BYU vs. Utah State: Five Things to Watch For

The Old Wagon Wheel is up for grabs, as well as the Beehive Boot. This game is shaping up to be one of the more intriguing match-ups on the Brigham Young Cougars' schedule, and after a big win by BYU, should also answer a lot of questions about the Cougars' consistency.

1. The obvious question: who will be under center for BYU?

Riley Nelson and Taysom Hill both spoke to the media on Monday, and both said all the right things. Hill said he was going to prepare as if he is going to start, but that is not his call. Nelson said he is working with the medical staff and hopes to play. 

Bronco Mendenhall has made it clear that if Nelson is healthy, he’s the guy. He also said that, as of Monday, Hill was still taking snaps with the first-team. Monday was only four days before the game. Is that enough time for Nelson to not be with the first-squad and then to be 100 percent prepared? And if he does play, will he be able to last the entire game?

If it’s a good movie script I’m looking for, I hope Nelson is fully recovered and he does get to play. It’s his senior year, he is playing against his former team and he is trying to overcome the injury and the odds to beat the Aggies. However, I’m not looking for a movie script. I’m looking for BYU’s best chance of winning the game and I think that comes from Hill. Obviously, I don’t know exactly what Nelson’s health status is right now, but I do know if you aren’t practicing on Monday, it’s hard to be 100 percent by Friday. I think Bronco‘s decision to keep Riley as the starter is the right one, as long as he is healthy. Until then, Hill can get the job done.

2. Is BYU’s offense for real?

On Wednesday, Blue Cougar Football warned fans to be cautiously optimistic about BYU’s offense. After playing a very weak defense last week, Cougar fans might be a little more excited about BYU’s offense than they should be. Granted, there were some good signs in that game, but we will have a better idea of what BYU’s offense is capable of after going up against Utah State’s No. 18 ranked scoring defense.

Jamaal Williams’ game against Hawaii last week gives BYU some hope that the offense is improving. The passing still needs work, and the running game still hasn’t been completely established. 

3. Is Utah State’s defense for real?

As previously mentioned, Utah State’s defense is only allowing 14.2 points per game, but how good is that really? The Aggies held FCS opponent Southern Utah to only three points, which should have been expected. Against Utah, Utah State allowed 20 points, which was only three below their season average before Utah’s Thursday night game against USC. Wisconsin scored 16, which is six less than their season average of 22. Colorado score two more (19) than their 17 points per game average this year. The Aggies kept UNLV at only 13 points, which is below their season average, but at the same time, Northern Arizona, a member of the FCS Big Sky Conference, held UNLV to 14.

None of the offenses Utah State has faced are spectacular. It will be interesting to see if they are as good as they are billed. I, personally, think the Aggies will give up more than their 14 point season average. They will likely keep BYU below their season average of 29 points, however.

4. Can BYU be physical?

One of the big stories of last week’s blowout against Hawaii was how physical BYU’s offensive line was, and also how aggressive and disruptive BYU’s defense was.  I promise I am not trying to be pessimistic, but I wonder how much of that had to do with playing an inferior opponent. It will be interesting to see how physical BYU looks when the playing field is a little more even.

5. With Utah State’s standard fast start and BYU’s regular fast finish, who will win?

Utah State is known for having a double-digit lead at the half and then either hanging on for a close victory or walking away with a tough loss to swallow. Both last year and this year, BYU would let opponents get a cushion before storming back to make it a competition.

Last year, that is exactly what happened between these two squads. Will the same be true for this year? I think so. BYU has only shown they can start fast once, and Utah State always comes out of the gate quickly. I think the team’s are pretty evenly matched though and over the course of 60 minutes things will even out. My prediction for the final score is pretty close to last year: 24-21, BYU wins it in the fourth quarter.

With Utah State trying to take the Beehive Boot and stake their claim as the state’s top team, there is a lot of intrigue to this game. I’m excited to see how these five things to watch for turn out, as well as the overall contest.

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