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Spaulding Roundup: Familiar Oppo

We will start this Friday morning with a look at Max Hall. By now everyone should be well versed on the launch point of a Cougar attack, who is very familiar with the UCLA defense:

The 6-foot-1, 201-pound Hall survived a shaky first half and a physical beating when the BYU lost to the Bruins 27-17 a year ago at the Rose Bowl. In his second career start, Hall rallied the Cougars in the second half and finished with 391 passing yards.

"I was flustered in the first half," Hall said. "They were blitzing like crazy, putting pressure on me. I might have panicked on a few plays and made some bad decisions I shouldn't have made.

"I think in that UCLA game I took some of the hardest shots that I've taken in my college football career. They were fast, they hit hard and they came after me big time."

When the Bruins met up with Hall three months later in the Las Vegas Bowl, a 17-16 BYU win, he was a more seasoned quarterback. Hall handled UCLA's pressure better and completed 21 of 35 passes for 231 yards, and did not throw an interception.

"I think he's got a good touch, I think he's tough, I think he's smarter (than last season)," said third-year UCLA defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker, who served as interim coach in Las Vegas. "I think he's a helluva player."

In two games this season, Hall completed 78 percent of his passes. His 824 passing yards ranks second in the nation, and he is surrounded by talent and experience.

More from the Salt Lake Tribune on how Hall has the UCLA games "memorized":

BYU quarterback Max Hall said that receiver Austin Collie, his best friend on the team, "finally feels like he is 100 percent back and feeling great, and he's got his legs underneath him and he's back in shape, so [we are] looking good there."
    Hall added Collie will be featured a lot Saturday. "We have a lot of stuff, and we are going to do a lot of stuff with Austin. He could have a big game."
    The quarterback said that he is so familiar with UCLA after having played the Bruins twice last year that "I almost have all their games memorized now."

And you can expect Hall to be looking Michael Norris’s way, who is expecting a non stop pitch battle Saturday afternoon:

UCLA cornerback Michael Norris expects to be busy Saturday when the Bruins play Brigham Young.

Norris is aware teams will come after him this season. The alternative would be throwing at Alterraun Verner, UCLA's top cover cornerback.

Verner was second on the team with four interceptions last season and picked up where he left off with an interception in the season opener against Tennessee.

"That's something I actually like; I welcome it," Norris said about the possibility of being challenged by opposing teams. "I understand that, because if I was in their position I'd do the same thing. It just gives me more opportunities to do some good things."

He'll get that Saturday. Last season, BYU had 622 yards passing in two games against the Bruins, a 27-17 regular-season loss and a 17-16 victory in the Las Vegas Bowl.

And the Cougars rank third nationally in passing through two weeks of this season. Quarterback Max Hall, a returning starter, has quality targets in wide receiver Austin Collie and tight end Dennis Pitta.

Collie and Pitta are deadly weapons. But as heyjoe! pointed out in his game keys we can’t forget about Michael Reed either. In two games Reed has caught 11 passes (1 less than Collie) for 126 yards and 1 TD. Unga also has 11 catches for 86 yards and 1 TD from first two games this season.

So the worry about stopping BYU’s passing attack brings back to another major point we have been making all week: the best way to stop it will be to keep it off the field. And to make that happen Craft and co will have to churn out some clock eating drives in the early going. According to this report in the Salt Lake Tribune, BYU defense might be looking to "gamble" by bringing more pressure on Craft:

The safeties, Fowler and David Tafuna, are seniors, but haven't played much in their careers. Fowler got four starts last year after Quinn Gooch suffered a season-ending injury, and Tafuna got some starts in 2006 but had a foot injury that caused him to miss the entire 2007 season.
    The cornerbacks - Scott Johnson and Brandon Howard - are both juniors who got their first starts in the opener against UNI. Johnson is just 5-foot-11 and Howard is 5-9. UCLA's Embree, Moya and Johnson are all listed at 6-3 and Austin is 5-11. Fowler knows all four players are going to be tested Saturday.
    "I think any time you are playing an NFL-style passing game like they have, I think they are going to try to challenge the secondary," he said. "It is part of their game plan; it is every week. I don't necessarily think there is undue pressure on us. We know that if we perform like we are supposed to - and are assignment-sound . . . we will be just fine back there."
    No playmaker has emerged - BYU doesn't have an interception in two games - but the Cougars should be able to gamble more against Craft, who is not as mobile as Locker.

Well, I am sure coaches have already drilled into Craft that he should expect BYU defense to stack the box and challenge us to beat them via the passing game early in the game. It’s just a matter of Craft settling down (like he did against Tennessee) and figure out a way to keep taking advantage of what the defense might give him. If he keeps moving the chain by completing short passes underneath and if our RBs can step up and average at least 3.5 yards a carry, we will have a shot.

Elsewhere re. the game, Dohn has a report on how freshmen are "ready" for the game and over at the LAT Chris Foster has a boring article bringing up weird comparison between the 1998 team (which was burdened by a leaky defense (to put it kindly)) v. the team from this year (which has questions around the offense). You think Chris would wait at least till we have played few games before making any conclusions about this team. But I guess they have column to waste in a stale sports section. Whatever.

Back to the game …we had a lot of fun when Achilles posted a thread on pre game guesses for the Tennessee game … I hear he is coming back with the BYU installment this afternoon. Stay tuned.