It is quite simple. There are three things that if the BYU Cougars are able to accomplish, they will win the game.
Without further adieu, here they are:
1) Get Healthy and Stay Healthy
There are several key players and positions that have to get and/or stay healthy.
1) Ian Dulan and the defensive line.
Dulan needs to be able to play.
After BYU's first four D linemen, there is a noticeable drop off in terms of run blocking. Dulan, Funga, Manumaleuna and Tialavea have the size, strength and experience to hold the Ute run game in check. If Dulan can't play or another starting D linemen goes down, there could be trouble.
Ezekial Ansah is a very good pass rusher and has an amazing combination of speed and size, but his lack of experience make him vulnerable in the run game. A poor read or getting caught out of position could have major consequences with a running back like John White in the backfield.
Bronson Kaufusi is loaded with potential as well, but he is only two months of his mission.
Which player can BYU least afford to lose against Utah?
Mike Muehlman is a descent backup, but at this point nothing more.
If any of these three players are forced into action for a significant portion of the game, there could be trouble.
Just a fun little fact to put things in perspective: When John White IV has ran for over 100 yards in a game, the Utes are 9-0. When he has come up short of that 100 yards, Utah is 0-6.
There isn't anything magical amount 100 yards, but these stats do show how important a solid running game is to the Ute offense. More importantly, it tells us how important the play of BYU's defensive line will be to the Cougar's defense.
2) Riley Nelson.
While we saw last week that the Cougar backups are capable, the confidence, experience, poise and leadership that Nelson brings are invaluable in a high-intensity, emotionally-charged contest like this one.
3) Cody Hoffman.
Utah has some very good DBs, and they run a lot of one-on-one coverage.
Hoffman is one of the best in all of college football at beating single-man coverage. Even When he can't outrun his cover guy, he has the size, strength and skill to win almost any toss up or jump ball.
In a game that will likely be dominated by defenses, Hoffman’s big play ability could be key to winning the game.
4) Riley Stephenson.
Can you say field position? In a game where yards will be very hard to come by, a good punter (and decent kicker) can be worth at least a half-dozen first downs, if not more.
He becomes even more important if Sorensen isn't back to field goal form by then.
Take Star Lotulelei Out of the Game:
No. I do not mean trying to hurt or injure him.
Besides being immoral, unethical, and illegal, it would also be pretty difficult to do. The guy is very big, very strong, and very good.
When I say take him out, I mean take him out of the game by not playing to his strengths.
Lotulelei specializes in tearing up the middle of offensive lines and stuffing inside runs. Utah State knew this, so they rarely ran the ball between the tackles. In fact, they often took it out as wide as possible.
Besides marginalizing Star's greatest strength, it also makes him and the rest of the D-line chase the play all across the field.
How many points do the Cougars win by?
Normally, to wear out a defensive line you would just pound it in there and let the larger offensive linemen wear down the smaller defensive linemen.
That doesn’t work too well when your interior line is several inches taller and 30 pounds lighter than the defensive tackles. It especially doesn't work if your interior line has been having trouble running the ball against inferior teams like Washington St. and Weber St.
Fortunately, BYU has been somewhat successful running it out wide.
What I want to see is a lot of sweeps, stretches and option plays that go all the way to the sideline. This will minimalize the damage that will be done by the mismatch in size and ability between BYU's offensive and Utah's defensive interior lines.
One other thing I would like to see is a lot of plays when the QB sprints or rolls out, in order to force those big D linemen to run even more. Nelson is just as comfortable, if not more, rolling out than he is staying in the pocket.
Wipe the Butter Off Your Hands.
After watching last year’s game, I didn’t come away thinking that Utah was the superior or even better team.
How can I say that after the Cougars lost by 44 points at home?
At halftime, even after three fumbles (including one when the Cougars were only three yards away from a TD), BYU’s offense had outscored Utah’s offense 10-7, and BYU’s D had limited Utah’s offense to only 20 rushing yards.
Now, in the second half, the nonstop turnover party hosted by the Cougar offense and special teams finally got to the defense, and everything went to pieces. However, I think that if the two teams had played again, BYU would have won.
The two times in Mendenhall era when Utah was ahead by more than one point at the end of the 4th quarter, BYU had at least six turnovers.
If BYU want to win this game, they had better wipe the butter off their hands and make sure they hold onto the ball.
If BYU can keep its key personnel on the field, limit the carnage that Star Lotulelei will try to cause and hold on to the mall more than every once in a while, the Cougars will win the game.
My prediction is that The Cougars will be able to do all three and win the game 17-10.