Leading up to the second biggest rivalry football game in the state of Utah–or first, depending on which side you’re on–BYU and Utah State don’t really mirror one another in terms of rushing offense.
BYU has all kinds of trouble scoring points on the ground; in fact, the Cougars have only scored two rushing touchdowns this season, while the Aggies have no problems whatsoever getting the ball into the end zone.
That is thanks in large part to junior Utah State running back Robert Turbin, who at 121 yards per game is leading all rushers in the Western Athletic Conference and is 11th overall in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
The way Utah State gets its touchdowns is quite simple. By running the ball in its version of the spread offense, early and often, the Aggies use their running backs to set up a short vertical passing game.
It’s a taste the Cougars must acquire fast if they have any chance to win Friday night in Provo and avenge a stunning 31-16 loss in Logan last year, because BYU hasn‘t seen anything like what the Aggies are bringing to Lavell Edwards Stadium on Friday.
On the flip side, BYU has had little success rushing the football. No game has seen the Cougars with a 100-yard rusher, and a lack of a running game has cost the team–and quarterback Jake Heaps–dearly as it attempts to fashion an offense that is similar to one which BYU fans are accustomed.
The Aggies have no such problem. Their backfield is so loaded that one might argue Utah State has too many weapons.
After coming back from injury, Turbin has been a workhorse, leading the Aggies with 365 yards and a mesmerizing eight touchdowns. But he’s not the only USU running back who can tote the rock; Michael Smith also does a decent job handling the ball for Utah State, and if that weren‘t enough, Kerwynn Williams is capable of having a big game.
The Aggies are a power running team, through and through, but their attack is a bit deceptive in that like former quarterback Diondre Borel, freshman sensation Chuckie Keeton is a dual-threat QB capable of getting his own yards on the ground.
Utah State by the rushing numbers:
GP Att Gain Loss Net Avg TD Long Avg/G
Turbin, Robert 3 64 368 3 365 5.7 8 34 121.7
Smith, Michael 3 20 189 9 180 9.0 1 60 60.0
Williams, Kerwynn 3 19 174 4 170 8.9 2 43 56.7
Keeton, Chuckie 3 30 159 31 128 4.3 3 27 42.7
The Cougars have no such weapon on offense. New running backs coach Joe DuPaix–son of Skyline High School coaching legend Roger–has come over from Ken Niumatatolo’s successful battleship of a football program at Navy and installed his own brand of running at BYU.
While it’s too early to tell if DuPaix’s style of rushing compares to that of the Cougars’ previous running game, the early indications are not good.
In all areas, BYU’s productivity is down, especially when it comes to workhorse Bryan Kariya, who has battled nagging injuries for most of his 2011 season. To date, Kariya has just 92 yards on 26 carries, a 3.5 yard average. Backing him up, though he’s a completely different kind of runner, is J.J. DiLuigi, who likes to get outside the tackles and tiptoe the sidelines on toss sweeps. DiLuigi has stayed healthy and is BYU’s leading rusher.
Joshua Quezada, a transfer from USC, has a bright future, but so far he’s stuck behind Kariya and DiLuigi in the rotation, with only 61 yards to show for his efforts. Ocaasionally, the Cougars will also insert QB backup Riley Nelson–a player with deep USU ties–and will run a variation of the “Wildcat” formation with him under center.
BYU by the rushing numbers:
GP Att Gain Loss Net Avg TD Long Avg/G
DI LUIGI, JJ 4 40 172 8 164 4.1 1 18 41.0
KARIYA, Bryan 4 26 92 1 91 3.5 1 10 22.8
QUEZADA, Josh 4 23 61 7 54 2.3 0 10 13.5
Despite all the tricks, the edge in running the football clearly goes to the Aggies, who have nearly quadrupled the Cougars’ output in just three games.
If Utah State gets its running game going–taking pressure off the youngster Keeton, presumably–then it will be awfully difficult to stop this 1-2 Aggie team that many believe would be 3-0, were it not for two sub par fourth quarters against Auburn and Colorado State.
The last stanzas against the Tigers and Rams proved that the Aggies still have chinks in their armor, despite having all the talent in the world in their backfield. Even behind center, Utah State has have the most talented quarterback in the state, in terms of his athletic ability.
But the Cougars haven’t had an easy time of things this year, losing late at Texas in a game they should have won, and were annihilated in the second half in the Holy War against rival Utah after keeping things close to the halftime whistle.
The common denominator for both teams then, is how they stack up against the run. BYU is 62nd against the run this season, allowing 553 yards, while the Aggies are 16th in the country, coughing up just 248.
Both teams have played top opposition, with the Cougars having the edge in terms of opposition they have faced in 2011.
So who will win out on what is expected to be another balmy September evening in Provo? Will things work out better for the Cougars in their second rivalry game of the month against an Aggie team ranked 12th in total defense?
Or, will Utah State’s clear advantage in the running game prove to be too much for even BYU’s poorly ranked defense?
It will be must-see football Friday night at Lavell Edwards Stadium.
Utah State at BYU
Friday Sept. 30