Utah State (2-2) at (18) BYU (4-0) (ET)
GAME NOTES: Bragging rights in the Beehive State are on the line this Friday, as the 18th-ranked BYU Cougars entertain the Utah State Aggies in non- conference action at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
With the Old Wagon Wheel at stake, the Cougars try to remain undefeated on the season after winning their first four games. The team caught a break in the schedule last week after defeating visiting Virginia on Sept. 20 by a score of 41-33. This game marks the third straight home date for BYU, which will return to the road on Oct. 9 against UCF.
While the Cougars are operating as an Independent, Utah State continues to represent the Mountain West Conference. Like BYU, the Aggies have also taken time off since their most recent outing, a 21-14 overtime loss at Arkansas State. The defeat snapped a brief two-game win streak for the program and set the stage for a very important non-conference matchup for the Aggies.
"This is our only in-state rivalry game this year," says USU head coach Matt Wells. "It will be an emotional game, especially for our in-state kids. We have a lot of kids on our team from the state of Utah. It's on a national television stage that I think we'll all be excited to play on. From there on, you head into eight-straight weeks of Mountain West play. The grind is officially here."
Of all the opponents on the schedule this season for the Aggies, BYU is the one that has faced off against USU the most times over the years. Last season, the Cougars posted a 31-14 victory in Logan, advancing their advantage in the all-time series to 46-34-3 in the process.
The biggest issue facing the Aggies this week, aside from lining up in front of BYU, is the question of who will be starting at quarterback. Chuckie Keeton, a candidate for all-conference honors coming into the season, did not play against Arkansas State due to a knee injury and that has him questionable for this outing as well.
Keeton has been underwhelming to this point actually, throwing just two TDs and four interceptions, while completing 55.4 percent of his pass attempts. The signal caller does have a rushing touchdown to his credit, but he has a mere 81 net rushing yards for a team that is producing 154.0 ypg on the ground.
If Keeton doesn't practice much this week or doesn't appear up to the challenge of a huge rivalry matchup, coach Wells will again call on Darell Garretson. In two appearances, Garretson has converted 61.3 percent of his passes for 194.5 ypg, with three TDs and only two picks.
No matter who it is standing under center, JoJo Natson will certainly be an integral part of the offensive game plan, seeing as how he leads the team in rushing yards with 158, and is second in receiving with 172 yards on 20 catches. Hunter Sharp, responsible for two receiving TDs, has 305 yards on 23 receptions.
Regardless of the offensive efforts of the Aggies, the focus will again fall on a defense that is tied for fourth in the country with just 78.3 ypg allowed on the ground. The group has been far more lenient when opponents go over the top, permitting 256.5 passing ypg to rank 88th in the nation this week. Causing quite a bit of havoc for the USU defense is Devin Centers, who not only is tied for the team lead with three sacks and is third overall with 34 tackles, but he has two fumble recoveries.
The challenge for Centers and the rest of the USU defense will be trying to figure out a way to slow down Taysom Hill. A legitimate threat any time he has the ball in his hands, Hill has shown exceptional speed and elusiveness when he takes off running, not to mention the ability to find receivers for big plays when the offensive line holds up.
Having taken every snap thus far, Hill has completed 66.1 percent of his passes for 219.0 ypg and six TDs, against only three interceptions on 121 attempts. Hill is also the leading rusher by far for head coach Bronco Mendenhall's club with 428 yards on 79 carries, reaching the end zone seven times. As a unit, BYU is generating 230.2 ypg on the ground, good enough for 26th in the nation this week.
Clearly the Cougars know who their leader is on offense, now they just have to figure out who they will be trying to get after on the other side of the ball, although Mendenhall doesn't seem too concerned about the USU quarterback dilemma.
"Chuckie's ability to create and his leadership and his experience certainly you have to acknowledge, but really by preparing for him, really anything else besides that you're prepared for."
Both of these squads are coming off extended periods of time to prepare for this meeting, which should give Utah State a fighting chance if Keeton is able to make his return. However, even with their top quarterback in the huddle, the Aggies still have much to consider when they try to slow down Hill.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: BYU 35, Utah State 14