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Utah State Opponent Preview: BYU

An in Depth Look at a Long Rivalry

NCAA Football: Boise State at Utah State Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

185.8 This is a series of in depth looks at the opponents the Utah State football team will be facing this season. The series will use Athlon Sports Top 130 pre-season rankings to consider where opponents are at on a national level and each week will preview a different opponent.

Week 5: BYU (October 1st)

Record in 2020: 11-1

Record in 2019: 7-6

Record vs USU: 49-37-3

Athlon Ranking: 51

Key Losses: Zach Wilson (QB), Dax Milne (WR), Brady Christensen (LT), Chandon Herring (OG), Isaiah Kaufusi (LB), Khyiris Tonga (DL)

Key Players Back: Tyler Allgeier (HB), Baylor Romney (QB), Jaren Hall (QB), Gunner Romney (WR), Masen Wake (TE/FB), Isaac Rex (TE), Payton Wilgar (LB), Keenan Pili (LB), Max Tooley (LB)

Offense Preview

BYU was very good on offense last season with Zach Wilson, Taylor Tyler Allgeier, and Dax Milne. Allgeier is the only one who returns of the three though. The quarterback competition may likely come down to Baylor Romney and Jaren Hall and one of them will have to use the experience they have and step up. Allgeier rushed for 1130 yards on 150 attempts last season and scored 13 touchdowns. The return of Gunner Romney (39 catches, 767 yards; three total touchdowns) Masen Wake (eight catches, 114 yards; three total touchdowns), and Isaac Rex (37 catches, 429 yards; 12 touchdowns) is going to be significant in helping the passing game continue to develop.

Last season, BYU ranked 6th in the nation in total offense (522.2 yards per game), tied for third in scoring offense (43.5 points per game), 8th in passing offense (332.1 yards per game), 44th in rushing yards per game (190.1 yards per game), 9th in third down conversions (65 conversions, 132 attempts; 49.2%), 19th in red zone offense (55 scores, 61 attempts; 90.2%) and tied for 24th in turnovers (three fumbles, six interceptions; nine total).

Not to take anything away from how good BYU’s offense was this past season, but the Cougars didn’t play the toughest competition. Navy had a really trying year. Boise State was missing a lot of guys. UCF doesn’t have the greatest defense. The overall point is that there is going to be a step up in competition this season as college football returns to some sort of normal form. BYU’s offense might be seeing some good defenses this year, but more on that later. If BYU wants to continue to have offensive success, they need to find a reliable quarterback, more receivers, and talent on the offensive line.

Defense Preview

Man does that linebacker group look good. Payton Wilgar (57 tackles, four pass deflections, one forced fumble), Keenan Pili (72 tackles, one pass deflection, one fumble recovery), and Max Tooley (44 tackles, one interception, one pass deflection) are all coming back for this coming up season. The secondary will be looking to improve but the major concern may be on the defensive line, where BYU struggled to get pressure this past season.

BYU ranked 10th in total defense last season, holding opponents to just 317.4 yards per game. In addition, the Cougars ranked 4th in scoring defense (15.33 points per game), 22nd in passing yards allowed (197.5 yards per game), 19th in rushing defense (119.9 yards per game), 52nd in third down defense (67 conversions, 171 attempts; 39.2%), 26th in red zone defense (76%), and tied for 25th in turnovers forced (eight interceptions, 10 fumbles; 18 total).

It can be hard to read into these numbers because lets be honest, they are a little skewed. BYU played a full schedule while other teams only played three games and are ahead of some of the other teams that played a full season. Something to consider is the red zone defense. A 76% conversion rate isn’t a great number and that is something BYU will need to improve on this season with the development of the secondary and providing more pressure up front to force mistakes.

Consensus

BYU really did have a terrific season last year but as already mentioned, the schedule wasn’t particularly challenging. The season starts against Arizona and while the Wildcats haven’t been great, they are still not going to be easy to beat. The second game against Arizona State could be even more challenging than the first and there are also games against some teams that typically boast challenging defenses. Utah is known for that so obviously that could be hard to deal with offensively. Boise State, Baylor, Virginia, and USC could all pose problems for the Cougars as well, especially if BYU struggles to find the right quarterback or can’t find another playmaker receiver.

When it comes to Utah State, this game looks to be more of a defensive battle in the first half but BYU has a tendency to switch gears and put away games in the second half. That’s what should happen here, maybe Utah State continues to keep in closer in the third, but as the fourth quarter moves along, BYU should be able to make defensive plays to hold off Utah State.