The Battle for Second Best in Utah

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Wilson PassEarlier this year I wrote about the Aggies.  I wasn’t very bullish on them at the time (which is ironic since their mascot is a bull, but I digress.)  I predicted they might be lucky to get to eight wins; certainly not more.  Losses against Utah, USC, BYU, Boise St. were all but a given.  The Aggies have played five games this season and boast a 3-2 record.  Those two losses are by a combined 7 points, on the road to Utah and USC.  They are winning by an average score of 54-13.  San Jose State, the same team that gave BYU fits and ultimately snuck one against the Cougars in 2012, was a possible dark horse for the Aggies this season.  Not so fast my friend; that game finished with the team from Logan winning by 28.  And the last team on their schedule that poses any threat, the Broncos from Boise, is still a mystery to me.  I’m not so sure they can handle the defensive presence that Utah State can bring.  So that brings us to Friday.

What can we expect from this game in Logan on Friday?  BYU travels to Logan, the site that changed the trajectory of BYU’s defense, and ultimately, its whole identity, where the Aggies last beat the Cougars in 2010.  If you recall, Jake Heaps was awful.  The defense was awful.  And when it was all said and done, head coach Bronco Mendenhall fired defensive coordinator Jaime Hill and the defense has not looked back since.

Since that game, Utah State signed all-American wunderkind Chuckie Keeton who has been integral in helping the Aggies turn the program around.  The three year stretch prior to Keeton’s arrival they only managed to win 11 games (against 25 losses) into a team that over his career has gone 21-10.  In his four years as head coach, Brent Guy was a miserable 9-38.  In Gary Anderson’s four year, he was 26-24.  And Matt Wells is on pace to be even better.  Of course, it helps when your predecessor doesn’t leave the cupboard bare when he leaves.

In a second post, I posited the question: Is 11 wins too much for the Aggies in 2013?  All three of us responded that it was.  I’m not so certain now.  Certainly, beating BYU and BSU is the only way to get there now, but by doing so, the Aggies will get a 13th game in the Mountain West Conference Championship Game as well as a Bowl Game for a 14th chance at 11.  Is 11 out of the question?  I don’t think so.  In fact, if the Aggies can get BYU on Friday and BSU on October 12, I have to imagine the Aggies can at least split the two bonus games to get to 11 and winning both would give them 12.  Fresno is very tough and the bowl game opponent will be much better than last year’s opponent in Toledo, so they could win out, and lose both those bonus games, but 10 wins would still be a great season for this team.

Now for this game.  Here are some storylines I expect to see played out on the field:

Taysom HillThrow Taysom throw.  Can the Cougars get a passing game going against a solid USU defense that is ranked 22nd in the country in total defense?

Run Taysom run.  Can the Cougars get to their blistering 4th best average of 307 rushing yards per game or will the Aggies’ 38th ranked rush defense hold the Cougars closer to their average allowed yards of 127 per game?

Keeton for Heisman. Keeton is a solid dual threat quarterback but we saw him struggle at the Coliseum two weeks ago.  Can BYU confuse him enough to duplicate what the Trojans did or will Keeton play to his expected level?

3rd down battles.  BYU is 10th in the country in getting off the field on 3rd down, only allowing a conversion rate of close to 1 in 4 attempts.  But the Aggies are 14th in the country in conversion moving the chains better than 50% of the time.  So which stat will give the most?

It comes down to which offense can better the opponent’s defense best.  Both teams are only allowing 17 points per game, but the margin for points scored is much larger with the Aggies holding a two touchdown edge in that category.  Will we get a repeat of 6-3 or will the offenses be able to get something going this year?  And if they can, which offense can be the most successful against these stingy defenses?

This is going to be another battle of the defenses, but I think in front of its home crowd, the Aggies will find a way to score the ball.  But they won’t get near head coach Matt Wells’ goal of 75% of scoring inside the red zone.  The Cougars are notorious for getting stops in close and if the Aggies want to score touchdowns, they’ll have to beat BYU’s unproven cornerbacks.  And I think they will.  Keeton is an efficient passer and BYU’s corners just haven’t proven they can handle this job yet.  Its going to come down to one team making a few more big plays than the other and it will be the Aggies this year.

Utah State 24

Brigham Young 17

About the author

Matt Quinney

I'm a BYU guy and I'm not going to apologize for my opinions, but I also am a graduate of the University of Utah so my allegiances go both ways. I've been a sports fan as long as I can remember and when I blog, you'll see a lot of Cougars, some Jazz and Utes, and an occasional post about RSL or even the Dallas Cowboys.

  • Gorum the Old

    One match up that I think is ignored is that of the USU receiver’s vs BYU’s corners. Everyone talks about Keeton vs the Cougar corners, but it is the receivers who will be lining up against them.
    The BYU defense has completely shut down teams with only average receivers. Virginia had only 114 yards through the air, and MTSU only managed 105 yards. The only receivers who have been able to beat the Cougar CBs were Dres Anderson and some of Texas’ 4 and 5 star receivers.
    USU doesn’t have anybody like that. It will be interesting to see how it plays out. Keeton will be able to move the USU offense through the air, but I don’t think they will have near the success they’ve been having. Whether or not that will be enough to win the game, we’ll just have to see.

  • Aggie Guest

    I think big plays are what will make the difference. It’s difficult to sustain long drives against both of these defenses. Whoever can make big offensive plays, or create short fields via the turnover or special teams, will win the game.