Friday Night Lights. That's where the eyes of all football fans in the state will be turned this weekend, as they are anxious to discover the new pecking order of the three local big boy college football teams; namely Utah, BYU, and Utah State.
The Aggies (3-2) will be hosting the Cougars (2-2) this Friday night at Romney Stadium, and with both teams sporting a loss to in-state rival Utah, neither program wants to slip into insignificance as the third best program in the state, not only in the eyes of the fan bases, but more importantly in the eyes of the local recruiting pool.
After hard fought victories over Utah State and BYU, Utah has established itself as the state's top football program this year. This leaves spots #2 and #3 up for grabs during the game this Friday night.
BYU and Utah State have a long and rich history with each other. The Cougars lead the Aggies with an all-time head-to-head record of 45-34-3. Seeing as this game will be played in Logan, it's significant to note that the Cougars have lost more than they've won in Logan, with a 15-18-2 record.
The Cougars were on a streak, having beaten the Aggies 10 straight times heading into the 2010 season. The majority of BYU's wins during that stretch were by a convincing margin. But since 2010, the gap between these two programs has shrunk significantly. In 2010, the last time BYU visited Logan, they left Romney Stadium with a 31-16 loss to a Utah State team that would go 4-8 that year. The Aggies then visited Provo two years in a row, losing by three points each time (27-24 in 2011, 6-3 in 2012). This year's game is expected to be just as close.
After spending decades in obscurity, and with losing seasons consistently being the culture at Utah State, the Aggies have righted the ship over the last few seasons with the help of coach Gary Anderson, and now Matt Wells. Let's take a more detailed look.
Utah State's offense is led by dark horse Heisman candidate and prolific quarterback Chuckie Keeton. Keeton, a 6-2, 200 lb junior from Houston, Texas, has established himself as one the nation's premier quarterbacks. Known for his accurate and powerful arm strength, as well as his impressive mobility, Keeton has led the Aggies to a 3-2 record, with the two losses being close fought battles against Pac-12 foes Utah and USC. It's hard to say enough about him. Keeton has a 71% completion percentage on the season, and will enter the BYU game coming off of a 260 yard and three touchdown game vs San Jose State. He has 17 touchdowns on the season (which is 2nd in the nation behind Oregon State's Sean Mannion) and has thrown only one interception.
Keeton is the definition of a game changer, as he has the ability to literally take over the game. If not successfully game planned for, he can and will beat you on the ground and in the air. He has rushed for at least 50 yards in three of Utah State’s five games thus far. On the season, he has thrown for 1,362 yards and rushed for 225. What really makes Keeton so dangerous is the fact that he seems to never make a mistake on the football field. He executes the read option extremely well. He completes over 70% of his passes. He has thrown just one interception in 186 passing attempts (BYU ranks fourth to last in the country in creating turnovers). On the ground he is elusive, fast, and strong. In the air he is smart, accurate, and precise. Chuckie Keeton seems to be the man with no weakness. He will be the toughest quarterback that BYU will face so far this year (which is saying something, as the Cougars have faced David Ash and Travis Wilson), and the Cougars will need to come ready to contain this impact player.
***Take a look at this highlight reel of Chuckie Keeton vs Air Force earlier this season, where Keeton threw for 360 yards and 5 touchdown passes.***
Joey DeMartino and Joe Hill lead the Aggie rushing attack. Overshadowed by the media attention received by Chuckie Keeton, these two running backs fly under the radar, but can be dangerous on the ground. DeMartino and Hill have combined for 597 yards and 5 touchdowns on the season. DeMartino is averaging almost 7.5 yards per carry. He has done an excellent job at helping alleviate some of the offensive weight, so that it doesn’t rest solely on the shoulders of Keeton. DeMartino is coming off of a solid performance last weekend, turning in 120 yards on 17 carries. The Aggies have four different players (DeMartino, Hill, Keeton, and Marhsall) who have logged over 100 yards rushing on the season.
One of the traits which make Chuckie Keeton so proficient is his ability to spread the ball around to so many different receivers, as he has completed passes to 14 different receivers this season. When it comes to the receiving game, Keeton has three favorite targets: Bruce Natson, Travis Van Leeuwen, and Travis Reynolds. These three receivers have combined for over 800 yards this year, and cumulatively average 12 yards per reception. BYU’s secondary will receive its third difficult test this season, after facing Jaxon Shipley and the Texas Longhorns, as well as Dres Anderson and the Utes.
The Aggie offensive line has performed well this year, with the only exception being the USC game. The O-line has been able to successfully give Keeton protection, as well as create holes, against every other opponent. The USC defensive front seven is considered to be one of the top few in the country. BYU’s front seven is in that same discussion.
The Aggies rank 28th in the country in total defense, and is one of the best passing defenses, allowing only 188 passing yards per game. They have been able to successfully shut down receivers like Marquise Lee (USC) and Dres Anderson (Utah). The Aggies secondary has been successful at getting takeaways. Last week they came up with three interceptions by three different players, Maurice Alexander, Nevin Lawson and Jeremy Morris. The Aggies had a fourth interception that was negated by a roughing the passer call.
Utah State’s rushing defense has been impressive, allowing only 126 rushing yards per game. Linebacker Kyle Fackrell is quickly establishing himself as one of the nation’s premier defensive players. The 6-5 245 lb sophomore has tremendous speed, length, and athleticism. He has played a major role in helping defend the pass as well as stopping the run this year. After receiving Freshman All-American honors in 2012, Fackrell is right up there with BYU’s Kyle Van Noy and Utah’s Trevor Reilly when it comes to discussing the state’s premier defensive players.
You can expect Utah State to play BYU with the almost identical defensive game plan that Utah did. Utah would stack the box with 8 or 9 guys, and force Taysom Hill and the BYU offense to beat them through the air. By doing so, the Utes were able to successfully shut down BYU’s running game, and dared Taysom Hill to throw the ball 48 times, with him completing only 18 of those attempts.
What are they expected to accomplish this season?
Despite losing Gary Anderson to Wisconsin, the Aggies are expected to pick up right where they left off last season, led by first year head coach Matt Wells. The Aggies are currently 3-2, which is where most people expected them to be at this point. They are 0-2 against the Pac-12, with close losses to Utah and USC. They are undefeated in the MWC so far, plus a 70-6 win over Weber State. The Aggies should be able to handle the rest of their opponents, but the match ups with BYU and Boise State will prove to be their two greatest tests remaining on the schedule. Look for the Aggies to finish the year with a 9-3 record.
Analyzing the match up
This is an exciting match up. If you haven’t already, be sure to clear your schedule for this Friday night at 6 pm MDT, because this game is going to be electric. BYU is going to be forced to throw the ball against the Aggies. Can Taysom Hill beat a solid defense through the air? Hill turned in his best passing performance of the season last week, but keep in mind they were playing Middle Tennessee State. Utah State is not MTSU by any stretch of the imagination. The Aggies are bigger, faster, stronger, meaner, and have more on the line. Utah State is as tough a team as BYU has faced this season.
Neither team wants to be the bottom of the food chain when it comes to in state FBS programs. BYU needs to prove they can win by throwing the football, therefore making them less one-dimensional for future opponents. Utah State needs to prove they can win a big game, as they have failed to beat a team with a winning record so far. This is a win that both teams desperately need.
The Cougars have turned the ball over six times during their last two games. They will need to eliminate that number to beat the Aggies.
These three things must happen in order for BYU to beat Utah State:
1) BYU must win the turnover margin.
2) Taysom Hill must have a higher completion percentage than his season average (40%).
3) The BYU defense must contain Chuckie Keeton.
If BYU fails at even one of those tasks, their chances of victory greatly diminish.
Prediction: BYU wins 24-17