Utah Quarterback and Receivers vs Utah State Defensive Backs
With his freshman season under his belt, Travis Wilson needs to come out this first game and prove that he can lead this offense and put up some points on the scoreboard. While he did show some improvement during fall camp, the real test comes Thursday night against a good defense in Utah State. Utah's wide receiving duo of Dres Anderson and Kenneth Scott provide Wilson with some great weapons outside that will keep the Aggies on their toes, as both Anderson and Scott will be a tough matchup for any corner on this Utah State roster. Add in Anthony Denham and Sean Fitzgerald to the mix and you have got a ton of size at the wideout position which is going to create some mismatches that the Utes should be able to exploit.
With senior cornerback Nevin Lawson and junior strong safety Brian Suite returning, the Aggies have themselves two solid defensive backs to take on Travis Wilson and the Utah receivers. Alongside, Lawson and Suite, there are a number of Aggies such as: Maurice Alexander, Tay Glover-Wright, Clayton Christensen, Camerson Sanders, Rashard Stewart, and Frankie Sutera who are all upper-classmen and are capable of getting some playing time on Thursday. Whether Utah decides to air it out, stick to the ground game, or give them a good mix of both, the Aggies' DB's have their hands full.
Utah Running Backs and Tight Ends vs Utah State Linebackers
As Kelvin York was able to win the battle for the #1 back, James Poole, Lucky Radley, and Karl Williams are all great backs who each bring something a little different to the table. When you want that shifty speedster who is capable of making highlight reel runs and taking it to the house each and every time he touches the ball, enter James Poole. When it's 3rd and short and the Utes need a few tough yards to continue a drive or punch it in the endzone for six, enter Karl Williams. Or maybe the Utes need an all-purpose back who has that little bit of nastiness to him and can do it all, enter Lucky Radley. Regardless of who the Utes have in the backfield, they are in good hands. When the topic of top tight end duos in the nation comes up, Jake Murphy and Westlee Tonga are right up there with the best of them. Both Murphy and Tonga are going to give Utah State one heck of a time on Thursday, and are a nightmare for any opposing defense. Their ability to catch the ball, block, and overall IQ of the game is lethal. These two are studs.
At linebacker, Utah State is stacked with some great football players. Now, just how stacked are the Aggies at the linebacker position? Consider this, Kyler Fackrell, Jake Doughty and Zach Vigil all three earned all-WAC honors in 2012. The fourth Aggie linebacker will most likely be senior Tavaris McMillan, who only adds to the Aggies' depth at the position and has film to prove it. Overall, that second line of defense is in very good hands for the Aggies, and will give Utah all they can handle.
Utah Offensive Line vs Utah State Defensive Line
The Utes' offensive line is arguably the most important part of Dennis Erickson's new offense being successful in year one at Utah. With Jeremiah Poutasi, Jeremiah Tofaeono, Vyncent Jones, Junior Salt, and Siaosi Aiono leading the way, the Utes are in good hands. While the offensive line was one of the weaknesses of last year's team, it is now one of the team's strengths in 2013. Travis Wilson will have more time to sit back and go through his progressions, and the running backs will be provided with some bigger holes to run through. All in all, this offensive line will play a major role in whether or not the Utes walk away with a win on Thursday.
The defensive line for Utah State should be pretty decent in 2013 as they have some good size up front. With senior Conner Williams and sophomore Jordan Nielsen leading the way, this defensive line will try and improve on their impressive season in 2012 who lead the way for the nation's #7 scoring defense in 2012 (also ranking 13th in rushing defense and 8th in pass efficiency defense). However, this is a new year and those rankings mean absolutely nothing now. This is a much improved offensive line for the Utes, and will give the Aggies' D-line one heck of a battle in the trenches.
Utah Defensive Line vs Utah State Offensive Line
Utah State returns all five of their offensive line starters from last year, and with the departure of All American Star Lotulelei as well as the Kruger brothers, one would be inclined to give a significant edge to Utah State when it comes to this position battle. The big thing that could swing this battle to Utah's favor is that Utah continually reloads on the defensive line, and 2013 will be no different. Tenny Palepoi anchors the D Line for Utah and according to players and coaches, Palepoi has the potential to be the same type of player that Lotulelei was. Palepoi will have a tough task on his hands though, as he'll routinely go up against Utah State's starting center and All American candidate Tyler Larsen, as well as senior guards Kyle Whimpey and Jamie Markosian. Tenny Palepoi will be joined by four other interior defensive linemen in LT Tuipolotu, Villiseni Faonuku, Latu Heimuli and Sese Ianu. These four will provide a very reliable rotation at defensive tackle without any significant drop off of production.
The real battle for this group will be out on the edge between Utah State's tackles Kevin Whimpey and Eric Schultz, and Utah's defensive ends Trevor Reilly, Nate Orchard, Thretton Palamo and Hunter Dimick. We all know the caliber of player that is Trevor Reilly, and he should be even better this year as he 100% healthy. There are still some question marks though when it comes to the other three. Orchard has loads of potential as he is more of a pure pass rusher, but a disappointing 2012 season has left Ute fans desiring more from him in 2013. While Utah has more talent on the defensive line than Utah State has on the offensive line, the experience that Utah State has vastly outweighs the experience that Utah's defensive line has, as Utah State's line has combined 104 starts between the five of them. For this reason, Utah State gets a slight edge in this position battle.
Edge: Utah State
Utah Linebackers vs Utah State Running Backs and Tight Ends
It's no secret that the linebacker crew was the weak spot on Utah's defense last year, but there has been significant improvement in the offseason at linebacker for Utah and with the additions of senior Brian Blechen and true freshman Uaea Masina, the linebackers will be much more athletic this year, which will be big for this group as they particularly struggled with pass coverage in 2012. V.J. Fehoko, Jared Norris and Brian Blechen are penciled in as starters right now, but DE/OLB Trevor Reilly will also see time at LB as he is such a versatile player. Norris returns to the starting lineup this year, and is the most versatile linebacker of the group. Fehoko is a dominating presence up the middle and against the run game, but has dropped some weight this off season in order to gain more speed laterally. Sophomore L.T. Filiaga, junior Jacoby Hale and freshman Uaea Masina will also be a part of the rotation at LB.
Looking at Utah State, they have been able to produce NFL level talent at running back the past couple years, as previous running backs Kerwynn Williams and Robert Turbin are playing on Sunday's currently. Utah State believes that Joe Hill is the next in line to play on Sundays, but there are still some question marks that need be answered for him to do that. Hill has good size, as he's listed at 5'11-190lbs, but he only carried the ball 43 times in 2012 so to this point in his career he is still a bit unproven. Junior Joey DeMartino and Senior Robert Marshall are listed as Hill's backups, and between the two of them, they have 438 rushing yards in a combined 4 seasons.
Utah State has two upperclassmen listed as one and two on the depth chart at tight end, in D.J. Tialavea and Keegan Anderson, but the production of those two in past seasons is minimal at best. Tialavea has played three years, while Anderson has played two, but between the two of them, they have a combined 16 catches for 132 yards. Utah State will use both of these players as more of a glorified lineman than tight end, and they won't present much of a threat to Utah in the pass game. Overall, there are some question marks for both these teams in this position battle, but the key will be how much improved are Utah's linebackers. Because of the uncertainty, I'd say this position battle is pretty even.
Utah Defensive Backs vs Utah State Quarterbacks and Wide Receivers
The big name here is Chuckie Keeton. He's the best quarterback in the state, but there is a problem this year that he and Utah State will have to face this year. They have very little playing experience at the wide receiver position as they lost their top five players in total receiving yards from last year. Travis Van Leeuwen, Travis Reynolds, JoJo Natson and Brandon Swindall are the listed starters for Utah State at wide receiver, but those four only combined for 538 receiving yards last year, which equates to about 16% of all receiving yards from the 2012 season. We all know what Chuckie Keeton is capable of, but if he doesn't feel comfortable with his receivers, or his receivers simply don't perform well enough, it could force Keeton to try and do too much himself which could lead to bad results.
Utah also has a veteran in this position battle, as third year starter Eric Rowe will command the secondary from the free safety spot in 2013. Rowe is extremely talented and versatile, as he's also proven to provide excellent run support from the safety position. Starting alongside Rowe will be Michael Walker, who has seen action at strong safety in the past two years. Walker was originally slated to play Nickel Back this year, but due to depth concerns the coaching staff moved him back to safety where he has consistently stood out amongst his teammates. Walker brings consistent play to the strong safety spot, as he can be relied upon to do his job, but lacks big play ability. The cornerback position has long been known as Coach Whittingham's biggest concern for his team the fall as they lost close to 90% of all their snaps at corner to graduation. The position is bare on experience, but in no way is bare on talent. Keith McGill, Justin Thomas, Davion Orphey and Reggie Porter are the current top four corners, and each one brings a different skill set to the table. McGill has the perfect blend of size and speed at 6'3-215lbs, but has been hampered by injuries since he arrived in 2011. If he stays healthy, he'll be the Utes number one guy at corner. Orphey and Porter are very similar players as they're both well rounded players that can both cover, and provide support in the run game. Porter has been bothered by an injury during fall camp, but appears to be ready to go for the game. Justin Thomas is small, being listed at 5'9-175lbs, but is extremely quick and may have the best technique of all the corners. Thomas will play both the nickel back and corner back position this fall as well.
When looking at this position matchup as a whole, Utah State has the best player in Chuckie Keeton, but their lack of experience at wide receiver is a big hole for them to fill. Utah also has big hole to fill at corner, but ultimately has more talent at that position than Utah State has at wide receiver. Combine that with third year starter at safety in Eric Rowe, and I'd say this position matchup is pretty even.
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