The prevailing thought is that only Utah can stop Utah in the home opener, but don't tell that to former Utes stars Spencer Toone and Steve Fifita. Fifita and Toone are on the defensive coaching staff at Idaho State, the same place that gave Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham his start (along with offensive coordinator Dave Christensen).
Base Formation: 3-4
Strongest Position: Linebacker. Led by starting middle linebacker Mitch Beckstead and his team high 111 tackles, this linebacking corps looks to be the nucleus for this defense. The other linebacker to keep your eye on is PJ Gremaud, who added 56 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks.
Weakest Position: Cornerback. Although both starting cornerbacks return, starter Vai Peko presents the biggest matchup advantage for the Utes. At a minuscule 5-foot-6, Peko presents plenty of opportunities for Scott and Patrick to simply out-muscle him and win jump balls at a whim. As I’m prone to say, you can teach perfect technique, but you can’t teach an 8+-inch height differential.
Players to Watch: As recently noted by Idaho State beat writer Kyle Franko, defensive lineman Tyler Kuder is the big man to watch, both literally and figuratively. At 6-3, 305 pounds, he has all the size and physical talent to make plays if he can only maintain discipline. If Kuder can expand on his five tackles for loss, two sacks, and two forced fumbles, he could certainly help make the secondary’s job a whole lot easier.
Matchup to watch: Peko vs. the Utes receiving corps. With all of Utah’s receivers ranging above 6-feet tall, Peko will be at a severe disadvantage. The only reason I don’t see the Utes exploiting this matchup all night is that I believe Christensen will want to focus on implementing and working on all facets of the offense.
Looking at it from a purely statistical view, Idaho State's defense took a major step forward last year, dropping its points allowed per game from 53.8 to 33.2. That being said, the Bengals have been simply terrible against every FBS team they’ve played in the last few years, surrendering 115 combined points to Washington and BYU. Although they have a few talented players on defense (I personally think Beckstead has a chance to become a draft steal and play on Sundays), they simply don’t have the firepower to keep up with Utah’s offense.