Key Matchup: Utah vs. NIU
Utah is going up against a Northern Illinois team that has proven to be very good defensively in years past, and if game one is any indication, will be again this year. The Huskies held their first opponent, Illinois State, to just 238 total yards in their game last Saturday. Granted, that was against an FCS opponent, and the Huskies will have a taller task trying to contain Zack Moss and the Utah offense, but the Utes can’t expect to come out and sleepwalk through the game, otherwise it might be a little tighter than they would like, similar to last year.
Key Matchup: Utah passing game vs NIU pass defense
The NIU passing defense held Illinois State to 187 yards and one touchdown, while also allowing less than 50% completion and intercepting one pass. That performance was good enough to rank them 35th in passing efficiency defense for week one. With the NIU run defense being as solid as it is, the Utes will likely have to open their playbook up a little more and rely more on their passing game than they did against BYU. In game one, Tyler Huntley was an efficient 13-16 on his attempts, though he only threw for 106 yards. Granted, that was by design, since Utah was moving the ball at will against BYU’s run defense, but the Utes will face tougher competition up front this week.
The problem with Utah’s passing game wasn’t that receivers weren’t getting open, but instead that Huntley chose to check down and take the sure thing more often instead of letting it fly and increasing the risk of a turnover. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, however, since ball security is one of the most important aspects of a successful offense, and it also meant that future opponents won’t be able to take much of value from the BYU game film on how to defend Utah’s passing attack.
This week, don’t be surprised to see NIU sell out to try and stop the run early. Utah will need to take advantage of some favorable matchups in the passing game to keep the Huskie defense honest. Though they shouldn’t have to open up the playbook completely, the Utes need to show a little more variety in their passing attack and route structure. Look for them to test the Huskie defense early with some shots downfield, in an attempt to get a comfortable lead and get other guys some key reps.
One other matchup to watch will be Utah’s tight ends vs. NIU’s linebackers. The Huskie linebacker corps is solid in run defense, but appears to be somewhat suspect in coverage. That could mean that a big game is in store for Cole Fotheringham or Brant Kuithe. You could very easily see an emphasis on getting the tight ends in a groove, as the Utes slowly build up their offense leading up to the USC game.