The Cougars rebounded last week, winning in decisive fashion over Hawaii after dropping the two previous games against Boise State and Utah. BYU will be hosting in-state foe Utah State this week. The Aggies have made sure that the Cougars take note of this game, having beaten BYU in Logan in 2010, and nearly winning again last year.
What we know about Utah State (4-1)
Head coach Gary Andersen is in his fourth season at Utah State, and the Aggies' turnaround has been remarkable. Back in 2006, the Aggies won just one game, and in 2007, they won two. Over the last three seasons, Utah State has beaten both BYU and Utah, and made it to a bowl game. Each is a feat that they hadn't accomplished in more than a decade.
The Aggies have just one loss this year, coming on the road at Wisconsin. The Aggies had built a 14-3 halftime lead, but ended up losing 16-14 when their last-second field goal attempt sailed wide right. Who have they beaten? Southern Utah, Utah, Colorado State, and UNLV.
The Aggies feature an amazingly athletic QB in Chuckie Keeton, who threw for 402 yards and 4 TDs last week against UNLV. They also have a gifted RB in Kerwynn Williams, who is also a receiving threat. Against UNLV, Williams had 20 carries for 113 yards and added 7 receptions for 147 yards.
What we know about BYU (3-2)
After so many games, you'd think this part would be easy. It is and it isn't. The Cougars decisively won their opener against Washington State, who showed some life in the first half against Oregon this week. They rolled over Weber State and Hawaii. But they lost two very close games to Utah and Boise State. It all reeks of inconsistent play.
Our defense is not inconsistent. The #BroncoD is #4 in points against average, giving up 10.0 points per game. That includes opponent scores of 24, 13, 7, 6, and 0 points. And don't forget that 14 of those points were given up by the offense.
Oh the offense. This is where words like 'prediction' and 'identity' are lost in mists of darkness. This is due in part to having played an injured Riley Nelson against the two toughest opponents to date. When he wasn't injured, the Cougar offense was pretty good, and when Taysom Hill filled in last week, the offense rolled again. But those games weren't against the top teams on BYU's schedule, so all we know is that this offense can be good. What we don't know is, will they be good this week? Can they come together and up their game against stronger competition? Will Riley be a lame-duck quarterback the rest of the season?
Keys to the game
Quarterback Who? Watching last week's game against Hawaii, I got to feeling very good about our offense. Sure, it was Hawaii, but things were clicking. Taysom Hill put on an average passing performance, but he was absolutely stellar on the ground. He evaded tacklers and scrambled for first downs and touchdowns in a way that reminded me of a healthy Riley Nelson. A completely healthy Riley is still better than Taysom, for now. But I don't know if we will see that Riley again. I agree that healthy Riley is the starter. So long as he's away, Taysom should be filling in.
The Rush Attack. Remember when Josh Quezada transferred just before the season started? That transfer seems more weighty now that Alisa has a broken arm. Last week, Taysom Hill and Jamaal Williams combined for nearly 300 rushing yards, and Paul Lasike and David Foote added about 40 yards each, in an all-out rushing attack that hasn't been seen at BYU in years. Granted, it was Hawaii, and Hawaii lost two DTs to injury very early in the game. It was still impressive. Williams has gotten more touches and shown improvement every week, and he is the Cougars' starting RB for Friday.
Special Teams. Neither team wants this game to come down to a field goal try. Aggie Josh Thompson is 3 of 4 on the season, with the lone miss being the potential game-winner against Wisconsin. He was only good 60% of the time last year. BYU's kicking has been inconsistent, with the best showing coming from Riley Stephenson, who made 3 of 4 FGs against Washington State.
Bronco D. This unit is special, and they have put every game within reach for the offense this year. This Friday's game against Utah State may be the game where the defense simply has to take control and win the game. Yes, I'm thinking something along the lines of the Ole Miss game from last year, when Kyle Van Noy caused a fumble, recovered the fumble, and scored. This defense is far and away the best of any unit on either team, and they need to prove it by creating and capitalizing on turnovers.
Utah State is legit. They come at you breathing fire from the opening snap. Utah and Wisconsin were both unprepared for the Aggie attack, and each faced early deficits against Utah State. I think BYU will have to come from behind to win this game. The Aggies' early intensity level is too hard to maintain, so if the Cougars weather the storm, they will be able to make that comeback. But I don't see Riley Nelson leading us to victory this year. Taysom Hill may not be the starter, but he needs to start this Friday. If Taysom starts and our defense scores, we win this game.
I'm picking the Cougars to
upset beat the Aggies, 21-17.