Utah Offensive Line vs BYU Defensive Line
Utah Offensive Line
There was definitely a lot left to be desired from this group after the Utah State game. Utah started Miles Mason (LT), Vyncent Jones (LG), Tevita Stevens (C), Sam Brenner (RG), and Percy Taumoelau (RT) and did not get the success they were hoping for. This forced the coaching staff to make changes on the fly and by the start of the fourth quarter the lineup had Brenner at LT, Latu Heimuli playing LG, Stevens at C, Vyncent Jones switching to RG, and Taumoelau staying at RT. These moves seemed to solidify the protection and run blocking on the left side but still experienced problems on the right, mainly at the right tackle position. Utah will likely go with Taumoelau again at RT for the BYU game but if he struggles early on I wouldn't be surprised to see one of Utah's younger backups (Jeremiah Poutasi, Kala Friel, Dan Nielsen) get some reps.
BYU Defensive Line
The expected starters on the line for the Cougars are all seniors with both skill and experience. Eathyn Manumaleuna, Romney Fuga, and Russell Tialavea are all talented run defenders who plug up the line well and can make tackles. 300-pound Fuga at nose tackle can really affect a run attack; his play has helped the BYU line limit opponents to an average of just 55 rush yards per game this season. Against the pass BYU's 3-4 defensive scheme puts a lot of pressure on their linebackers and less on the linemen, but don't sleep on Manumaleuna, he's very athletic and knows how to get into the backfield. Against Weber State he had 4 tackles, 2.5 TFL's, forced a fumble and had a career high 1.5 sacks. Finally, keep an eye out for backup Ezekiel Ansah, a former 200-meter track athlete with size and speed. Overall this group should be able to hold their own against the Utah front.
Utah Running Backs and Tight Ends vs BYU Linebackers
Utah Running Backs and Tight Ends
John White got all of the carries but one in Utah's less than stellar run game against Utah State and only managed to rush for 97 yards. When White eclipses the 100-yard mark in a game Utah is 9-0, when he does not they are now 0-6 after he failed to hit 100 against the Aggies. White was slowed by an ankle injury that seemed to affect his cuts and speed and although he played the entire game and overtime on Friday night he's been seen around campus with a limp and his health and overall effectiveness heading into this weekend's matchup is in question. At tight end, the Aggies almost completely removed Utah's week-one star Jake Murphy holding him to just 1 reception for 2 yards. He nearly had the game-tying touchdown in overtime but the grab was called back on an offensive pass interference penalty. David Rolf, however, had a game as Murphy absorbed the Aggie defensive attention. The senior tight end got open down the field twice for big plays. He finished the game with receptions of 20 and 26 yards.
Without question this is the strength of the BYU defense. Kyle Van Noy is one of the top linebackers in the country. His speed and athleticism along with his ability to read an offense and react on instinct have earned him preseason Lombardi and Nagurski Trophy watch-list status and for good reason. In two games Van Noy has 3 TFL's, 1 forced fumble, 2 pass breakups, and his 3 sacks are tied for 4th in the nation. His partners in crime Brandon Ogletree, Uona Kaveinga, and Spencer Hadley know how to create havoc in the offensive backfield. They blitz early and often and together have combined to make 4.5 TFL's and 2.5 sacks in two games. Utah State wrote the book on how to pressure the Utah quarterback and I'm sure Bronco Mendenhall will pick up where the Aggies left off. That means expect to see a lot of blitzing from the linebackers, specifically over the right side of Utah's offensive line. These players can hit and hit hard so expect to see more than one shot on Saturday that will make you cringe.
Utah Quarterback and Wide Receivers vs BYU Corners and Safeties
Utah Quarterback and Wide Receivers
Jordan Wynn's career-ending injury suffered last week really changes the forecast on the 2012 season. Wynn absence means experienced senior Jon Hays and rookie true-freshman Travis Wilson now need to work together to carry the team for the final 10 games of the season. Luckily for Utah Hays isn't new to this offense or this situation. His experience in a similar role in 2011 will almost certainly help his ability to step up and make an immediate impact. Travis Wilson, the exciting true freshman just oozing with talent will likely take a back seat to Hays at least for the next few games as the coaches do their best to win with Hays while bringing Wilson along as quickly as possible. On the outside Utah is still loaded with weapons despite their lack of production when compared to expectations. Devonte Christopher, Dres Anderson, and emerging star Kenneth Scott are threats to score on any play and will cause trouble for the BYU secondary if proper attention isn't paid to them.
BYU Corners and Safeties
BYU may not have a reputation of spitting out quality defensive backs, but this year's group isn't your typical Cougar backfield. Corners Jordan Johnson and Preston Hadley are markedly more athletic than past Cougar corners while safeties Mike Hague and Daniel Sorensen can hit as hard as anyone out there. Jordan Johnson may be the most complete corner BYU has had in years. His near-pick-6 against Washington State opened some eyes to the level that these corners can play at while he and his teammates shut down a talented WSU pass attack. He'll match up against Utah's top receiver throughout the game leaving Preston Hadley and Joe Sampson, another talented DB, to deal with the rest of Utah's receiving corps. BYU loves to sit back in pass coverage and make a team work down the field with short to intermediate routes. While this may limit the big-play ability of DVC and Anderson it may also play into the hands of Utah's new quarterback.
Utah Defensive Line vs BYU Offensive Line
Utah Defensive Line
Utah State made it very clear throughout the game that they weren't going to attack the middle of Utah's defensive line. They knew that running between the tackles wasn't going to be productive so instead they chose to get outside into space and make Utah's linebackers and defensive backs make stops. It worked as the Aggies had two players at just under 100 yards rushing. BYU will likely take a similar approach. Players like Star Lotulelei and Dave Kruger are going to have to find ways to be disruptive in the run game when the play is directed away from them. Utah's defensive line has been good in both games despite the loss to USU and I expect another solid performance against BYU.
BYU Offensive Line
Not the typical experienced-laden BYU line that you expect to see when facing the Cougars, but a good line nonetheless. This group features three underclassmen starters in freshman left tackle Ryker Mathews, sophomore center Blair Tushaus, and rotating sophomore right guard Brock Stringham. Stringham has been splitting reps with Houston Reynolds and the inconsistency at the position has made for a bit of a weakness that the Utes could expose through different stunts and blitzes. Left guard Braden Hansen and right tackle Braden Brown are solid players that will hold their own. The matchup between Hansen and Lotulelei should be a fun one to watch throughout the game. Only 1.5 sacks have been given up by the Cougars in two games due in large part to the shifts and roll outs designed to get Nelson out of the pocket and into open space and in the running game the Cougars have rushed for just 174 yards .
Utah Linebackers vs BYU Running Backs and Tight Ends
Utah's linebackers have done a good job through two games covering opposing tight ends and limiting big plays on the ground. However, against Utah State they struggled to cover the running backs in the pass game and were burned a few times by a mobile quarterback. BYU poses the same type of threat to the Utes so Utah needs to get better in these areas in a hurry. Dave Fagergren and Trevor Reilly lead the team in tackles with L.T. Filiaga not far behind. These starters along with V.J. Fehoko always seem to be around the football and are all smart, instinctive, position-sound players. Trevor Reilly really made a name for himself in the rivalry game in 2011. His ability to play multiple positions and really rush the quarterback confused the Cougar line and ended in multiple turnovers for the Utes. I expect to see a lot of similar blitz schemes and position movement from Reilly in order to get him in the best position to make plays.
BYU Running Backs and Tight Ends
Last season's backup Josh Quezada transferred in the offseason as it became clear that junior Michael Alisa was going to be the clear starter heading into the season. Quezada's exit solidified Alisa as the guy carrying the load for the Cougars for 2012 and in two games he's been semi-productive if nothing else. His 107 total yards against two sub-par defenses aren't what Cougar fans hoped to see, but then again BYU has really turned to the passing game early this year which has kept the amount of available carries for Alisa down through two games. BYU likes to run multiple backs throughout a game including promising backup Jamaal Williams and slot receiver J.D. Falslev so watch for different runners in the Cougar on Saturday night. At tight end keep an eye on promising junior Kaneakua Friel. He's caught 10 passes, 3 of them touchdowns, and has racked up 131 receiving yards in the first two games. He had 6 catches for 101 yards and a touchdown against Washington State in the opener.
Utah Corners and Safeties vs BYU Quarterback and Wide Receivers
Utah Corners and Safeties
The injury bug bit the Utah secondary last week when sophomore free safety Eric Rowe went down in the second half with a hamstring injury. The school wouldn't comment on his status for the game this week but reports have him potentially ready to play despite going down just one week ago. If, how much, and at what level he plays remains to be seen but expect to see sophomore Tyron Morris-Edwards and sophomore Terrell Reese getting a lot of split reps if Rowe is forced to miss time. Corners Moe Lee and Ryan Lacy continue to have a solid 2012 season. They don't have an interception among them but have been very good in pass coverage so far. They'll definitely be needed as BYU's top two receivers are among the best in the country. Quade Chappuis has also been good in traditional starter Brian Blechen's absence and will start once again at strong safety as Blechen sits out the final game of his suspension. Reggie Topps and Wykie Freeman will be tasked with stopping BYU's talented slot receivers.
BYU Quarterback and Wide Receivers
Cody Hoffman and Ross Apo are two of the most dangerous starting wideouts BYU has had in a number of years. Both are extremely good at stretching defenses with their speed and both have great hands capable of snagging just about anything thrown their way. Slot receivers JD Falslev and Skyler Ridley are weapons, especially in the red zone where the BYU offense really likes to spread teams out and throw the ball. Quarterback Riley Nelson is very athletic and is dangerous on the ground and through the air. He's thrown for over 520 yards in two games including a 285 yard 2 TD performance in the opener against Washington State. He's not the most accurate passer but he has a strong arm and is willing to take chances on throws that he thinks he can make. Nelson's running ability adds another dimension to his game and it's the ground threat that makes him the most dangerous. His ability to roll out of the pocket and make throws on the run or turn it up field and run for big yardage forces defenses to cover him on the ground and through the air. Utah will need to take advantage of turnover opportunities that are sure to present themselves if they want to stop Nelson and the Cougar air attack.
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