BYU OC Roderick & Utah’s DC Scalley know each other well, both coaches are creative and adaptive.  I would bet money there are plays in Roderick’s playbook he’s kept for this game, specifically.  The stakes for them are very high, they need to pull off some unconventional things to prevail, like they showed vs Arizona with the sweep-reverse-throwback to the QB.

Arizona was unexpectedly able to limit the run in Vegas up the middle, forced BYU to use some trickeration to open things up, which is a benefit for our defense, especially the young guys.  When you see things on film it’s a lot easier than having your coach draw up plays that *might* happen, and the upcoming opponent having already demonstrated they’ll call the circus plays makes your players pay more attention to the hypothetical, what else they might throw out there.

Like always, Job 1 is to stop the run.  In this matchup, I don’t see our Front 7 having problems doing so, though every game is cat and mouse in Xs and Os, so don’t be surprised if an unexpected blocking scheme opens some holes early, but we’ll adjust and be able to clamp down on their run game.   Allgier is a good RB, and Katoa is serviceable, but our D has been built to make a run at the Rose Bowl, and we see quality RBs every week in conference play.  Our DL is solid up front against the run, and Arizona stood up the Cougars who should have had a distinct advantage up front.      

While Jaren Hall is a nice athlete who can do damage with his legs if the defense turns its back on him, he doesn’t seem to have elite accuracy, and has a history of injuries.  If our coverage is tight, this lack of accuracy makes passes downfield a real risk, and may cause Hall to go through his progressions better, which provides time for our DEs and LBs to get to him.  I’d also expect that they get some of their WRs involved in the run game, such as Chris Jackson, who is smaller & quicker.

Hall wasn’t used extensively in design runs in Game 1, but I wouldn’t assume they’ll protect him in this game, they’ll be forced to use him in the run game, enough to keep our D honest, and if things get out of hand, we may have to assign a spy.

We saw almost nothing of their TEs in the first game, so they’ll be targeted over the middle, and on rub routes to the outside, etc.  The trouble is, Lloyd and Sewell have seen a lot of different looks, read defenses like a watch and shouldn’t have trouble limiting the effectiveness of this aspect.  Davis, McKinney (and Bishop and Latu) will converge on the ball, as well, and I think would do reasonably well if lined up against a TE at the snap.  

If there are multiple “post up” passes to TEs or even their big WRs, we’ll make an adjustment.   When they go double-TE, we’ll pull the NB and be in a base 4-3 bringing in Furey at the Stud.   If they try to be completely unconventional, Scalley can bring in 3 safeties and let McKinney come up to line up as the 3rd LB.  

Where our Front 7 is solid, our back end is still unproven.  My hunch is Roderick & Hall will try to bait Utah’s still-young cover guys to come off coverage on play break downs or rollouts outside the pocket, they’ll expect our youngsters will want to play hero ball.  Solid tackling and assignment discipline is a must in the secondary.  Don’t be surprised if there’s a hook & lateral, those kind of plays, so if our guys stay sticky in man coverage & wrap up, that tamps down the potential for that kind of BS.f we use man coverage a ton, expect Hall to try and get past the LOS with his legs on 4 deep routes, so I hope Scalley throws in some zone looks to keep Hall off balance and wreck some play calls.

With the run game under control, the plan is always to have Tafua, Fillinger, Carlton, Lloyd and Sewell get pressure on the QB, which is where the experience with Weber’s pass-rush eluding QB should help us.  QBs that struggle with accuracy tend to focus on one or two receivers, so they can get a bead on where the ball needs to be, and focus on getting it delivered accurately.  If Hall’s not scanning the field and seems to be locking on, bring NB & CB blitzes, get him thinking the clock is 3 seconds or less.  I’m not saying Hall is wildly erratic, only that he doesn’t have elite accuracy along with quick decision making…. otherwise he would have beat out Zach Wilson.  In 2019 we certainly got into Wilson’s head.

I expect both Pakua brothers to play at WR, though both have been hampered by injuries and likely won’t be at 100%.  Romney is doubtful, wincing when a knee brace was put on after getting rolled up vs AZ.  With the injuries, Pau’u is the #1, has good speed, but unless there’s a coverage breakdown or a bad angle, he shouldn’t be able to break away.  Keanu Hill looks talented but got bumped to a 2, Jackson is smaller & quicker, but hasn’t been too involved, we’ll probably see some others who may be more than decoys – they’ll be going for broke.  

Based on separation vs Weber one option is moving Phillips inside to NB and presumably let Faybian Marks #23 or Zemaiah Vaughn #16 handle the corner.  Another DB who seems like he wants game snaps is #22 Aaron Lowe, who took Ty Jordan’s number from Vonte Davis because they were really tight.  Davis is now #9 at FS.

Summary: Utah’s Defense vs BYU’s Offense is a clear net advantage for the Utes.  With leadership like Mika Tafua, Devin Lloyd and Clark Phillips III we should be disciplined, sound, quick and smothering,  If we’re disciplined & make the plays to get off the field, even the circus plays won’t be effective, it will force them to string together remarkable plays to be a serious threat of scoring more than 20, which is unlikely.

Special Teams

One painful lesson vs Weber was KO coverage.  Reggie Dunn laughed about that KO TD, saying it was the same play Jay Hill dialed up for him when he had all those TDs as a senior for the Utes.  Obviously Shah can’t let that happen, and after a painful review and stewing on it during the rain delay, coverage was fine after that.  While it hasn’t been featured much, we should try to get better field position if a KO to us is playable.

I expect BYU will try to limit potential damage by Covey on punt returns, as he can flip a field quickly, with great vision, fearlessnous and ability to evade, so look for their punter to angle for the sidelines to hem Covey in.  Utah’s Punt coverage shows no signs of needing work – let’s hope that continues on Saturday.   After the Weber fiasco, I expect both KO and punt coverage to be solid.

Until they prove otherwise, I would have to give the nod to BYU’s punter and their kicker Oldroyd.  Our punter Peasley is from the growing Australian pipeline pioneered by Tommy Hackett, but is still pretty green.   Jason Redding missed his first PAT in a couple of years (granted after a penalty made it more difficult).   I have faith in Redding and Peasley, just giving a slight nod to BYU until they prove it under the pressure of a heated rivalry game in Week 2.

BYU wants this monkey off their back – if we win on Saturday, some of the players from their last victory will have kids on missions by the time we play again in ’24.

Next up – Utah’s Offense vs BYU’s Defense + Intangibles & Summary