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What you need to know: BYU vs Utah State preview

BYU heads to Logan to try and avenge their loss to Utah State in Provo last year.

Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

The History

This Saturday will mark the 85th meeting between the BYU Cougars and the Utah State Aggies.  The first game was held in Provo in 1922 and the Aggies came out with a 42-3 victory.  Overall, BYU holds a series lead at 46-35-3, while the Aggies have held the home field advantage by two games.  Utah State took control of the series early when it won 30 of the first 50 meetings and then BYU took control in 1975.  Since the win in 1975, the Cougars have only lost five times.  As an extra incentive for the game, the Old Wagon Wheel trophy was introduced in 1948 and has been awarded to the winning team ever since.  Another tradition was started in 1981 when the teams started meeting on the first Friday of October but was changed this year for a game over the Thanksgiving weekend. As long as BYU is Independent this may become a new tradition as this week is normally known as Rivalry Week across the nation. Over the last couple of years, the series has taken on more importance even though the Cougars have won 12 of the last 14.  With closer games the teams are looking much more balanced and are beginning to lead to exciting finishes.

Logan, Utah 2013 BYU 31-14

Behind big days by Taysom Hill and Mitch Mathews, the Cougars came out of Romney Stadium with a convincing victory.  The game started off rough for the Aggies as the first play from scrimmage was read with perfection by Kyle Van Noy.  With a short throw to the side from Chuckie Keeton, Van Noy jumped and grabbed the pass and ran it back 18 yards for the pick six.  Utah State would bounce back with a forced fumble at the Cougars 15 yard line and quickly tied up the game.  BYU would add a field goal in the first quarter to take a 10-7 lead.  The Utah State offense took a hit late in the first when Keeton went down with an injury that ended his season.

The Cougars added to their lead in the second quarter as Jamaal Williams converted a third down with a 44-yard rush, leading to a Hill to Mathews 30 yard touchdown.  Utah State tried to come back but had to settle for a 47 yard field goal attempt that was promptly blocked by Daniel Sorensen and the teams went into the half with a score of 17-7.  Shortly after halftime the Cougars again found the endzone as Hill once again found Mathews for the score and a 24-7 lead.  Only minutes later the duo would hook up one more time as Hill found Mathews for a 43 yard touchdown that put the Aggies away.  Utah State would add one more touchdown to their score late in the fourth quarter but it would have no impact on the game.  With the 31-14 win the Cougars demonstrated a tough defense that was led by Uani‘ Unga who recorded 17 tackles.

Provo, UT 2014 USU 35-20

Nobody in Provo wants to remember this game as once again the Cougars lost Taysom Hill to a leg injury. The Cougars came into the game ranked 18th/19th in the polls and hadn't lost to the Aggies at home since 1978. The teams traded touchdowns for the first part of the game and were tied 14-14 before a fumble gave the Aggies excellent field position just outside the redzone. After a touchdown gave the Aggies the lead at 21-14, Hill broke his leg late in the second quarter and the wheels came off. The Aggies would get another touchdown before the half to lead 28-14. A long drive for the Cougars to start the third quarter ended in an interception at the two yard line and all they could muster was two field goals in the second half. The Aggies would tack on one more touchdown as they took the game 35-20. Not only did the Cougars lose the game and Hill, it sent the Cougars into a four game losing streak that spanned all of October.

The Outlook

The Cougars had a good rebound game against the Fresno State Bulldogs on Saturday and look to have built up some of their lost confidence. The Cougars offense seems to be a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde type of team and can be exciting if they show up to play. However, if the offense sputters the opposing team can enjoy frustrating the play calling. If the Cougars want to win the game in Logan, they need to make sure that the best team shows up on offense and defense as they enter into a hostile environment.

The Positives

Once again the defense showed up to play and kept the Bulldogs to less than 200 yards passing and less than 100 rushing, even with the coaches using the bench in the second half. For the second game this year Kai Nacua had at least two interceptions and an interception return for a touchdown. If the defense continues to play like this, they will be in the game on Saturday and the bowl game.

The Negatives

The Cougars had a couple of negative plays throughout the game but the worst were the two turnovers and once again failing to get the ball to Devon Blackman for a touchdown. Although the fumbles by Tanner Mangum and Riley Burt didn't end up hurting the Cougars in this game, they will need to keep control of the ball against the Aggies as they turned six turnovers into a dominant win over Boise State.

Failing to get a touchdown to Blackman is another story. For most of the game the fans would chant for Blackmon anytime the Cougars came close to the endzone and even booed when he was removed from the game. Although the Cougars can't force the touchdown to happen, they have to make it a reality in the next two games or Blackmon may come out of BYU as the greatest Cougar receiver that never found the endzone. A true tragedy if that happens.

The Match-up

The most intriguing match-up on Saturday may be the Aggies front line as they try and find a way to stop Bronson Kaufusi. Kaufusi is on a tear this season and is acting like he wants to play on Sunday. Going up against the Missouri and Fresno State offensive lines he embarrassed them and surely gave them nightmares for weeks to come. The Cougars have enough talent in their front seven that if the Aggies try to double Kaufusi, there is no guarantee they will stop him, and someone else will most likely find themselves in the backfield. It will be interesting to see how Coach Wells plays the chess match with the player he called Goliath.

The Keys to Watch

When the Aggies have the ball:

Watch for the Aggies to use the run to set up the pass. Devante Mays has taken the majority of the carries this year as his 134 carries almost doubles the next closest in quarterback Kent Myers with 75. Not only does Mays have nine touchdowns but he also averages almost six yards a carry. If he can get going on the ground this will give Myers a chance to run the ball himself, or put the ball in the air. His completion percentage is just under 60% but he has almost 1,500 yards passing and only has three interceptions compared to  14 touchdowns.

Watch for the Cougars to use their disguised blitzs to pressure Myers into some bad passes and bad decisions. The Cougars will look to stop the run first as they try and make the Aggies one dimensional. The Cougars will also look to play the receivers physical and knock them off their routes as they limit Hunter Sharp on his touches. If Sharp is taken out of the passing game, the Aggies offense takes a huge hit as the talent levels drop off considerably.

When the Cougars have the ball:

Watch for the Cougars to really work at getting the rush game going so they can open up the pass. The Aggies have an above average rush defense as they rank 56th in the country and will look to force the Cougars to pass the ball. In the passing game the Aggies are even more stingy as they allow only 171 yards per game and rank 9th in the country. That doesn't mean the Cougars won't be able to pass the ball, it will just be more difficult so they will need to establish the run. Watch for the Cougars to use the short game in the game plan in order to move the ball, but Riley Burt, Francis Bernard, and Algernon Brown must show up to play in order to take pressure off Mangum.

Watch for the Aggies to pin their ears back and work hard at stopping the Cougars running backs. If they can stop the Cougars from gaining yards on the ground, they will feel extremely confident in their pass defense. The Aggies aren't great at getting to the quarterback but they will cause havoc at the line, but they may blitz a bit more as they try to rattle Mangum and company.

Interesting Tidbit

This year the Aggies are using the game against the Cougars as another incentive to help with a charitable cause. The cause this year is set up for a Cache Valley resident named Wayne Nielsen who was recently diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy. A twitter account was set up for the fundraiser @BeardsForWayne. For more information you can contact this account or follow the #BeardsForWayne on twitter.

Next Meeting

The next meeting between the teams is scheduled for November 26th, 2016 as they continue the final regular season match-up.

The Broadcasting Details

Time: 1:30 pm MDT

Where: Maverik Stadium-Logan, Utah

TV: CBS Sports Network

Radio(BYU): KSL 1160 AM/102.7 FM, BYU Radio-Sirius XM 143

Listen Live via Internet(KSL): Click Here