In what is a 3 game stretch against Pac-12 South teams, BYU started the season with a win against the University of Arizona. What some would likely consider a sloppy performance, BYU won 24-16 in a game that included some special teams highlights, a defensive score, and a very scary injury to BYU’s Keenan Ellis, who is recovering quickly.
BYU head coach Kalani Sitake said:
“I am really happy about the win. Obviously, there is a lot of things that we can improve on ... I was really proud of the fight from our team to respond and find a way to get the win.”
Sitake went on to say the team needs to tighten things up before the game vs Utah this Saturday on September 11, but overall, he was happy with the win.
Moving on to the preview for the Holy War, both teams come into this game 1-0 after Utah beat up on FCS Weber State 40-17. As of writing this, Utah is ranked 24th in the AP Poll, but that will likely change tomorrow when the new polls come out as eight teams ranked ahead of Utah lost games this week.
Utah’s QB, Charlie Brewer, completed 19 of 27 passes, tallying up 233 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Utah’s leading rusher was RB Tavion Thomas, who had 12 carries for 102 yards and two touchdowns. Their leading receiver was TE Dalton Kincaid, catching both touchdown passes from Brewer, along with two other receptions, having four total receptions for 75 yards.
College football fans around the country may be curious why Brant Kuithe was not utilized as much as they expected in Utah’s passing attack. Kuithe was partially given the “Matt Bushman treatment”, being shadowed by a LB on most plays by Weber, but I’m guessing Utah did not use their entire playbook in game one vs Weber State.
On the defense, Utah held Weber to just 10 points (one of their TD’s was scored off a kickoff return). Linebacker Devin Lloyd showed out, totaling 12 tackles (seven solo), sack, two TFL’s, and an interception. “Super senior” Mika Tafua also had one fumble recovery.
Utah comes into this game basically 100% healthy. Although Arizona is no powerhouse, they’re a clear cut above an FCS team in Weber. Utah was able to keep their starters healthy, giving them an advantage on the health side of the game vs BYU. At QB, they have Baylor transfer Charlie Brewer. Brewer is coming off of a solid game vs Weber, having won the starting spot over sophomore Cameron Rising. Brewer is the best quarterback that Utah has had since at least Tyler Huntley who currently the second string QB for the Baltimore Ravens. In his career at Baylor, Brewer completed 828 passes for 9700 yards and 65 touchdowns with 28 interceptions. Charlie Brewer is a quarterback who brings a decent amount of consistency to the Utah passing game, something they lacked severely last year with Jake Bentley.
At running back, Utah has what seems to be too many good options — something BYU fans don’t want to hear. With Oklahoma transfer T.J. Pledger, as well as starter Micah Bernard, with Tavion Thomas and Chris Curry rounding out the RB room. As we’ve seen Kyle Whittingham do in the past, Utah will likely try out the running backs at varying amounts in the first few games before settling on a starter for the season, so expect to see multiple different faces in the backfield this Saturday.
Utah’s WR corps includes redshirt junior Britain Covey (yep, still a junior), Theo Howard (transfer from UCLA/OU), and Solomon Enis. Rounding out the passing threats, the TE’s include Brant Kuithe, Cole Fotheringham and Dalton Kincaid.
Utah’s offensive line is made up of a few transfers and redshirt junior Nick Ford. They won’t be 2020 BYU good, but they’re a good offensive line who will make sure BYU has to work to get pressure.
On the defense, we already touched on LB Devin Lloyd, who will likely enter the NFL draft after this year, but the rest of the defense includes DL Mika Tafua and Van Fillinger, FS Vonte Davis, DB Clark Phillips, and LB Nephi Sewell. There is quite a bit of talent on the defensive side of the ball for the Utes. The matchup to watch will be Utah’s defensive line vs BYU’s offensive line, but we will also see great matchups between BYU’s WR’s and Utah’s DB’s. With Clark Phillips at corner and Vonte Davis at safety, the rest of the Utah secondary can play aggressive and try to limit BYU’s passing game. We should see both Nacua brothers playing for BYU at WR this weekend, which will help, but WR Gunner Romney is likely out with a knee injury.
If BYU’s offensive line can withstand Utah’s pass rush, we should be able to keep the defense honest against the run game. Isaac Rex, Dallin Holker, Puka and Samson Nacua, Neil Pau’u, Masen Wake, Chris Jackson and Keanu Hill all being more than capable of getting balls thrown to them should be plenty for Jaren Hall to work with passing the ball. With Tyler Allgeier and Lopini Katoa in the backfield, we should be able to develop a good gameplan that keeps Utah’s defense guessing. I anticipate we saw less than 20% of the offense’s total playbook vs Arizona, so we should see things being quite a bit more unpredictable (in a good way) for BYU.
The one question mark for BYU fans should be the availability of kicker Jake Oldroyd. Jake was ruled out for Saturday’s game vs Arizona prior to kickoff due to a re-aggravation of an existing injury. If Jake can play, that will be a massive boost for BYU as most of their special teams plans center around his ability to kick the ball. Punter Ryan Rekhow should be good to play as well, which will provide field-flipping ability to BYU as well if they need it.
Kalani Sitake, Ilaisa Tuiaki, and Aaron Roderick definitely have their work cut out for them this weekend. With a potential Big XII invite on the horizon, it may be more difficult than usual to prepare for the game, but the players should be able to stay locked in as this is, by many BYU fan’s accounts, the biggest game of the year. Although most signs point to a Utah win on paper, you never know how the ball bounces. I am going to go out on a limb and predict a 27-24 win for BYU.