton completed over 60% of his passes in 2011, throwing for 11 TDs and only 2 INTs before injuries derailed his season. Keeton has worked hard all offseason to improve his passing, and appears to be headed for a great season. Behind Keeton is Senior QB Adam Kennedy, who pushed for the starting job all the way up to game week. Kennedy has a big time arm, and completed 69% of his passes in 2011. Kennedy gained 8.9 yards per pass attempt last season, which is a very impressive number. Don't be surprised to see both on the field at some point this Friday.

At Running Back, the Aggies had two RBs drafted into the NFL last season…bruiser Robert Turbin (4th Round), and speedster Michael Smith (7th round). In 2011, Turbin was the workhorse of the Aggie offense, but returning starter Kerwynn Williams had almost as many carries as Michael Smith, and was exceptionally productive. Williams averaged a very impressive 6.7 yards per carry, and was a constant big play threat. Williams is a Doak Walker Award Candidate, Conference Special Teams Player of the Year Candidate, and first team all-WAC Running Back candidate. One name that most Utah fans will not recognize, but will remember after this week's game, is Joe Hill, a sophomore RB who will split carries with Williams. Hill shined in practices last season, but with the quality of RB ahead of him, never got the opportunity to break into the rotation. In week 1, Hill had 11 carries for 119 yards and 3 TDs.

On the outside, Utah State has benefited from some strong recruiting classes, and is building a solid group of Wide Receivers to turn to. Senior Matt Austin was the team's best receiver last season, and seems poised for a breakout season. Austin should benefit from Keeton's improved passing ability and awareness. Austin caught 5 catches in week 1 for 119 yards and a TD. Keep an eye on Wide Receivers Chuck Jacobs (a senior juco transfer), Travis Van Leeuwen (a big junior receiver from Timpview High), and junior Travis Reynolds.

On the offensive line, Utah State should be very excited about this group of players. Junior Center Tyler Larsen leads this group, and is a 1st team all-WAC performer, and a candidate for every award an offensive lineman can be nominated for. Right Tackle Oscar Molina-Sanchez is a 2nd Team All-WAC performer, and is the only Senior on the line. Guard Eric Schultz is a 3rd Team all-WAC candidate as well. The newcomers to the line also should generate some excitement for Aggie coaches. Junior Guard Jamie Markosian was the Utah 3A state MVP at Juan Diego, and looks promising as a college prospect. True Freshman Left Tackle Logan Malohifo'ou is a truly gifted athlete on the Offensive Line, and is listed as a co-starter with tackle. Also keep an eye on Kyle & Kevin Whimpey, twins from Lone Peak High School. This is a very athletic group of linemen who specialize in getting out and run blocking. Utha should have success if they can force the Aggies into 3rd and long situations, where this line hasn't held up as great in pass protection.

The Utah defensive line has earned a reputation as a big, physical group that will commit to stopping the run. Last year, the Utes faced struggles in the pass rush department, but with the increased size of Trevor Reilly and emergence of Nate Fakahafua, that may change this year. However, against the Aggies, it will be all about stopping the run. Reilly, Fakahafua and Joe Kruger will have the difficult task of containing Chuckie Keeton and Kerwynn Williams on the edge, without giving anything up on the inside. Keeton and the Aggies haven't seen a team with the quickness of this trio off the edge, let alone the physical brutality that Star Lotulelei and crew possess on the inside.

At linebacker, Utah seems to have found a group they are comfortable with. V.J. Fehoko is the mainstay, and proved far more disciplined that what many expected in week 1. David Fagergren continues to improve and has seemingly changed from a steady walk-on, into an athletic playmaker for this defense. Reilly will see some time at Stud backer, as will the hard hitting freshman LT Filiaga. Jarred Norris didn't get as many reps as many people expect last week, but with the defense surely expecting to see the field more, as well as facing an up tempo offensive scheme, depth and conditioning will be key.

In the secondary, Utah has the natural athleticism to put a dynamic group on the field, though the group hasn't quite put it all together yet. When it comes to run support, this will be one of the better Ute secondary's to play on the field in recent years. Through the air, the unit hasn't come together and gelled yet. Eric Rowe is a proven commodity, and can be a real difference maker at free safety. Quade Chappuis was steady in week 1, and is definitely the second best safety available for the Utes. On the outside, Moe Lee is a very physical corner with great size. He should match up very well against the bigger Aggie WRs. Ryan Lacy is the fast and polished CB, and arguably the better CB right now. In week 1, Utah struggled to find a 3rd Corner to come in on Nickel packages without a dropped level of production. Lewis Walker struggled at times, which is concerning considering the inferiority of the opponent. This week, Reggie Topps rejoins the team, and is a very talented player who can excel in the role of Nickel, or move to the outside and let Ryan Lacy play the Nickel (who is a natural at that position).

Advantage: Utah

Special Teams:
Utah kicker Coleman Peterson was dreadful for the Utes in week 1, missing a point blank field goal off the upright, and completely shanking an extra point. Peterson's confidence was clearly shaken, yet Whittingham knows Peterson is still the best option. At punter, Sean Sellwood has a gifted leg, and if he has a good year, might earn himself some accolades. Sellwood punted twice in week 1, averaging 52.5 yards, with a beauty that sailed 60 yards and died inside the five.

In the return game, Utah didn't see any action on kickoffs last week. The lone kick return opportunity sailed out the back of the endzone, which may become a common theme with the new rules. In punt returns, Geoff Norwood started week 1 for the Utes, but didn't appear athletically gifted enough to be deemed a big play threat. Charles Henderson came in for the Utes in the 2nd half and nearly turned the ball over inside the Utah 10 yard line when he attempted to field a rolling ball with defenders nearby.

As disconcerting as Utah's kicking game has been, Utah State isn't overly confident in their kickers either. Nick Diaz will likely hold down the PK duties, though he didn't attempt a field goal in week 1. At punter, the Aggies have an ongoing competition between Senior Tyler Bennett, and Sophomore Jaron Bentrude. Bennett had 2 punts against SUU averaging 40 yards per punt, while Bentrude had 1 punt that went for 39 yards into the endzone.

In the return game, the Aggies are dangerous. Kerwynn Williams is an all-WAC returner, and will be joined by Chuck Jacobs on kickoffs. Jacobs will handle the punt return duties.

Advantage: Even

Intangibles:
Both teams appear to be fairly healthy heading into this week's game.

Weather forecasts for Friday predict highs in the mid 80s, and lows in the mid 50s. Thursday is scheduled to have some major thunderstorms in the area, so the field and stands may be wet.

Utah hits the road for the first time this year, though the bus trip should be shorter than any plane trip the Utes take this season. Utah has performed very well in non-Conference road games under Kyle Whittingham, and look to continue the trend this year.

Advantage: Even

Prediction:
Utah 31, Utah State 17

The Utes will slow the Aggie rushing attack and force a couple of timely turnovers. Utah's defensive line will ultimately end up to be too much of a challenge for the outmanned front of Utah State. On Offense, Utah will break one big play for a touchdown, but otherwise will wear down the Aggie defense and let depth become and issue in the second half. Utes roll.

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