This week is going to have a little bit of a different look to it. Typically, I would come at this post from the angle of a BYU analyzing and hopefully, dissecting the opponent. But there is going to be a lot of what to expect from Utah this week between our earlier posts from Block U and Chris Enger so I think I am going to look at this week’s post a bit more in the vein of what BYU can do to beat Utah.
Week 3 Opponent: University of Utah Utes; heading into a Crimson Coliseum.
Coaching Match Ups
Bronco Mendenhall vs. Kyle Whittingham – Each coach is in his 8th season at the helm for his respective school. The records are very close. However, they are not when it comes to the big game. In their tenure, BYU has memorable wins that exist in lore such as Harline’s Answered Prayer; 4th and 18; By George, I Think He Caught It, and Max Hall Hates Me (okay, the final two are one in the same.) On the other hand, you have 2008, Brandon Burton’s Block, and last year’s infamous 54-10. Bronco will look to net this series back up between the two coaches with a win in Salt Lake this week, but as we’ve seen, this has been no small task for Mendenhall. Its no secret among the BYU faithful that we feel BYU seems to come out flat when it comes to their rival to the north, no matter the discrepancy in talent, meanwhile, the Utes always come prepared, mentally, physically, emotionally to play this game. I don’t know what it is that gets them so much better prepared to play this game. I have to ask myself if it doesn’t start right there with Mendenhall. Utah embraces this game. They look for bulletin board material. BYU sends only its captains to the media while claiming this is “only the next game.” I might suggest to BYU that they embrace the hype of this game and let the players find their own emotional and mental balance instead of having it dictated to them.
Head coaching edge: Whittingham
Offensive coordinator: Brandon Doman vs. Brian Johnson – Brandon Doman struggled last season in his first year as OC/QB coach. This year he’s brought on a little talent to help him in the form of graduate assistant Max Hall. He’s had time to let the game come to him and it has seemingly slowed down. A lot of fans are still griping that he hasn’t proven anything yet, and while statistically true, I think this season will be special now that we are getting into the meat of it with solid back-to-back test against Utah and Boise State. Johnson on the other hand is a rookie, and a very inexperienced one at that. Its hard to tell what he’s got planned up there. The offense was very vanilla (expectedly so) against Northern Colorado and it is hard to know what broke down in Logan this past weekend (all obvious jokes about Jordan Wynn’s shoulder aside) whether it was the play-calling or lack of any semblance of consistency. This week will require Johnson to be at his best if he has any hope of out-scheming Bronco Mendenhall’s defensive schemes.
Offensive coordinator edge: Doman
Defensive coordinator: Bronco Mendenhall vs. Kalani Sitake – This one will be interesting to watch. When Dog and Deuce invited us to their show a few weeks ago, we split 2-2 as to whether or not BYU’s defense was approaching the same league that Utah’s defense was in. It wasn’t Matt and Carl vs. Dog and Deuce. Matt and Dog were on one side and Carl and Deuce championed the other. While we conceded that Utah’s defense was superior, we contended that the discrepancy was not as big as some might think. Carl and Deuce felt we were up in the night. While one (or two) game(s) might not prove anything definitively, I feel even more now that Dog and I were right. Bronco has a team that (despite the obvious quitting last year) is going to play 60 minutes on Saturday. They are going to fly to the ball, they have a secondary the likes of which hasn’t been seen in Provo since about 1996, and they are going to hit you hard. Utah has a 4-headed stud defensive line that is likely going to eat up BYU’s lackluster offensive line. The linebackers have been good thus far but with the possibility of losing Eric Rowe for this game coupled with Brian Blechen’s continued suspension it could spell trouble. I don’t know which way to call this one so I am going to take the easy way out.
Defensive coordinator edge: Push
BYU offense vs. Utah defense: In both cases the offense comes in considerably overwhelmed by the opposing defense. BYU has fewer questions on offense and if they can get it going, i.e. running the ball consistently, BYU should have the better offensive day. Riley Nelson must play within himself and not try to beat the Utes one-on-one. He needs to stay poised and patient in the pocket and deliver on passes. If he can hold off on running until there just isn’t another option, BYU should be fine. I expect that freshman RB Jamaal Williams will be called upon more as BYU tries to rush for the edge more and more. BYU will have to find a way to the edge in order to make any headway in the running game – and BYU will need to reach the magic number of 150 yards as BYU is 39-4 in the Mendenhall era when reaching that number. WR Cody Hoffman will play a big part in the offense as will breakout TE Kaneakua Friel.
But on the other side of the ball looms run-stuffing big man Star Lotulelei who will command the attention of no fewer than two of BYU’s big uglies up front. Plus, the Kruger brothers and Nate Fakahafua help make this a defensive line that just spells big trouble for BYU’s already oft-lamented running game. The secondary is going to have to step up but with both safeties possibly out for this game, Utah’s secondary will be tested – provided Nelson has time (and talent) enough to test it.
BYU defense vs. Utah offense: Similarly, Utah’s offense should struggle against BYU. Not because Jordan Wynn is gone and a mediocre QB will likely get the start or because John White IV may be out, but because BYU’s defense is that good. If they come and play from kickoff to the final whistle, this game will be a true slugfest. Coach Whit has refused to discuss injuries to White IV and Rowe as well as to name the official starter (Hays or freshman Travis Wilson) so BYU will have to prepare for all aspects. As a BYU fan, I hope we see Hays. He’s a decent QB but he’s not anything special. Wilson scares me. I know this season is only two weeks in so far but his flea flicker TD pass against Utah State was AWESOME!
Final thoughts: Just a couple of benchmarks here: Utah is 9-0 when White IV runs for 100 or more yards. He had 96 on Friday night. BYU has held 8 straight opponents under 300 total yards. Of those 8, the only noteworthy team was TCU who beat the Cougars. BYU typically wins these games when they can effectively run the ball and control time of possession. Both those elements help limit the turnovers (which plague BYU in their losses to Utah) but at the end of it all, you can almost always throw out all the stats and analysis when it comes to this series because it doesn’t matter how dominant one team is over the other, the emotion of rivalry week always gets both these teams up and the games almost never go how anyone expects they will. This game could be a slugfest and end up with a very low score and just as easily one team or both could go off for an incredible amount of points. BYU comes in favored but it didn’t do them any good last season. Utah’s defense is very assignment sound and solid front to back. BYU’s is also solid (I’m not certain they are as good as Utah) but BYU plays an opportunistic style of defense sometimes that creates turnovers but also causes them to make mental errors as well.
Prediction: The game starts out slow as each team pokes around at the others defense trying to find an opening. First score either way will come off a special teams mistake. I would expect BYU will pressure Hays to force him to make quick reads and get the ball out quick. BYU may jump out to an early 10-0 lead but Utah will claw back and this game will be close until the end. BYU will come out victorious 17-14.