The Utah State Aggies have simply been a force to be reckoned with at times in the first three games of the season.
10 sacks from an opportunistic, aggressive defense led by its experienced line backing corps has paid off with some nice accolades from the national media.
The amazing thing is they haven’t recorded one interception.
On the flip side, BYU started out on fire, allowing just 33 points in its first two games, while playing on the road in two extremely hostile environments.
Their linebackers were physical; their secondary did the job, with two interceptions alone against Texas. Then the bottom fell out, with a subpar second half against Utah and a so-so performance against UCF in which BYU‘s defense coughed up three times the yardage against their last two opponents.
On the season, the 2-2 Cougars have just four sacks between them, which is just as many as their four interceptions. Does that explain the downfall on D?
Moreover, why are both teams at or below .500 for the season?
That’s hard to say.
The 1-2 Aggies defense is 12th best in all the land, and are loaded with experience from top to bottom. The front three–or four, depending on the situation–is nasty, linebackers Bobby Wagner and Levi Koskan are among the best in the country–and proved so at Auburn–and even their secondary has shut-down capability.
“It’s hard losing a game like that in a close one, but it is easy to get up for an in-state rivalry game at the same time. Also, being on national TV, I don’t think we are going to have a hard time getting motivated for this game,” USU junior safety and BYU transfer McKade Brady said.
Numbers that are as impressive as Utah State’s can be deceiving, though, and in the case of the Aggies, when they give up the big play, bad things seem to happen.
The loss at the nationally ranked Tigers was a prime example. All four drives that were touchdowns or resulted in touchdowns for Auburn consisted of big plays and consumed about two minutes apiece.
While that wasn’t the case against Weber State, it was certainly the case against Colorado State. The Rams did the similar thing to the Tigers; they took advantage of several Aggie miscues, then systematically punched it in, on the ground.
Most CSU scoring drives took between one to two minutes, and only one took more than seven minutes.
As for the Cougars, turnovers are really the story. For example, Ole Miss wouldn’t have even scored a touchdown, were it not for a 96-yard interception return.
The longest Texas drive was just over three minutes, and it wasn’t until Utah came calling, and used their running backs to good effect, that BYU even saw an offense capable of inflicting punishment upon its heady, experienced and violent front seven.
Then against UCF, more of the same that happened to the Cougars against the Utes went down. Long, sustainable, clock-munching drives killed BYU’s momentum. What happened next is that BYU had great special teams play, and that ultimately saved the game, and got the Cougars the victory.
The knock on BYU’s defense is that it seems slower than usual, and they commit more penalties, usually stupid personal fouls, than past Cougar teams.
Their linebackers can certainly pack a wallop; between Daniel Sorensen, Jameson Frazier and future superstar Kyle Van Noy, this Cougar corps is all over the place causing havoc. Frazier missed last year’s loss to Utah State, and it doesn’t sound like he is taking any win for granted this Friday.
“It was really tough because I couldn’t even play. I had broken my thumb the week before. It was tough to see my guys battle through it knowing that I couldn’t do anything about it,” Frazier said.
This year, he and his boys will have plenty to say and do. The big knock on BYU, however, is that their secondary isn’t up to snuff. That may be true, as linebackers have two of the four picks on the year, but the Cougars are fast closing on that gap with good play from Utah transfer Travis Uale and Corby Eason, who has been in the program for quite some time.
In the case of BYU’s defense, it might just be that the team is working its way into shape.
The same cannot be said for the Aggies, who have a great defense, but have arguably lost two important games due to poor play on special teams.
At Auburn in the season opener, the Tigers recovered an onside kick late, and marched down the field to win. Against Colorado State, USU wide receiver Eric Moats, in what could be referred to as the groan heard around Logan, muffed a CSU punt deep in his own territory late in the game. That miscue led to the Rams tying the game, and forcing it to overtime, which they won.
Regardless of the outcome last week, BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall said he’s a big fan of the way the Aggies’ defense comes out and attacks their opponents.
“I thought Utah State played really hard and controlled the game. A few turnovers lost them the football game. I thought they were the more physical team that night. They controlled the tempo most of the night and it was a tough loss [to Colorado State],” Mendenhall said.
What is clear here, is that both teams must prevent big plays from happening to them, in order to be successful on Friday, in what is clearly a must-win for Utah State and for BYU.