Utah vs. Utah State: The Edge

Quarterback

Having Brian Johnson back as the starting quarterback will be a huge jump-start to the entire U offense, especially if he can find a way to get a little more mustard behind his throws to exploit the dangerous receiving corps to whom he has to throw. With Utah State focusing more on the power running game, Leon Jackson III has averaged 106 yards per game, but when he throws the ball, he completes 68 percent of the 20 throws he averages per game.

Edge: Utah

Running Backs

While Utah State’s rushing numbers (117.8 ypg) are higher than Utah’s (79.5 ypg), those numbers are deceiving given the fact that the Aggies offense depends much more on the rush than the Utes does. The top-four carriers on the Aggie running game don’t even average 100 yards per contest, while the U tailback Darrell Mack is averaging 73.7 yards per game in two starts. With Brian Johnson and the option back for the Utes, Mack should see his own rushing numbers increase even further.

Edge: Utah

Receivers

Kevin Robinson is the Aggies most exciting player on the field, but even he can’t outshine the Utah receiving corps that is still very solid despite losing No. 1 receiver Brent Casteel to a season-ending knee injury. With Johnson back under center, teams will be less able to load the secondary with defensive backs, which will further enhance what players like Derrek Richards, Brian Hernandez, Freddie Brown, Bradon Godfrey and Marquis Wilson are able to do downfield.

Edge: Utah

Offensive Line

The five heavies that make up the U offensive line have been gaining experience and have remained intact for the most part this season. The U line was responsible for at least three holding calls against UNLV that took away first down runs in the Ute loss. Utah State’s front-line beef is truly just that. The Aggies have one of the biggest and tallest offensive lines Utah will face all year, but the U defense could find a way to exploit the Aggies inexperience on the left side of the line.

Edge: Even

Defensive Line

Paul Kruger is the athletic defensive end that combines with Martail Burnett (who leads the team in sacks with three) to give Utah a great one-two punch on the edges. Aggie right end Ben Calderwood has 1.5 sacks to his credit this season, but Utah State’s three tackles for losses pales in comparison to the eight that Utah’s defensive line starters have tallied this season. Burnett leads the Utes in that category with five tackles, totaling 30 yards in the red.

Edge: Utah

Linebackers

Kyle Brady has been a beast on defense for the Utes this season and leads the team with 29 tackles. With Joe Jiannoni out nursing a sore ankle, Stevenson Sylvester will get the chance to start and improve on his 4.5 tackles — that have resulted in 26 lost yards — for the Utes. The Aggies’ line-backing unit is the backbone of this defense and the trio of Devon Hall, Jake Hutton and Paul Igboeli owns three of the top four tackler spots for Utah State so far.

Edge: Utah

Secondary

Although Roy Hurst is listed as a backup strong safety for the Aggies, he has seen significant playing time this season and leads the team in interceptions. Caleb Taylor is the other strong safety and is a presence in the backfield at 6-foot-3 and 197 lbs. He’s also forced two turnovers with an interception and fumble this year. Utah’s secondary is slightly inexperienced and will be limited against the pass because of injuries to Robert Johnson and Brice McCain.

Edge: Even

Special Teams

To use the word “electrifying” with kick returner/wide receiver Kevin Robinson might be an understatement. Robinson averages fewer than 30 yards per return and has a touchdown on special teams to his credit. He will be fielding a lot of punts from the foot of the Utes’ All-MWC kicking candidate “Sweet” Louie Sakoda. Sakoda is not only proficient at pinning teams inside their 20-yard line, he is also an extremely accurate place kicker (5 of 6) when given the chance.

Edge: Even

Coaching

Neither coaching staff has been able to put together an impressive 2007. Aggie head coach Brent Guy has been able to get his team to play inspired football this year despite the 0-4 record. Kyle Whittingham, on the other hand, has admitted he has no idea why his team has been so erratic lately. Grumblings about the offensive play calling are still echoing from the hill, but the good news for Ute sfans is that things can only get better. Utah State has been in that same predicament for nearly four years.

Edge: Even

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