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Opening Up Our Notebook On BYU

Thanks to our BYU-Washington game this weekend can go ahead and get started with compiling our notes on BYU. UCLA as a team of course very familiar with the Cougars given what took place last year in Vegas and at the Rose Bowl. Bronco Mendenhall’s team are now on a 12 game winning streak, which is the longest in the nation. They have been thinking about BCS Bowl games this off season and for them to get there they will have to get it done starting this weekend against the beleaguered Huskies in Seattle and then against our Bruins at Provo.

We will start by taking an initial look at the Cougars’ offense. As noted by Molly Yanity of the Seattle Press Intelligence the number 15 ranked Cougars are rolling into Seattle with an offense that is “a jumble of pro-style and West Coast with a dash of spread all rolled into one.” Actually that reminds us a little bit of Joel’s impression of Tennessee’s clawfense but the difference here is these guys have an experienced quarterback unlike Crompton. More from Molly:

In 2007, BYU quarterback Max Hall completed 60.1 percent of his pass attempts, and his 3,848 passing yards led all sophomores. He also posted a solid efficiency rate of 137.7.

"We're more methodical and just run routes that are very difficult to cover, (use) possession-oriented passing and, I think, a physical running game to just methodically move the chains," Mendenhall said.

Over the past two-plus seasons, which have produced a 23-4 record, the approach has worked for BYU.

Last season, the Cougars' 442.8 yards per game ranked 25th in the nation in total offense. Running back Harvey Unga averaged 94.4 yards per game to earn Freshman All-America and Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year honors.

Last week in a 41-17 win over Northern Iowa, the Cougars racked up 563 yards that included 486 passing, but they also fumbled five times, losing four.

More from John B’s breakdown of BYU on UW Dawg Pound:

The BYU offense is led by Max Hall who had a good debut season as the starting quarterback for the Cougars, throwing for 3,848 yards, 26 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. If he makes the progress that many signal callers make heading into their second year running the show, the BYU offense will be very hard to stop.

Receiver Austin Collie returned from his mission last year and immediately became Hall’s favorite target. This year should be even better for Collie, but Hall will have plenty of other options. Tight end Dennis Pitta is a superb pass catcher and a nice target in the redzone and Luke Ashworth and Spencer Hafoka both had great springs after coming back from their missions and should compliment Collie at the wide out spots quite well.

As concerned as I was about Tennessee’s talent and speed in their offense, I am more worried about our defense’s ability to handle BYU’s offense on their home turf.

In terms of numbers our defense had mixed results against BYU last season. They were able to shut down the Cougars in Vegas but had a tough time (especially during second half) at the Rose Bowl.

Specifically our defense was effective in shutting down the running attack during both games last season. As the Cougars rushed for a total of 78 yards in 53 carries averaging a measly 1.47 yards per carry. However, in two games Hall passed for 622 yards, completing 51 of  88 passes (58% completion rate) with 4 TDs and 1 pick. While our defense was able to shut down their running attack they were able to nickel and dime us pretty effectively (kind of like what Chow did to Tennessee last Monday night at the Rose Bowl).

If not for some key turnovers at the Rose Bowl, we would have probably lost that game early in the season. So, going into this game our defense has enough issues to worry about. One of the issues that worried me from the Tennessee game was that while Price and Harwell were able to seal off the middle of the DL, Tennessee was picking up chunks of yardage rushing from the outside. It will be imperative for defensive ends to make sure Unaga and co don’t do damage by going outside.

Also, it’s a good thing that we are getting Lockett back for this game. Hopefully Lockett will give Aaron Ware a sense of urgency to hold on to his FS position. Those guys along with ATV and Norris (who had a solid game as noted by Bruin Roar) will need to be in top form to make sure Hall doesn’t get to carve up the defense like he did at the Rose Bowl. Moreover, it will be very important for the offense to get off to a good start in the first half. We have seen now how Craft can be a streaky QB (to put it mildly). It will be a huge help if the offense can come out of the gate and settle the whole team down by getting some first downs. Otherwise the team will probably not be able to survive in a hostile environment on the road if it has another first half (offensively) like it did on Monday night.

More on the BYU defense later. Meanwhile, would love to get more feedback from rest of you on how our defense can contain Hall and his weapons on their home turf.