2012 Sneak-a-Peek: BYU

Happy Friday Cougs, and as always we hope your week is winding to a nice close as we roll into another weekend. 

So, earlier this week it was announced that the WSU – BYU game would move to the Thursday night ESPN time slot on August 30th.  Prime time game prior to the opening weekend of NCAA football, and what a great TV slot for national coverage!  If you are scoring at home, that makes at least two known ESPN appearances for WSU in ’12, as the UNLV game was moved to Friday 9/14, and will also be shown on the Worldwide Leader. 

I know some aren’t real thrilled with the new Pac-12 deal as it relates to games not played on the traditional Saturdays in the fall.  And believe you me, there is nothing I love more than a full college football Saturday experience!  There’s just not much like it, whether you are rolling in to Pullman for a weekend of tailgating fun or setting up at home in front of the big screen as the college football glory kind of washes over you in a wave, from ESPN Gameday in the early morning through the night games on ESPN, ABC, etc, it’s just fantastic.  So losing out on that is kind of a drag when you get the Thursday or Friday night slot.

Then again, it’s just part of the new world order of the Pac-12.  Things are going to be different under Larry Scott, I mean we already know all that stuff and it has been talked about for two years now.  We were warned that there could be things like this, such as the Apple Cup on the Friday after Thanksgiving in Pullman, but we’ll just deal with it.  It’s a reasonable trade-off considering what WSU gets at the Pac-12 table.

Anyway, with the BYU game announcement it got me thinking more about the Cougars from Provo.  I know, it’s flippin’ MAY, I mean who the hell should even write a preview in MAY!?!  It feels way, way, WAY too early for this stuff.  Although I do have to say that this is about the time when we would roll out those horrible Spring Fish Wraps, remember those things?  PEE-U!  Don’t worry, they aren’t coming back or anything.  But you know who believes that it’s never too early for a preview??  How about Phil Steele!

Blue Steel?  Or is it Magnum?

That’s right, the guy who watches like 20 games simultaneously every weekend has started to release his 2012 previews.  The same previews that will be released next month in his annual Phil Steele magazines, in FULL FURY!  One of the cool things is that Steele is releasing his top 40 for 2012, and is even including his big-time writeups for some select teams.  And what is the first team for 2012 where he has posted his preview?  How about WSU’s first opponent of ’12 – BYU.  Check it out here.  Continue on for a few thoughts on the preview, plus what the Cougs (WSU) might look to do to the Cougs (BYU)…..

I’m not going to completely regurgitate the preview, I mean if you really are curious on all the details you can click through to it on Steele’s site.  And if you want to get a feel for what it will be like in Provo if you are making the trip, check out Longball’s post here.  But here’s a few things that jumped out:

BYU looks pretty experienced on paper.  Not necessarily in returning starters though, as 14 are projected by Steele to be back in ’12 (7 on offense, 7 on defense).  But it’s the total returning lettermen that is impressive – 65 are back, with 24 moving on.  Not too shabby when you return 65 letter winners from a 10-3 team from last year. 

The offensive starters are at key spots too, as they have the QB back (Riley Nelson), two starting WR’s and the starting TE, and three starting offensive linemen.   They do lose their leading rusher from last year in JJ Di Luigi, but they return Michael Alisa and Josh Quezada at running back, and both guys will share the load. 

The D looks pretty strong too, with seven starters back and experienced players sprinkled throughout (2 starters on the D-line, 3 starters at linebacker, 2 starters in the secondary).  All told, their TOP FIVE tacklers return from last year, and seven out of their top 10 overall!  So from top to bottom, this is a seasoned group on both sides of the ball.

Nelson looks the part.  After some QB drama last year between Jake Heaps and Riley Nelson, it’s pretty clear now that Nelson is the guy.  Heaps is gone, of course, transferring to Kansas, and it’s Nelson’s show.  Nelson came off the bench last year and ended up throwing for over 1700 yards and 17 TD’s in 7 starts in the BYU offense.  He also ran the ball surprisingly well, 392 yards on 4.5 yards per carry.  He did get a little banged up though last year, and he’s not a huge guy at the position (6-0, 196).  If healthy he could have a huge season but you wonder how much he’ll hold up if he runs the ball that much in ’12 (88 attempts last year).

Bronco Mendenhall?  GREAT coach.  You hear things about him out west, and you knew he was regarded as a really good coach.  But looking at the numbers, wow, I was more than impressed.  66-24 overall in 8 seasons, and they’ve won 10 or more games in 5 of the last 6 seasons.  BYU’s an impressive 36-7 at home under Mendenhall, so he clearly gets them ready to go in defending the home turf!

So, it’s going to be tough on little ‘ol WAZZU.  But what should the Crimson Cougs look to do against these guys? 

1) THROW THE BALL – Duh.  I mean breaking news, right?  And we’re going to throw it all season on everyone, period, probably close to 70% of the time per some guesses and projections floating around right now.  But BYU has been traditionally tough to run against under Mendenhall, where they have held opponents under 4 yards per carry on average in each of the last six seasons (last time over 4 yards per carry allowed was ’05).  And with the Cougs O-line a little suspect coming in to 2012, on the road on grass, it’s hard to envision WSU coming out and trying to go all student-body left, right, etc on BYU’s D!  But I think any semblance of a running game will be on draw plays and such, or basically window dressing to what WSU is really going to do.

BYU does run a 3-4 defense (sound familiar?), so they will likely have more athletes out in space to defend the Leach offense.  But with the 3-4, they haven’t been a huge sack defense, with total sack #’s in the 20’s in six of the last seven seasons.  That said, with an experienced defense returning and five of their front seven all returning starters, maybe they’ll bring the heat?

One thing we do have going for us – A healthy Jeff Tuel, plus a deep stable of wideouts at his disposal. 

As we saw from Tuel’s numbers in the spring game, the fit in Leach’s offense is so far, so good. 

And then you really think about it as a defensive approach, I mean that first game vs. Leach, what do you study if you are BYU?  Do you roll out film from 2009 or somewhere in there from Texas Tech?  Do you study Tuel and WSU’s offense from the last few years, but now there is an entirely new scheme?  Do you study the 2012 WSU spring game, yet know deep down that Leach didn’t show everything like he’s going to show in the opener??  It’s tough to know what to expect from WSU for the season opener, and there is nothing better than having a defense guessing or hesitating vs. pinning their ears back and attacking! 

2) BYU OFFENSE?  KEEPAWAY FROM LEACH.   While the Leach offense is basically “hot potato” football, you know, get the damn thing and throw it as fast and as much as you can(!), BYU is going to try and take the air out of the ball and grind down the young, inexperienced WSU D.  BYU has the experience returning up front with a strong offensive line, and with a couple of stout running backs returning plus the running ability of Riley at QB.  Under Mendenhall, BYU has averaged at least four yards per carry in six of the last seven seasons.  So you can already see that they are going to try and push the WSU D around and own the time of possession.  I mean what better way to combat Leach’s pass-happy, spread you out offense than keeping Jeff Tuel and company on the sidelines for the majority of the game?  And when you look at WSU’s D, you see 1) a brand new scheme with new coaches in their first game at WSU, and 2) a defensive line that might be the biggest weakness on the team.  Seems awfully clear that Mike Breske’s defense will have to be ready to creep up to the line, attack from everywhere and pretty much throw the kitchen sink at the line to slow down the ground game!

So there you have it.  While BYU still runs that classic west coast offense, more than likely we can expect a serious contrast of styles.  

You know what’s weird though?  Just last year, after a couple of tough roadies to open 2011 in winning at Mississippi and losing a close one at Texas, BYU came home and got it on with Utah in the HOLY WAR.  Final score?  UTES 54, BYU 10!  Utah ran wild, going for 242 rushing yards on the day, as the Utes steamrolled their in-state rivals.  That’s the same Utah team that came to Pullman and the Cougs almost pulled it out, coming up short in OT in that wild November snow game.  So you never know, I guess.

Odds and ends:  While BYU has been efficient on offense in their west coast scheme, they are very tough to sack in their offense.  BYU allowed only 17 sacks last year, and it was the third time in the last seven seasons where they allowed less than 20 sacks on the season.…While Mendenhall has had a great run at BYU, and a strong recent tally against the Pac-12 in general, he is actually under .500 against BCS competition.  But he’s just one game under at 10-11, so it’s not a real big deal.….Opening at BYU at home is tough enough, under the lights on grass against an experienced foe.  And BYU has been tough at home in their season openers, most notably beating UW in ’10 (23-17) and Arizona in ’07 (20-7) in Provo, and also beating Oklahoma in Dallas ’09, knocking out Sam Bradford in the process!  And all told, BYU is 7-4 in their last 11 in the regular season vs. Pac-10/12 teams.  And including bowl games, BYU is 9-5 in their last 14 against the Pac-10/12…..Finally, did you know there is a “CougarCenter.net” blog, about BYU sports/football??  Does Jeff Nusser at Cougcenter know about this??  I SMELL A BLOG FIGHT (and not with us)!

All for now.  Enjoy your weekend, and as always, GO COUGS(WSU!)