Utah heads north to take on in-state foe Utah State Friday night, in one of the most played games in college football history. This will be the 110th meeting between the two teams. Utah has owned the series lately, winning the last 12 games and 20 of the last 22.
Utah State (1-0) opened the season with a win against a solid FCS team in Southern Utah, defeating the Thunderbirds 34-3. Utah State controlled the game from beginning to end, and looked good on both sides of the football. Head coach Gary Andersen appears to have the program headed in the right direction after leading the Aggies to their first bowl game since 1997. Utah State is looking to improve on their 7-6 record from a year ago and compete for the WAC title. Utah State presents many different looks on both sides of the football, and will be a great test for Utah in the second game of the season. Utah State's offense had several impressive drives against Southern Utah, including two drives of over 95 yards.
Utah (1-0) had a convincing final score in their season opener, defeating Northern Colorado 41-0. Utah's offense struggled early before blowing the game open in the second quarter. Utah played rather vanilla schemes on both sides of the ball and will look to open up the playbook against Utah State.
Utah State's offense is difficult to define, because the Aggies incorporate so many different styles into one offense. In addition to utilizing many different formations, alignments, and personnel groupings, the Aggies also mix together various styles and concepts. Utah State will run the option out of almost any formation, while throwing in Pistol concepts along with some things you might consider West Coast, Air Raid, and Spread. Though this mix is designed to confuse and attack a defense, it is all grounded in one main point: Utah State wants to run the football. In Gary Andersen's previous three seasons at Utah State, the Aggies have been a run-oriented team, and have become even more so the more success they have seen. Utah State ran the football over 68% of the time a season ago, and ran the ball two out of every three plays in their opener against Southern Utah.
Utah State Run Offense vs Utah Run Defense
Despite losing running backs Robert Turbin and Michael Smith to the NFL, Utah State has a very capable stable of running backs. Senior Kerwynn Williams is a dynamic back, full of speed and quickness and is a threat to break a big play every time he touches the football. Though small, the 5-foot-8, 190 pound is durable and willing to run the ball between the tackles. Williams can get impatient waiting for blocks and is not always consistent in his ball security, but overall he is a solid running back. His backup, though, showed signs that he might be even better. Sophomore Joe Hill had an outstanding game against the Thunderbirds, gaining 116 yards and scoring three touchdowns on just 11 carries. Hill showed speed, power, and vision as he knifed through the defense. All three of his rushing touchdowns gained 19 or more yards. Quarterback Chuckie Keeton is a dangerous threat running the football as well, either scrambling on passing plays or keeping the ball on the option. Keeton does tend to get greedy in the option game, keeping the ball when giving it to a back would have been the better read. Keeton will also put the ball on the turf. Utah State's offensive line did a nice job controlling the line of scrimmage, especially as the game wore on.
Utah's defensive front is the strength of the defense, and they showed why in the first game. Utah's defense allowed Northern Colorado to gain just 35 rushing yards in 24 attempts while recording seven tackles for loss (two sacks). Utah also forced four fumbles. Star Lotulelei was a monster, continually getting great jumps off the snap and often getting past the first blocker before the play had a chance to start. Dave Kruger did not have the stats to back up his solid play, though he was a big reason for the stout run defense. Backup tackle Viliseni Fauonuku had a great offseason, and it showed in the opener, and Fauonuku was very disruptive, getting a tackle for loss and forcing a fumble. Utah's linebackers had an easy time finding the ball carrier, though so many rotated in no one linebacker really stood out. Utah's front will have to be on their toes against a formidable rushing attack, and Utah State will likely pull out all the stops to attack Utah's aggressive defense. In particular, look for the Aggies to take advantage of Lotulelei's quickness and anticipation, using hard counts to try to draw him offsides while also pulling out some old-school running schemes and trapping him. Utah's ends and linebackers will also be isolated in the option game, and they entire defense will have to play sound, fundamental football.
Utah Run Offense vs Utah State Run Defense
John White turned in a typical White performance against Northern Colorado, running for 119 yards and a touchdown, while looking like a better back than he was a year ago. White was more patient behind the line and protected the ball much better than last season. White had more carries than Utah probably wanted, taking the ball 24 times. White proved he can handle a heavy workload last season, but Utah needs someone to step up behind him and allow White some plays off. Neither Jarrell Oliver nor Kelvin York looked great running the football, though York was the better of the backups. One of the pair needs to step up this week and prove they are capable of carrying the football. Freshman quarterback Travis Wilson had quite the debut, rushing for two touchdowns in limited situations. Wilson is an athletic quarterback, and displayed as much, leaping over one defender on one of his seven carries. It will be interesting to see how Utah uses Wilson from here on out in the running game. Utah's offensive line wasn't great against Northern Colorado, as they had a hard time opening holes and missed some blocks. Granted, the Bears were selling out to stop the run and Utah still ran for nearly 200 yards, but there were opportunities for huge gains that were missed due to missed blocks. Jeremiah Tofaeono was the most inconsistent of the starting five. He made some great blocks at times, but missed on others. Tofaeono had a hard time picking up blocks when he was pulling, and there were times when he and left tackle Miles Mason miscommunicated on combo blocks, allowing a free man to take down the ballcarrier. Utah will need better play from the offensive line.
Utah State was very good against the run in the opener, holding Southern Utah to just 56 yards on the ground. The Aggies had to completely rebuild the middle of their defense, and inside linebackers Kyle Gallagher and second-round draft pick Bobby Wagner left the program. Utah State also moved last year's starting nose tackle Al Lapuaho to end. Though not huge on the defensive front, the Aggies have good size for their 3-4 alignment, and have improved their athleticism each year under coach Andersen. Freshman nose tackle Travis Seefeldt had a solid game holding down the middle, allowing inside linebackers Jake Doughty and Tavaris McMillian room to scrape and attack the ballcarrier, though like Utah, Utah State rotated so many players in the first game it was difficult for any one linebacker to stand out. Lapuaho had a good game and is a quality 3-4 end, able to hold the point in the running game while able to create pressure in the passing game. Southern Utah is not a great running team, and it remains to be seen how good the new middle of Utah State's defense really is.
Utah State Pass Offense vs Utah Pass Defense
Keeton had a terrific start to the 2012 season throwing the football, passing for a career-high 304 yards and two touchdowns. Keeton looked like the best quarterback in the state, as he was pinpoint accurate with his throws, hitting receivers perfectly in stride all game long. Keeton has clearly improved as a passer from a year ago. Keeton has a good arm and the ability to keep plays alive with his feet, and he showed a willingness to stay in the pocket and let the plays develop in the opener. Keeton showed few if any weaknesses in the opener, and will be the key to the Aggie offense all season long. Backup Adam Kennedy had a great season in 2011 filling in when Keeton missed several games due to injury. Kennedy is a capable passer with a good arm and solid mechanics. While not a great runner, Kennedy is capable of making plays in the option game and buying just enough time for his receivers to get open. Utah State has two very good receivers in Matt Austin and Chuck Jacobs. Austin is an excellent route runner with great hands, and enough speed to get past the secondary. Austin led the team with 34 catches, 465 yards, and six touchdowns last year before having a career game against the Thunderbirds, catching five passes for 119 yards and a touchdown. Jacobs' game in pure speed, and the Aggies will try to get him the ball in as many ways as possible. Jacobs caught four passes for 64 yards in the opener, including a 48-yard bomb for a touchdown. There is not a lot of production behind Austin and Jacobs, and Utah State's tight ends are more blockers than receivers. Utah State will need someone to step up and keep secondaries from focusing solely on Austin and Jacobs. Utah State's offensive line as not nearly as good in pass protection as run blocking, allowing two sacks and several pressures by Southern Utah. They could have their hands full against an excellent Utah defensive line.
Utah's pass defense was excellent against Northern Colorado, admittedly not a dynamic passing attack. Utah allowed just 79 passing yards in the shutout. Starting corners Moe Lee and Ryan Lacy very right on their man all game long, and have the ability to lock up Austin and Jacobs. Nickel corner [/db]Lewis Walker[/db] struggled at times, though Reggie Topps returns from his one game suspension and will take over in the nickel defense for Walker. Topps is a solid cover man. Utah's safeties were somewhat inconsistent, especially when they were isolated in man coverage. Eric Rowe nearly allowed a touchdown early in the game, when he was isolated in man coverage and got beat deep on a ball that was overthrown. Quade Chappuis did a solid job filling in for suspended Brian Blechen, but will face a greater challenge this week. Utah's pass rush was good if not inconsistent. The ends got good pressure on occasion, with Trevor Reilly and Nate Fakahafua each recording a sack. Utah will need better and more consistent pressure against Utah State, and the ends need to stay disciplined in their pass rush and keep Keeton inside the pocket. Keep an eye on sophomore linebacker/defensive end Jacoby Hale. Hale played a lot in passing situations against the Bears, and is turning into another solid pass rusher. Expect Utah State to try to attack Utah's safeties and linebackers in the passing game.
Utah Pass Offense vs Utah State Pass Defense
Utah's passing game was good but not great in the opener. Utah threw for 221 yards and two touchdowns, but could not generate big plays in the passing game. Quarterback Jordan Wynn had a rough start to the game, including throwing an interception on a poorly thrown football that would have been a touchdown had it been thrown where it should have been. Wynn got back in rhythm after the interception and finished his day early with 200 yards and both touchdowns to his name. Wynn needs to be in-sync from the opening snap this game, and show that he can get the ball downfield to his receivers in order to truly open up the Utah offense. New offensive coordinator Brian Johnson did show his ability to attack a defensive weakness. Northern Colorado's linebackers are not good in pass coverage, and Johnson attacked them with the tight end and passes to the flats. Tight ends and running backs caught 11 of Wynn's 19 passes for 116 yards. Tight end Jake Murphy was the main target, catching six passes for 78 yards and both touchdowns. Utah's receivers didn't see a lot of passes thrown their way, though Dres Anderson had a solid game, catching four passes for 53 yards. Utah will need more from their receivers this week, especially DeVonte Christopher. Utah's offensive line, while not allowing a sack, did allow some pressure. The unit will have to be on their toes against an aggressive Utah State front.
Utah State returns three starters in the secondary, including both corners, though that is not necessarily a good thing. Utah State struggled stopping the pass a year ago and recorded just four interceptions on the season - three by linebackers Wagner and Gallagher. Utah State did a good job of slowing down the Southern Utah passing game and did pick off a pass. Nevin Lawson and Jumanne Robertson are good cover corners, though they can be beat. Safeties McKade Brady and Brian Suite are adequate, though both are better against the run than the pass. Utah State's front makes life a little easier for the secondary by generating a lot of pressure on the quarterback. The Aggies recorded 25 sacks a year ago and got to Southern Utah quarterback Brad Sorensen twice and hurried him on several occasions. Sorensen did not have much time to find receivers and threw the ball away instead of risking taking a hit. However, when Sorensen did have time, he was able to have success through the air. Linebacker Bojay Filimoeatu is a good pass rusher, though Utah State will bring pressure from any location and position on defense. Nickel back Terrence Alston recorded one of Utah State's two sacks against Southern Utah, and you can bet Utah State will bring pass rushers from all over the field, attempting to confuse the pass protection and force Wynn into bad decisions.
Utah State's special teams are still an unknown for the 2012 season. The Aggies struggled in some areas a year ago, most notably in the kicking and punting games. Kicker Josh Thompson struggled a year ago in limited attempts, making six of 10 field goal attempts. Thompson has competition for the placekicking duties and is listed as the co-starter with Nick Diaz. Diaz redshirted last season after handling kickoffs as a true freshman in 2010. Neither kicker has a strong leg and it will be interesting to see what happens when Utah State is inside the 35-yard line on offense. Against Southern Utah, Utah State had two opportunities to attempt field goals and decided against it both times - once going for it on fourth-and-one from the SUU 7-yard line (Hill lost a yard on the play) and once punting on fourth-and-five from the SUU 39-yard line. The last one would have been a very long field goal attempt, but with the game in hand at that point Utah State might have used the opportunity to see what their kicker could do in a game situation. Punter Tyler Bennett returns after a decent 2011 season, and will look to be better in 2012. Bennett punted twice against the Thunderbirds for 81 yards, with a long punt of 42 yards. Bennett does a good job of getting height on his kicks, allowing few returns, though his distance is not great. Utah State's strength is in the return game. Receiver Chuck Jacobs is a dynamic return man, and he had a 30-yard punt return against Utah State.
Utah's special teams are terrific in nearly every area. Utah's coverage teams are generally among the best in the nation, and got out to a great start in 2012, completely shutting down a very good kick returner in Dominic Gunn last week. Sean Sellwood is a very good punter, and had an outstanding opener himself, with a net average of 52.5 yards per punt, including booming one punt 60 yards that was downed at the 3-yard line. Utah did not return a kickoff against Northern Colorado, but Reggie Dunn is a dangerous kick returner. Nick Marsh followed Utah's game plan for kickoffs to perfection, kicking the ball high and inside the 5-yard line, allowing Utah to pin Northern Colorado inside the 20-yard line. Utah's punt return game needs some help. Geoff Norwood did not have a great game against Northern Colorado, returning two punts for eight yards, and did not really show much as a return man. Charles Henderson had an even worse opener. Henderson showed he could be a threat in the return game a season ago, but made a horrible decision attempting to field a rolling punt inside the 10-yard line that he should have stayed away from. Henderson could not control the ball and nearly turned it over to the Bears before securing the football. Coleman Petersen needs to get his head back in the football game, or just avoid kicking against teams from Colorado. Petersen had a solid season a year ago before missing multiple kicks against Colorado in the regular season finale. Petersen continued his inconsistent play from the end of 2011 and the off-season against Northern Colorado, missing a short field goal and an extra point. If Petersen struggles against the Aggies, Utah just might avoid kicking field goals this season.
Utah State starts off quickly and takes an early lead, hitting on some key big plays. Utah, though struggling early on, finds their rhythm in the second quarter. The game remains close at halftime. Utah starts the second half strong, pulling away on offense and shutting the Aggies down on defense before finishing with a comfortable win.