At 7:15 this Saturday, the Bruins will take on an opponent that conjures up bad memories for seasoned Bruin fans. A 59-0 loss to the Cougars in 2008 is still fresh in some minds, as is last year’s close win at the Rose Bowl. The Bruins actually have the upper hand in the series, as they are 8-3 against BYU dating back to 1983. Let’s take a look at the highlights of the offense and defense the Bruins will be up against.
The Cougars haven’t had the start to the season that most envisioned when prodigal son and Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer was hired as the offensive coordinator. Instead of the high passing/high production offense a-la LaVell Edwards, there has been inconsistency and lack of production. Last week’s 20-19 loss to Utah in the "Holy War" was no exception. Utah committed six turnovers, but the Cougars were only able to garner 13 points out of those opportunities. In addition to errors on offense, BYU also committed penalties that resulted in two players being ejected who will miss the first half of this Saturday’s game. The Cougars are 86th in the country (out of 128 teams) in total offense, averaging just 371.5 yards per game. The most glaring weakness has been the lack of big plays: BYU is the only team in the country with no passing play of at least 20 yards and is 121st in the nation in yards per completion at 9.0.
The only big-play threat on the BYU offense is running back Jamaal Williams. Williams missed part of the Holy War with an undisclosed injury, and is expected to play this weekend. Senior quarterback Taysom Hill is still considered the "man for the job" by Coach Detmer, but the play schemes have not created opportunities for much scoring. Currently, the Cougars are averaging a play every 26.9 seconds, which ranks them as the 92nd-fastest offense nationally. Hill believes the offense needs to develop more of an instinct and play more aggressively in order to be successful. Before the season began, Coach Detmer intended to employ a more pro-style offense, with the quarterback under center, huddles, and multiple looks. Instead, BYU’s offense is struggling with execution and Cougar fans are already saying that Detmer is in over his head. However, the drive that set BYU up for the failed two-point conversion shows that Hill does have skills as a quarterback. He launched a few passes too early but it was his abilities as a playmaker that set them up to either win or tie to begin with. Unfortunately, Utah’s defense completely bulldozed the Cougar offensive line on too many plays, which made scoring (and capitalizing on turnovers) nearly impossible.
This week, look for the return of Jamaal Williams (already has 220 yards this year) and for Hill to connect with senior receiver Nick Kurtz, who caught 39 passes for 578 yards and three touchdowns last year. Kurtz had a foot injury earlier in the season, but played in both games so far. The current leader in receiving yards is sophomore Moroni Laulu-Pututau, with seven catches and 80 yards on the season. What we’ve learned in two games is that Detmer's offense hasn't taken too many shots down field. Instead, BYU has been making short passes to a variety of receivers, running backs and tight ends. For example, six different Cougars made catches in the first half against Arizona, averaging 7.5 yards per completion. It will be up to the front seven to break up these short passes and stop the run game.
First-year defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki is bringing in a four-man front this season after the Cougars spent years playing in a 3-4 alignment. Coach Tuiaki does admit that having guys who can play with three up front adds to their options, so you may see the Cougars line up in a 3-4 style. One of the biggest changes involved moving linebacker Harvey Langi to defensive end. That move vacated a spot on the line, and sophomore Butch Pau’u has more than filled that void. He has recorded a team leading 18 tackles, with three tackles for loss, one forced fumble, and one sack. Coach Tuiaki says "Butch is huge. His heart, the way that he plays, he’s a big part of this defense. There’s a lot of different guys that the personality of the defense comes through them. Butch is one of them." Pau’u was originally slated to back up Langi, but with the changes on the line, Pau’u got his big chance, even though he is considered to be undersized for a middle linebacker.
A surprising note is that in last week’s loss to Utah, BYU gave up only one offensive touchdown. As noted before, Utah committed six turnovers, including two interceptions in the second quarter by Kai Nacua, with one leading to a touchdown. Forcing turnovers was a huge part of their game plan, and something the Bruins will need to watch out for on Saturday. The efforts of the defense proved futile, as the offense was not able to capitalize on all opportunities. One more touchdown, one more field goal, and BYU goes home with a W. According to Pau’u, "We played well but not as well as last week. We gave up too many rushing yards. We weren’t as assignment sound in the second half. We’ll get better next week. We feel solid as a defense." The Cougars really hit the skids when Nacua and defensive back Austin McChesney were both ejected for targeting. Both will miss the first half of Saturday’s game.
It’s another one of those games opposing an all-new coaching staff that is still trying to figure things out. It may be too early to tell whether or not Coach Detmer is is over his head. It is clear, however, that BYU is not clicking well on offense and the Bruins need to exploit this. Even though Hill is a senior, he sat most of last season with a leg injury and is coming in to a new playbook. Our defense can easily break up their game plan if everyone (yes, all 11 guys) hit their blocks and execute assignments. We need to see the offense progress, not regress, from last week. Receivers need to make those diving catches and burn BYU’s secondary. The offensive line needs to hold, give Rosen time to throw, and create holes for the running backs. Get all of these things on point and it’s an easy win.