Can USU hunt down the ranked Cougs?
WEEK 5: Utah State Aggies (3-1) vs. BYU Cougars (4-0)
WHEN: Friday, October 1st, 2021 – 7:00 PM MT/6:00 PM PT
WHERE: Maverik Stadium; Logan, Utah (25,100)
TV: CBS Sports Network
STREAMING: FuboTV – Get a 7-day free trial
RADIO: Utah State radio broadcast on 1280 the zone (1280 AM), 1280thezone.com / Tunein.com
SERIES RECORD: This will be the 90th meeting between the teams. BYU leads the all-time series 49-37-3 and won the last matchup in Logan 42-14 on November 2nd, 2019.
ODDS (via ESPN): BYU -8.5
SP+ PROJECTION: BYU by 16.4
FEI PROJECTION: BYU by 9.8
After suffering their first loss of the season to Boise State, a quick turnaround won’t make things easier for the Utah State Aggies as they host the 13th-ranked BYU Cougars on Friday night. Both teams have different strengths and offensive philosophies, so it will be an intriguing matchup no matter who wins or loses.
Three Keys to an Aggie Victory
1. Absolutely no slow offensive starts!
This was a key against Boise State, but it matters more than ever against BYU.
The Aggies have started slow in every single game this season and it’s not a sustainable formula for big wins. Slow starts sap the home stadium of energy and make the team tense. Against an opponent that will be bringing a sizable contingent of fans, USU is not going to have the luxury of easing into the game. They are going to have to take the opposing fans out of the equation quickly and make some big plays against a suspect Cougar defense.
Though the Cougs sport a decent scoring defense at 41st in the country and 19.2 ppg, their run defense has proven spotty. They are allowing more than 150+ rushing yards per game and rank just 81st in the NCAA. On paper, it’s a clear weakness Utah State can exploit with their sturdy rushing attack. USU ranks in the top 25 with their ground game and they have the ability to possess the football against a Cougar defense with injury-related issues. LB Keenan Pili is out for the year and this had made an inexperienced defense even more so.
Though a couple of linemen like Tyler Batty and Atunaisa Mahe are expected to return, BYU’s last game against South Florida revealed heavy deficiencies on their defense. The up-tempo offense USU likes to run could play heavily in the Aggies’ favor if they can execute better than they did against Boise.
2. Don’t give the ball away, take it away
It’s a hackneyed expression, but you can’t turn the ball over and expect to win.
The Aggies have been subpar on the season in terms of getting takeaways and worse in giving them away. They rank a poor 82nd in turnover margin at -0.25. Against Boise State, USU turned it over three times and only got one takeaway themselves. If USU’s defense is going to assert itself in any meaningful way this game, they’ve got to make BYU earn every yard and find a way to steal a possession and score off it. Any opportunity to play loose and with a lead keeps the pressure on an undefeated team, which is conducive to making mistakes.
Though USU boasts better depth at LB, they are still not as good on the DL as the Cougars. In a drawn out game, this will favor BYU unless USU’s offense can keep those bigger opposing defensive linemen on the field more. The USU defense getting an extra scoring opportunity for the offense can pay huge dividends in a heated and emotional rivalry game like this.
For the best chance of success here, USU needs Justin Rice to come up with a big play at some point. BYU has taken better care of the football than most teams, and lining up to play bully ball against the physically superior Cougars most likely won’t work. Chaos and speed need to remain a primary factor in USU’s game plan. If they capitalize here, it will go a long way in keeping BYU on their heels.
C̶h̶u̶c̶k̶ ̶N̶o̶r̶r̶i̶s̶ Justin Rice doesn’t sleep. He waits.
— USU Football (@USUFootball) September 22, 2021
3. Cut down on penalties and play clean
A consistent theme we’ve seen with the Aggies this season is penalties. They are one of the most penalized teams in the country with 8.75 per game.
Against a comparatively more disciplined BYU squad, which is only giving up 4.75 penalties per game, this could prove disastrous if USU doesn’t clean up its procedural act. Giving free yards to the opposing team is never good. Any penalties USU accrues will only be magnified versus their in-state rival. Emotions run higher in these games, so even small mistakes can snowball over the course of the game. When running them up against a physically superior team, it makes a tough job even more daunting.
USU needs to not only cut down on mistakes, they need to keep their emotions in check and run their game plan well. USU killed several good drives against Boise with bone-headed play. Good team play helps in making the crowd a factor and it keeps pressure on the visiting team as a result. Ultimately, this can help flip the script and keep BYU off-balance if they find themselves getting flustered by their collective environment. In a heated rivalry game, even one mistake can be the difference between a punt and a touchdown for your offense.
🎥➡️ @CHbanderson Press Conference
— USU Football (@USUFootball) September 27, 2021
This series has been very competitive the last decade. Though BYU holds a 6-4 edge, two of those games were decided by only three points a piece in their favor.
When one team wins, they often win big, even if they weren’t predicted to do so. USU was famously a 21-point dog in 2014 and ended up winning by double digits in Provo. On the flip side, BYU came into Logan in 2019 and easily beat what was supposed to be a better Aggie team quarterbacked by a future first round pick.
In this game, it will ultimately come down to execution and which team passes better. Both teams have a solid run game and some quick receivers. Both teams have also shown some real weaknesses in their defensive backfields and in the ability to stop the run. Making a key stop here or there will matter tremendously. If the game stays close going into the fourth quarter, I like USU’s proven ability to close out one-score affairs this season to win out.
USU 34, BYU 28