Revenge will be on BYU's mind when the Cougars visit Utah State in the annual Battle for the Old Wagon Wheel on Saturday. The Aggies have dominated the rivalry series with lopsided victories each of the last two seasons.
BYU (3-4) took care of one rival when it survived a late Boise State rally to edge the Broncos 28-25. The Cougars jumped out to an 18-point lead heading into the fourth quarter after a third-quarter explosion that saw them total 196 yards on just 11 plays and score touchdowns on three consecutive drives against the Broncos. It helped BYU snap a three-game losing streak that threatened to derail the entire season.
Utah State (4-3, 3-1 MW) is looking to get back on track offensively after getting manhandled in a 31-7 loss to Air Force. The Aggies totaled just 128 yards against the Falcons and picked up only seven first downs. Utah State recovered a pair of fumbles on Air Force's first two drives, but the Aggies could not get anything going offensively until falling into a 17-0 hole at halftime.
BYU leads Utah State 48-37-3 all-time in the Battle for the Old Wagon Wheel. The Aggies have won two straight in the series and are looking to beat the Cougars for a third consecutive year for the first time since running off four victories in a row from 1971 to '74.
BYU at Utah State
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 2 at 10 p.m. ET
Spread: Utah State -3.5
When BYU Has the Ball
Jaren Hall or Baylor Romney? That's the question facing Kalani Sitake and his staff as they decide on a starting quarterback for Saturday. The answer isn't as easy as it seems on the surface, given that both redshirt freshmen did well in their first starts.
Hall originally got the call against South Florida after a thumb injury sidelined Zach Wilson. Hall moved the offense well against the Bulls until a concussion sidelined him late in the fourth quarter. Romney got the start against Boise State the next week and threw for 221 yards and two touchdowns against the Broncos. Hall cleared concussion protocols during BYU's bye week and will likely get the nod, but Sitake hasn't named a starter going into the game.
Whichever quarterback ends up starting will get a boost from Matt Bushman's continued emergence. Bushman is coming off the first 100-yard receiving game of his career, as he racked up 101 yards and two TDs on five catches against Boise State. Bushman has had at least five receptions in four games this season and leads the Cougars with 14.21 yards per catch.
Things are a little better in the backfield following Sione Finau's breakout game. He rushed for a career-high 89 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries against the Broncos. Finau is averaging 6.4 yards per carry over BYU's last two games. The Cougars have lacked a consistent playmaking threat in the backfield ever since Ty'Son Williams went down with a season-ending knee injury against Washington.
When Utah State Has the Ball
For the second time in three games, the Aggies suffered a major stumble on offense against a tough defense. Utah State averaged just 16.5 rushing yards in its losses to LSU and Air Force. The Aggies have also seen diminishing returns in the passing game over the past month. Utah State is averaging just 142.6 passing yards over its last three games. The Aggies passed for at least 200 yards in each of their first four contests.
Jordan Love didn't light the world on fire against BYU last season, but he got results, throwing for 165 yards and four touchdowns in a 45-20 win over the Cougars in 2018. He is capable of doing much more on his home turf. Love has thrown for at least 200 yards in six of his last seven starts in Logan. Siaosi Mariner is Love's top target. Mariner has a team-high 441 yards and three touchdowns on 29 catches this season.
Utah State's fortunes will likely hinge on what it can do in the backfield. Gerold Bright and Jaylen Warren offer a formidable one-two punch for the Aggies in the run game. The duo has combined for 881 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground so far this season. Both players have a pair of 100-yard rushing games this season. BYU gives up 217.2 rushing yards per game — ranking among the bottom 10 FBS teams in rush defense — so Bright and Warren both have a realistic shot at gashing the Cougars for a ton of yardage.
Did BYU turn a corner with an upset victory over Boise State? It has the makings of a season-defining moment, but the Cougars still have some distance to climb. Utah State dominated BYU each of the previous two seasons and still has enough talent on both sides of the ball to give the Cougars fits. USU has been at its best offensively when facing porous run defenses. That's not a good sign for BYU.
Prediction: Utah State 31, BYU 24
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.