This Friday's game is something I would usually consider a rivalry, but we probably just shouldn't call it a rivalry so that BYU doesn't fumble their way to another disappointing loss. In reality though, Utah State's program is too good, and they have played BYU way too tough the last two years to not be considered a rival. There's a lot of talk about where Gary Andersen's next job is going to be, if I were an Aggie fan I wouldn't be too concerned about him leaving. If he does leave then Utah State will likely just hire another Utah defensive coordinator (Kalani Sitake) and keep the momentum going. Utah of course gets their coaching staff and current defensive coordinator from BYU, so you know they're high quality coaches. Utah State is here to stay, and they're only going to get better from here.
BYU will also only get better from here. From 2010 to now, it has just been one long rebuilding period of poor quarterback play. Although this defense loses a lot of personnel after this year, the offense will be so much better that the team as a whole will be significantly better next year, and every year for the foreseeable future. As it normally is, it will be quarterback play will be what determines the outcome of this game.
Before this season started I had pegged Utah State as a program that happened to have 3 NFL draft picks on the team all at the same time, making it their best season in years, and the best that they would experience for years to come. I was way off. They are a quality higher level Mountain West caliber team comparable to Nevada, San Diego State, Air Force or even this years version of Boise State. They're a good team, and they play their best football against Utah and BYU.
Utah State's success right now isn't only because of Chuckie Keeton, they weren't even sure whether him or Adam Kennedy would be the starter going into fall camp because of how successful Kennedy was last year. They have depth and they are not a one hit wonder, Gary Andersen has built a quality program. Not that Keeton isn't the best quarterback in the state of Utah and the best quarterback that BYU will have faced thus far. Keeton is excellent throwing on the run, and did most of his passing rolling out of the pocket against Utah earlier this year to avoid their excellent pass rush. BYU's pass rush is even better than Utah's this year so I don't anticipate Keeton spending very much time in the pocket at all. I'm not sure that he'll be running very much option either, Utah State ran a lot of option against Utah and ran the ball outside the tackles quite a bit to take advantage of Utah's poor linebacking corp. I actually think that Utah State has a better chance of running the ball in between the tackles against BYU than they do running outside the tackles. Really, they aren't going to find much consistent success no matter what they do, Bronco is too good of a defensive coordinator and this defense is too athletic. Kerwynn Williams is very explosive and has the capability to break a big play if BYU doesn't keep him out of the open field however, so a big key for this BYU defense will be to pursue hard and prevent the big play if somebody misses an open field tackle. In the Utah game Utah State targeted their tight end more than anybody else, and mostly ran shorter routes for quick and high percentage completions. Expect more of the same, they are more likely to break a big play in the run game or with Chuckie running the ball than they are to break a big play catching the ball.
Life as a BYU fan would be so much more enjoyable if the offense was anywhere near as good as the defense. The good news is that I do not think that this Utah State defense is as fast as they are getting credit for. Utah runs the ball almost exclusively in between the tackles, and Utah State did a good job of stopping them at the line of scrimmage, but if there was any semblance of a hole for John White to run through he would get 10 yards and move the chains. Utah State is physical and assignment sound, which is the perfect recipe for stopping the run in between the tackles. Think of Brandon Ogletree, he's physical, assignment sound and a run stopping machine in between the tackles. But if you get him in the open field or have to depend on him to make a tackle outside the tackles he can't use his strengths to his advantage. I think that BYU will be able to exploit that weakness in this Utah State defense, especially with how improved this O-Line is in their run blocking after the changes that Doman made last week. Expect those big fellas to get to the second level and really continue their physicality. I'm very excited to see how this O-Line handles this upgrade in competition, and eager to see the blocking on runs in between the tackles. I think they're going to surprise us, I think this O-Line is on its way back to its 2010 form, and this offense will be able to move the ball again.
Riley got reps in practice. There's good news and bad news associated with that. The bad news is that chances are slimmer for Taysom to get the start. The good news is that Bronco is bringing Riley back the right way. If he's not good enough to go in practice then he's not good enough to go in a game, mostly because of how he played in the Boise State loss. Riley is being evaluated in practice, and if he can perform, then he'll start, if he can't then hopefully he won't. I threw Bronco under the bus for doing it the wrong way before, so now he is due some credit for doing it the right way and not just taking Riley's word for it.
If Taysom starts he will run for at least 100 yards and BYU will amass 250+ yards rushing. Chances are that the safeties will have to commit to the run game and the cornerbacks will give the receivers a bigger cushion because they won't have the help over the top from the safeties. That will allow Taysom to complete high percentage short routes to keep the offense balanced. I believe that Taysom has the fade route dialed in better now, so if those corners come up BYU will have a chance to make a big play downfield to Hoffman. The difficult part about that deep ball is that it is visibly more difficult for Hoffman to judge Taysom's ball because of how accustomed he is to Riley's ball. When Riley throws the fade he doesn't put as much air underneath it which makes it a shorter route and easier catch for Hoffman to catch it at the highest point. If Taysom starts the offense will move the chains and won't turn the ball over to put the defense on a short field. BYU will enjoy a big field position advantage because of their ability to move the chains and Stephenson's big foot punting the ball.
If Riley starts then it will hopefully be because he was evaluated in practice and proved that he is the more effective option than Hill. I don't think that there's ever really a scenario where Riley is more effective than Hill, but he can come close when he is at 100%. If Riley starts against this Utah State defense then it will be very nerve racking for BYU fans. The good news is that Utah State has not been a defense that causes a lot of turnovers, the bad news is that they are focusing on doing just that and Riley is about as prone to turn the ball over as any quarterback that Utah State will face this year. With Utah State being not quite as athletic of a defense as Utah's or Boise State's defenses it does give Riley a little bit better chance of succeeding in being able to extend plays and use his mobility to his advantage. If BYU is able to successfully run the ball and move the chains with the running game then that will really help Riley's passing in a balanced offense. If BYU has a hard time establishing the run then Riley is really going to have a hard time with 3rd and longs and trying to make plays against a defense that is expecting pass. I think that the O-Line has improved enough to where the run game will be moderately successful, which will make a big difference in Riley's effectiveness.
BYU needs to win this game, and that's exactly what I'm predicting. The changes in the O-Line came at a perfect time, and I believe that BYU comes out of this game with a share of the state title. If Taysom starts it will be a consistent outing likely without any BYU turnovers. I see a Taysom Hill led BYU team covering the 7 point spread just by moving the chains, playing field position football and playing stellar defense. If Riley starts it will be wild, nerve racking, and BYU turnovers will lead to Utah State points that will make it very close. It is a rivalry after all. BYU 17-16
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