With the PAC-12 South title clinched, the Utes are headed to Santa Clara next week, but before they can do that, Utah’s oldest and fiercest rival will attempt to play upset and spoil the party. The Cougars of Brigham Young University will enter the hallowed grounds of Rice-Eccles Stadium as a 12-point underdog with only a 10.9% chance to win according to ESPN’s Matchup Predictor, but with a rivalry as storied as it is vicious, numerical advantages might as well be tossed aside.
Statistically speaking, the Cougars will be fielding the worst offense the Utes have faced since they traveled to DeKalb, Illinois in week two where they defeated Northern Illinois 17-6. BYU ranks 107th nationally in total offense, managing an average of 354.3 yards per game, 155.1 coming on the ground and 199.2 through the air. When the Cougars do manage to reach the red zone, converting those yards into points have been a struggle, as BYU ranks 84th nationally in red zone offense, scoring 29 touchdowns (20 of which have been rushing attempts) and 8 field goals on 45 red zone trips this season. Compounding these struggles, it should come as no surprise that the Cougars have one of the worst scoring offenses in the nation, managing a mere 25.3 points per game, ranking 94th in the nation, tied with Bowling Green.
Leading the largely inept Cougars offense is true freshman quarterback, Zach Wilson, who will be making just his sixth career start on Saturday. In his five starts, Wilson has completed 60.4% of his 129 attempted passes six touchdowns and two interceptions, similar to Tanner Mangum, the veteran senior QB who was benched in favor of Wilson at the halfway point of the season. During his time as starter, Mangum had a 61.5% completion rate with five touchdowns and three interceptions.
While the passing game doesn’t look terribly different from Mangum to Wilson, the true freshman does add a new element to the Cougars offense by opening up a respectable quarterback run threat. Despite only playing in five games, Wilson has gained 125 yards on his feet with two rushing touchdowns to his name on only 51 carries. While not a true dual-threat quarterback, the potential to run is there with Wilson much more than with Mangum who has a career total of -109 rushing yards on 118 attempts with three touchdowns.
Despite a newly installed quarterback run opponent, the ground game will likely be controlled by freshman running back Lopini Katoa who is in for the injured veteran Squally Canada. Katoa has seen action in every game this season but has been impactful in only two games, once in BYU’s routing of Hawaii and again last week when he ran for 155 yards on 19 attempts and four touchdowns against New Mexico State. While his numbers against the Aggies suggest Katoa is a dominant force, Utah fans shouldn’t worry about a repeat performance, as New Mexico State has the second worse rush defense in the nation, allowing 38 rushing TDs and 3080 yards on the season. Utah on the other hand ranks 5th nationally, allowing a mere 11 rushing touchdowns and 1051 yards in 2018.