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Nail-biters: Utah, BYU face tough tasks Friday night. What is needed to prevail?

Cougars and Utes will have to find explosive plays and TDs in what should be defensive battles

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Utah Utes quarterback Nate Johnson (13) celebrates a touchdown with Utah Utes receiver Landen King (82) in Salt Lake City.

Utah Utes quarterback Nate Johnson (13) celebrates the touchdown with Utah Utes receiver Landen King(82) in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023. Will it be Johnson or Cam Johnson under center for the Utes Friday in Corvallis?

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

There are big-time chores at hand for BYU and Utah on Friday night.

BYU really needs to take care of business at home against Cincinnati and attacking a stiff Bearcats defense with a balanced attack is at the top of the agenda.

With defense of its Pac-12 title at stake, No. 10 undefeated Utah needs to produce a scoring offense to complement its top-10 defense in order to chase explosive teams like USC, Oregon and Washington on the field.


Utes on the air

No. 10 Utah (4-0)
vs. No. 19 Oregon State (3-1)
Friday, 7 p.m. MDT
Reser Stadium
TV: Fox Sports 1
Radio: ESPN 700/92.1 FM

Utah’s road trip to No. 19 Oregon State is a perfect opportunity for Utah to launch a point-chasing act, especially if Cam Rising is able to run onto the field for the first time this year.

If the Utes don’t, Utah is vulnerable, especially on this road trip.

The challenge for the Utes is to surround Nate Johnson or Rising with a credible run threat now that star Ja’Quinden Jackson is injured — or have explosive pass plays. Conversely, Utah’s defense has been good enough to keep Kyle Whittingham’s team unblemished. The Utes are No. 6 in scoring defense, No. 23 in yards-per-play defense and No. 3 in rush defense.

Oregon State is a respected, ranked program this year and touts one of the best offensive lines in the country. But last week, the Beavers struggled to keep up with Washington State for most of the game, mounting a late-game barrage in a loss. Utah’s defense is so much better than what Oregon faced in Washington State.

Meanwhile, BYU offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick and his boss, head coach Kalani Sitake, both believe the 128th-ranked rushing offense they’ve used through four games is fixable.

“We need to get our run game going,” said offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick. “We’re not going to throw 51 passes. That’s not who we’ve been the past three years and that’s not what we want to do now.”

Roderick believes his passing game has shown explosive ability, but will be much better if complemented with a solid run game.  

“We’ve been a really good running team for years. We have some issues right now. We need to fix those and I have confidence we can. The run game is an 11-man deal. It’s everyone.

“The line needs to do better for sure, but they can only block five men. The tight ends and receivers have to be better blockers and the quarterback has to make great decisions. In our offense he’s checking us into the right run plays and making reads on the RPO. It’s an 11-man deal. We need to coach better and it’s my responsibility to make that happen.”

BYU’s offense ranks No. 1 in red-zone scoring, 48th in passing offense, and defensively is 23rd in third-down percentage defense.


Cougars on the air

Cincinnati (2-2)
at BYU (3-1)
Friday, 8:15 p.m. MDT
LaVell Edwards Stadium
Radio: 102.7 FM/1160 AM

Roderick declared this week he has all the respect in the world for what the Cougars will face in Cincinnati’s defense on Friday.

“This is the best defense we’ve played this year,” said Roderick.  “It’s tough to play an opponent this good in a short week but we’re excited for the challenge.”

Bruce Feldman at The Athletic predicts Oregon State beats Utah and a BYU win over Cincinnati. David Kenyon at Bleacher Report predicts a Utah 20-16 win over the Beavers.  Sam Cooper at Yahoo Sports predicts Oregon State at home will defeat the Utes. “The Beavers are 12-2 ATS (against the spread) as a home favorite under Jonathan Smith while the Utes are 4-8-1 ATS on the road in the last three seasons. I think Oregon State wins this by a touchdown,” writes Cooper.

Bottom line with the Utes and Cougars: These should be very close games and both offenses need to rise up and deliver, but BYU has the tougher job in attacking Cincinnati’s defense. Both the local teams are battling a bevy of injuries.

This week’s picks

  • Texas 38, Kansas 28.
  • Texas Tech 28, Houston 24.
  • UCF 31, Baylor 21.
  • Oklahoma 27, Iowa State 14.
  • TCU 34, West Virginia 28.
  • Utah 21, Oregon State 17.
  • Southern Cal 42, Colorado 21.
  • California 28, Arizona State 7.
  • Washington 37, Stanford 10.
  • Georgia 41, Auburn 28.
  • Michigan 35, Nebraska 17.
  • Utah State 21, UConn 14.
  • BYU 24, Cincinnati 21.

Last week 10-4; overall 45-14 (.762)


BYU quarterback Kedon Slovis (10) drops back during the game against the Sam Houston Bearkats at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2023. The Cougars host Cincinnati in their Big 12 home opener Friday.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News