The Utah State football team has enough to deal with right now, including its best start to a season in many years.
So forgive Aggie head coach Gary Andersen if he doesn’t really care who the BYU quarterback will be on Friday when the two in-state rivals tangle in Provo.
“The offense to me doesn’t drastically change with Riley (Nelson) not being there. Both quarterbacks are good quarterbacks,” said Andersen. “We will prepare the same way for both quarterbacks. There is a little bit more option face possibly now if Riley does not play because he’s a healthy quarterback that can run very well.”
The person Andersen is referring to, of course, is BYU freshman quarterback Taysom Hill, who shredded Hawaii for 145 yards rushing en route to a 47-0 blowout win, the Cougars’ biggest margin of victory all season.
Hill did not exactly light up the air with his passing — but he didn’t need to thanks to a Cougar defense that didn’t allow a single point.
BYU’s defense, which is currently ranked fifth overall in the country, has only coughed up seven points total in its past two games — once you include the 7-6 loss on the blue turf in Boise.
Being a former defensive coordinator himself, Andersen has great respect for what the Cougars defense has done in allowing just four touchdowns all season.
“I think they are well coached in the red zone. I think the kids communicate well in the [red zone]. It’s a big challenge for defenses to be able to be on the same page,” said Andersen. “I think their physical presence shows up even more in the [red zone], for both defenses, than it does sometimes because the field is condensed.”
The Cougars passing defense is stalwart, allowing just 163 yards per game. BYU’s secondary has helped itself to turnovers as well, forcing six interceptions and recovering four fumbles.
But where the BYU defense really hangs its hat is against the run. The Cougars allow just 63 yards per game, and have given up two rushing scores all season.
And the Cougars aren’t stingy when just giving up touchdowns; teams that play BYU this season rarely, if ever, convert on third or fourth down, leading to more worry.
“They run to the ball and they make plays. Their numbers are backed up with their performance on the field,” Andersen said. “So, it will be a tremendous challenge for our offense and it will be a good challenge from A-to-Z on the offensive side of the football. Not a lot of weaknesses in that defensive system.”
The only team that has found any sort of a weakness in BYU’s defense was Utah, who scored 24 points in its scintillating victory. That said, even the Utes had trouble getting yardage, amassing under 200 yards passing and just 49 on the ground.
To date, the only team to score a rushing touchdown on BYU was Weber State — and the Wildcats scored twice in a losing effort.
The scary part about the Cougars is that in the past three games, yardage for their opponents has dwindled — which obviously means the unit is improving as a whole.
Defensively the Cougars are led by linebacker Kyle Van Noy, who has 6.5 sacks and a whopping 9.5 tackles for a loss in just four games.
As a whole, however, the BYU defense is simply frightening. Nine players have sacks, and 15 have had tackles for a loss.
So if you think Van Noy is the only star on this Cougar defense, well, there’s swampland at Strawberry for you to buy.
The Aggies players are also certainly well aware of what kind of punch BYU packs on the field — but Utah State has a few weapons of its own, including Aggie receiver Chuck Jacobs, who leads Utah State in touchdown receptions with three.
“They have playmakers out there on the defensive side of the ball, so it is just like going against us and our defense. We have a lot of playmakers out there as well. If we continue on working hard anything can happen,” said Jacobs.
Count on Utah State to work hard out there — despite the tall task. The Aggies come off a 406-yard passing performance from sophomore quarterback Chuckie Keeton that earned him WAC Offensive Player of the Week honors.
Though Utah State did struggle in the run game, earning just 136 yards in a 35-10 win over UNLV — their future conference foe — the Aggies have nearly rushed for 1,000 yards in just four games.
And not once, not even against mighty Wisconsin, were the Aggies, this new and improved team on the cusp of a huge season potentially, held under 100 yards in a game.
It stands to reason that this game in particular, will be a war. Utah State averages 28 points per game and has over 2,000 yards of total offense — not to mention Keeton, running back Kerwynn Williams (who already has 500 yards rushing the football) and five capable wide receivers, each of which is capable of inflicting damage on the Cougar secondary.
In this rivalry game, something will give, and it will be a BYU defense that hasn’t allowed any team any sort of comfort, or it will be a Utah State offense that rises to another grand occasion and stuns the whole state while lifting the Beehive Boot trophy for the first time in decades.
For more on Utah State football, stay tuned to quadrust.com