On the Other Sideline: Seven Questions with The Utah Statesman

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Utah is hosting Utah State this Friday night in a much-anticipated rivalry game, which is also their only in-state opponent this season. The Utah Chronicle sat down with Kalen Taylor, football beat writer and sports editor for The Utah Statesman, to get the inside scoop on the Aggies and what Utah fans can expect from this weekend’s matchup.

After Utah State’s performance last week, what does it need to do to be ready come Friday night?

The Aggies struggled offensively against an FCS team last Thursday. If the team wants to beat a Pac-12 opponent it must come together on offense. The offensive line needs to block better, the receivers need to get open and quarterback Chuckie Keeton needs to make better decisions.

On defense, USU looked good. Kyler Fackrell and Nick Vigil played great games from the linebacker positions and held SUU to less than three yards per carry on rush attempts. Defense and special teams need to cut down on penalties and keep playing smart football to give Utah State a chance against Utah.

It’s an in-state rivalry game; what does this game mean to Utah State?

An in-state rivalry game is big for Utah State. It does something to even the playing field. On paper Utah is the heavy favorite to win, but the players don’t care what the statistics say — they want to beat an in-state school.

How will a win/loss affect the Aggies?

A win against the Utes goes a long way towards national respect for the Aggies’ program. It also helps Utah State win the in-state recruiting battle to improve the team in future years. If USU loses the game, it shatters all hopes of a major bowl bid and can crush the confidence needed to win the Mountain West.

What offensive and defensive advantages will the Aggies have over the Utes?

Offensively, if nothing changes from last week, Utah State will have a hard time scoring against a stout Ute defense. The Aggies still have Keeton, who in his prime could shred any defense. It just remains to be seen if he can break out and have the comeback coaches and fans expected.

On defense USU’s front seven is strong. The linebackers have a lot of lateral quickness. They can track ball carriers across the field or stuff the middle for no-gain runs. The Utes’ strength on offense is running, and the Aggies’ strong point is stopping the run. It will be a matchup to watch and see which team can outlast the other.

What is Utah State going to struggle with the most against Utah?

If last week was any indication, it looks as though USU will struggle to score. Utah State will be without its top offensive lineman and top option at wide receiver. The Aggies struggled in third-and-long situations and, without its top weapons, will likely do so again.

What’s the key for the Aggies pulling out a win in Salt Lake City?

In order to win the game against the Utes, USU must play a flawless game on defense. The offense isn’t strong enough to overpower Utah and win in a shootout situation. First, the Aggies have to stop the run and make the Utes a one-dimensional offense. If Utah State consistently stops the run, it will give the team a chance to win.

Your prediction of who will win and why?

I predict the Utes will win by 10 points with a score of 24-14. Utah State’s run defense will wear down in the second half, and the offense won’t be able to find any answers for a stifling Utah defense.

A 10-point loss might seem like a bold prediction after a three-point win over an FCS team. However, Utah State will be a lot more energized and prepared for this game after a wakeup call last week. It will be a close game that USU eventually loses in the end.

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@kbrenneisen

 

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@kalen_taylor