The Aggies return to the scene of a heart-breaking 27-24 loss a year ago as they face the BYU Cougars in Provo, UT tonight. The Aggies enter the contest with a 4-1 record and look to build on what has been their best start to a season in 34 years. The Cougars sport a 3-2 record with a couple of tough road losses to Utah and Boise State. Upon examination, it looks like this year’s game will be a physical, evenly matched contest.
If the Aggies want to knock off the Cougars, they need to bring the same intensity they brought to the Utah and Wisconsin matchups. Let’s look at a few key areas where the Aggies need to be successful.
1. No Special Teams Miscues
Errors on special teams have haunted the Aggies this year, most notably in their loss at Wisconsin. Tight contests are often won or lost because of special teams, and this one more than likely will be one of those. Avoiding fumbles, hitting makeable field goals, and solid punting will be crucial to a victory. In addition to avoiding to miscues, Utah State can benefit substantially from getting good kickoff returns when given the opportunity. If kick returner Chuck Jacobs can field and return a couple kickoffs, he could drastically improve the Aggies starting field position by breaking off some big gains. In limited action, Jacobs is averaging over 38 yards a return. He’s dangerous, and BYU would be wise to kick away from him.
2. Contain Taysom Hill
By most accounts, BYU freshman quarterback Taysom Hill will be tonight’s starter due to an injury to Riley Nelson. Hill has shown to be a proficient runner thus far, but hasn’t shown the ability to be a consistent passer. The BYU coaching staff will try to utilize his rushing ability throughout the game to move the ball. It might be smart for Utah State defensive coordinator Dave Aranda to use one of the quicker Aggie linebackers as a spy on Hill throughout the game. Backup inside linebacker Tavaris McMillian could see much more time tonight trying to keep the big, speedy Hill under containment.
3. Make Plays When the Play Breaks Down
Having a dual-threat quarterback like Chuckie Keeton has gone a long ways this year when facing tough defenses. When previously matched up against solid defenses like Utah and Wisconsin, the Aggies relied on Keeton’s legs to pick up first downs in key situations. Chuckie rushed for 86 and 75 yards against the Utes and Badgers, respectively. BYU also fields a spectacular defense, so you might see Keeton utilizing his scrambling ability when the Cougars send pressure or cover well in the back end. The Aggie coaching staff would prefer Keeton to stay in the pocket to avoid potential injury rushing the ball, but they may have no choice if BYU’s front 7 are able to get into the backfield.
In conjunction with Chuckie scrambling after a pass play breaks down, the USU receivers need to get open to give some passing options to Keeton. Last year in Provo, wide receiver Eric Moats did just that, which resulted in a 2nd quarter 13-yard touchdown pass to put the Aggies up 14-10. Similar plays would be a huge boon to the Aggie offense and the continued health of Keeton.
4. Force 3rd and Long Situations
Like was previously stated, BYU quarterback Taysom Hill is not quite a polished passer yet. If the Utah State defense can stuff the run on 1st and 2nd down, BYU will be forced to put the ball in the air. I’m sure the Aggies would love nothing more than to make a Cougar offense ranked 92nd nationally in passing offense throw the football. 3rd and long passing situations with an inexperienced quarterback could be just what the USU secondary needs to intercept some potentially ill-advised passes.
5. Play-calling Creativity
Aggie offensive coordinator Matt Wells will need his creative juices flowing when calling plays against a talented, aggressive BYU defense for the Aggies to sustain drives. The Cougars love to bring pressure, so it might be smart to use that aggressiveness to the Aggies’ advantage. Screens to running backs Kerwynn Williams and Joe Hill should be effective if called in the right situations, as they were in last week’s matchup vs. UNLV. It should be noted that Robert Turbin scored on a beautifully set up 24-yard screen pass last year vs. BYU.
Tonight’s game will begin at 8:15 PM MST and can be watched on ESPN. It should be an exciting game, so be sure to tune in.