Utah State to take on BYU in annual fight for the wagon wheel
Does anyone even enjoy this game or do we all just suffer through it
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The Aggie offense is legit but untested, while the Cougars aim to pick up the pieces
Okay, here we go.
Utah State passed its first conference test two weeks ago, absorbing a third-quarter punch in the junk and answering Air Force’s threatening comeback bid with a late touchdown. The Aggies are coming off a bye week with a 3-1 record and a high-octane offense which now appears matchup-proof.
BYU, once brimming with confidence after a surprise win in Madison, was last seen strewn about Husky Stadium in what was surely its worst outing of the year. Coach Kilani Sitake would’ve preferred tonight’s game come even sooner just to get the memory of No. 11 Washington’s unsavory beatdown out of his team’s collective conscious.
The Aggies want the the wagon wheel in Logan in back-to-back years for the first time since 1974. The Cougars need to right the ship and defend their home field, else risk another lost season. The only certain thing about tonight’s ultra-loseable game for both sides is the inevitable chaos it invites as these teams ink another weird chapter in their long, weird history.
Can Jordan Love be the best player on the field?
BYU has a problem, and that problem is quarterbacks. The Cougars’ pass rush is really more of a pass suggestion, tallying just six sacks this season while allowing a 66 percent completion rate to opposing QBs. BYU’s difficult schedule could be skewing these numbers some, but it doesn’t get any easier facing Jordan Love.
The Aggie offense under Love and OC David Yost averages 44 points per game, with signature quick-strike drives that crank the game’s tempo up while wearing defenses down. The combination of Love under center and a pair of running backs averaging 7.2 and 9.5 ypc means explosive plays (and points) are easier to come by — against Air Force, three of the Aggies’ four +25-yard plays resulted in touchdowns.
Utah State’s O-line is legit, Love is legit, and with no pressure up front BYU will need huge plays in the secondary to stay in this game.
Who wins the turnover battle?
Yes, Love can sling the ball even in hostile environments. But despite already throwing the ball over 1,000 yards this year, just 5 TDs and 3 INTs shows some room for growth. The lasting image from last year’s game will forever be Jalen Davis streaking to the end zone en route to his second pick-six of the evening — turnovers define close games, and this game will likely stay close to the end.
Though Davis is gone, Utah State continues to pride itself on turnover differential with 10 forced turnovers (5 interceptions, 5 fumbles) this year to rank second in the Mountain West behind Fresno State (13) and tied for 13th in the nation. BYU takes care of the ball even against stout competition, so don’t expect another 7-turnover night from either team — but do expect a rogue fumble to turn this game on its head.
Can USU stop the run?
BYU’s ground game is legit, and Utah State’s defense did just give up 323 yards and 3 touchdowns on the ground just two weeks ago. Against two quality opponents the Aggies have surrendered 35 points per game and survived drawn-out, tiring drives with big takeaways more often than big stops on third down.
There is cause for concern here. If the Cougars’ best playmaker RB Squally Canada can go, he’ll threaten USU’s best-laid defensive plans. BYU’s whole season has been an image of inconsistency, but if this game comes down to Canada versus the USU D-line for the wagon wheel late in the fourth, there will be much fretting amongst the Aggie faithful.
The Aggies haven’t won a close game on the road in four years, so best not keep this one close. There will certainly be a scare or two, but Utah State can earn a road win by simply protecting Jordan Love and letting him do his job. Darwin Thompson will also score his weekly touchdown.
Utah State 33, BYU 24