BYU Cougars

BYU vs. UCLA: Las Vegas Bowl Preview

Before the night is over, one of these teams will want to invoke the Las Vegas slogan, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas…”

BYU cannot afford to lose to the UCLA Bruins a second time this season. A loss would almost certainly knock the Cougars out of the final rankings — a huge key as to whether they will be ranked in the 2008 preseason polls.

UCLA can ill afford to drop another game, as a loss will put the Bruins below .500 for the year, and their recruiting efforts will take a serious blow to the gut, regardless of who takes over the head coaching job.

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I decided to pull out my pre-game prediction from the BYU-UCLA game played in Pasadena back in early September, curious to see if there were any similarities that could be mined to help me accurately predict this matchup again.

In my previous attempt, I predicted the Cougars would lose by an 11-point margin if they had a turnover margin of minus-2. Sure enough, BYU went minus-3 in turnovers and lost the game to the Bruins, 27-17.

Despite being held to 44 yards rushing, and despite accumulating 84 yards in penalties, BYU still managed to gain nearly 200 more yards than UCLA (435-236). And that was with a sophomore quarterback playing in only the second game of his college career. On top of that, freshman phenom Harvey Unga only had eight touches the entire game, and he still ended up netting 71 total yards.

Conventional wisdom would tell you that Max Hall will be far more comfortable in the pocket this time around, which should be a huge concern to the Bruins when you consider Hall passed for 391 yards in September. That same wisdom would tell you that Unga is going to get double, perhaps even triple the touches this time around. Still, it will take more than that for BYU to win this game because that’s exactly what UCLA is readying itself for.

Since that first meeting, both teams have headed in drastically different directions. The Cougars rambled through the Mountain West Conference undefeated for the second year in a row and now sport the second-longest winning streak in the nation.

The Bruins, on the other hand, stumble into this rematch with a .500 record and defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker serving as interim head coach after Karl Dorrell’s dismissal three weeks ago.

What this means is that the outcome of the game will be determined by both emotion and execution. Whichever team can best sustain both throughout the contest will emerge victorious.

For the most part, emotion and execution go hand in hand. If you fail to execute, your emotional stamina can get drained pretty quickly. The reverse is true, in that you can recharge your emotional batteries with solid execution. What we call “momentum” in football is really the convergence of execution and emotion. BYU was able to sustain both throughout last year’s Las Vegas Bowl and the outcome was a 38-8 romp over Oregon.

So, let’s see if we can predict the outcome of tonight’s game by taking a look at what both teams brings to this contest in terms of emotion and the potential to execute their game plan.

UCLA

The Bruins are a senior-laden team that fell far short of expectations this season. Obviously, that’s why Dorrell was shown the door. The seniors are going to be motivated to end their season and college careers with a bowl victory. That is a huge emotional motivator.

The team, in general, will be motivated to prevent finishing the season under .500, and the Bruins want to win, in order to give DeWayne Walker a glimmer of chance at being hired as their new head coach.

There will be Pac-10 pride underlying the UCLA effort, and to some extent, returning players will be auditioning for next year’s starting roles.

There is sufficient emotional power in this Bruin team to defeat Brigham Young for the second time this season.

On the other hand, UCLA’s inability to execute its game plan effectively has plagued the team throughout the season. Because of chronic injuries to both Pat Cowan and Ben Olson, the Bruins’ offense has suffered under a carousel of four quarterbacks in 2007. Had either Olson or Cowan been able to play healthy throughout the season, the Bruins would easily be 8-4 and playing in a different bowl game.

As difficult as it might be for BYU to plan defensive strategies against multiple quarterback scenarios, UCLA will find it even more difficult to execute if it cannot stick to one signal-caller in this game.

The Bruins need to attack this game with confidence in their ability to execute. Weighing against their confidence is the baggage of losing four of the last five games, losing a head coach, and the national publicity surrounding the search for his replacement.

BYU

The Cougars’ emotional fortitude is bolstered by a nine-game winning streak and the confidence ongoing success has generated throughout the ranks on their roster. They also have a huge chip on their shoulder; they want revenge against UCLA, and they want more respect for what they’ve been able to accomplish the past two seasons.

BYU is well aware that playing on national television is a huge opportunity to make another statement about its program. It’s not the Cougars’ fault the conference has a downright lousy broadcast schedule, anchored by a network that is available to fewer than 5 percent of the American population.

The Cougar coaching staff is a sturdy, reliable compass for the program. Bronco Mendenhall has been very successful in focusing his staff and the players on each game at hand. That type of discipline is advantageous as you try to help your players zero in on their next obstacle on the schedule, especially with major distractions like final exams and the increased media chatter (three weeks of it) swirling around them about the game.

If you don’t think the rumor UCLA generated last week about Mendenhall being on its list of candidates was a ploy to distract the Cougars from their game preparations, then I’ve got a used car that runs like it’s in mint condition I’d like to sell you.

The reason BYU is coming into tonight with a nine-game winning streak is because Mendenhall and his staff have been able to work through the early season miscues and fine-tune execution on both sides of the ball. One exception where they still need improvement is penalty yardage. The Cougars were flagged for more than 210 yards in their final three games of the season.

Here’s how I rank the matchups for tonight’s game against my pre-game prediction for the Sept. 8 contest.

Sept. 8 game: UCLA defense advantage over BYU offense
Las Vegas Bowl: BYU offense slight advantage over UCLA defense

Sept. 8 game: UCLA offense advantage over BYU defense
Las Vegas Bowl: BYU defense advantage over UCLA offense

Sept. 8 game: Special teams – Even
Las Vegas Bowl: Specials teams – Even

Sept. 8 game: UCLA 35, BYU 24
Las Vegas Bowl: Read on …

Additional considerations

BYU will have a home-crowd advantage in Las Vegas, and that should be worth at least a six-point swing from the Sept. 8 game.

This is the third year in a row BYU has played in the Las Vegas Bowl and the past two contests against Cal and Oregon should provide a bit of an advantage to the Cougars’ psychological perspective tonight.

BYU’s confidence level is solid and the fear factor of playing Pac-10 teams is virtually nonexistent. Just like last year’s Las Vegas Bowl against Oregon, Cougar confidence will soar sky high as the matchup progresses and they are able to execute their game plan. They should be more resilient in bouncing back from turnovers. A minus-2 in turnovers shouldn’t cost them the game tonight, but a minus-3 would.

The on-field impact of BYU’s desire for revenge is evenly balanced against UCLA’s feeling of being cornered and the underdog in this game.

Make no bones about it, UCLA is a talent-laden team and can match up player to player against most of the Top 25 programs in the nation. The Bruins’ primary downfalls have been injuries to their top two quarterbacks and an inability to rally as a team in the face of that adversity. Will this be the same team that went to Corvallis and throttled the Oregon State Beavers 40-14, or the one that lost 20-6 at home to pitiful Notre Dame the very next week?

Summary

As mentioned previously, the team that can best sustain its emotion and execution will win this game.

I like the fact that Mendenhall and his staff have improved on their bowl preparation from the past two years. The Cougar program is reaching a level of stability that hasn’t been enjoyed since before Lavell Edwards announced his retirement in 1998.

A cornered Bruin team can be dangerous, but if the fight proves too much, UCLA is apt to look for the first chance to withdraw from the battle. That’s what happened to Oregon last year.

I suspect UCLA has a little more pride at stake than Oregon did last year. The Bruins will rally around Walker and keep the fight going as deep into the fourth quarter as possible.

BYU 28, UCLA 20

Cougars Nip Bruins on Blocked Field Goal

BYU had already yielded 22-, 50- and 52-yard field goals to UCLA’s second-team All-America kicker, Kai Forbath, during Saturday’s Las Vegas Bowl, so with three seconds left and a 28-yard chip-shot attempt lined up for the win, the situation looked pretty hopeless for the Cougars.

Miraculously, BYU’s defensive line got a strong push into the UCLA backfield and one of the defenders — freshman nose tackle Eathyn Manamaleuna — got a hand on the ball to prevent the loss.

The game would probably not have come down to a field goal finish had it not been for a highly questionable play-call by BYU to run the ball inside its own 5-yard line with 37 seconds remaining in the first half rather than taking a knee to run the clock out.

Leading 17-6, Cougars QB Max Hall’s deep handoff to Harvey Unga was stuffed and Unga coughed up the ball. Two plays later, UCLA scored on a McLeod Bethel-Thompson pass to Brandon Breazell, making it a four-point game at the half.

Both teams shot blanks at each other throughout the second half with the exception of Forbath’s 50-yard field goal at the 6:30 mark of the fourth quarter, which cut BYU’s lead to 17-16.

The final play of the game was set up by a determined 88-yard UCLA drive that began on the Bruins’ own 1-yard line with 2:02 on the clock. Eleven plays later, the ball rested on the Cougar 11-yard line with three ticks on the clock remaining. Forbath lined up for what would not only be a game-winning kick but an MVP-winning one, as well.

But sometimes miracles happen.

UCLA’s defensive coordinator-turned-interim head coach, DeWayne Walker, prepared a game plan that snuffed much of the life out of BYU’s offensive attack. It was a brilliant game plan reminiscent of the one he put together last year in UCLA’s 13-9 upset victory over archrival USC.

Max Hall was held to 242 yards passing and two TDs, a huge reduction from the 391 yards passing he put up earlier this year against the Bruins. BYU’s running game was largely ineffective with only 38 net yards. The Cougars totaled only 44 yards on the ground in September.

Game MVP Austin Collie was one of BYU’s key offensive players whom Walker knew UCLA would have to contain. Collie finished the game with 197 all-purpose yards, including six receptions for 107 yards and a touchdown, and 90 yards on three kick off returns.

One of Collie’s receptions was a spectacular, over-the-shoulder grab that was good for 37 yards and helped the Cougars run an extra 1:45 off the clock in the game’s final four minutes.

BYU finishes the season with its second consecutive Las Vegas Bowl win over a Pac-10 opponent, its second consecutive undefeated MWC championship, and its second consecutive 11-2 record. It was the Cougars’ first victory over UCLA since 1983, when Steve Young was calling signals for BYU.

UCLA ends its once-promising season with a 6-7 record, in search of a new head coach and a new direction for its football program. The Bruins were ranked as high as No. 11 this season after their Sept. 8 win over BYU.

The two teams are scheduled to meet again at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, next September. UCLA leads the all-time series 7-2.

Cougar Football 2007 Look-back

Last summer, BYU Cougar Fan sent an early list of Christmas wishes to Santa regarding the 2007 football season. Of his 10 wishes, nearly every one was granted. Before we post Cougar Fan’s 2008 wish list later this week, let’s take a look back at last year’s letter and find out how his stocking got stuffed with some pretty amazing results …

Summer 2007

Dear Santa,

I realize my wishes are being sent rather early this year, but because college football’s regular season will be over before Christmas, it’s pretty important to get them in your mailbox this summer.

As much as I’d like to make it easy on you with a simple wish for another conference title and bowl game victory for the Cougars this year, I know the team has to achieve those goals on its own.

So here’s my list — 10 wishes that I hope you’ll consider on behalf of every fan of the blue and white.

Sincerely,

BYU Cougar Fan

Note: Cougar Fan didn’t include a conference championship and bowl game victory in his list of 10 wishes below, but he did mention them and the results are noteworthy: A second straight undefeated conference season, second straight MWC championship and a second straight Las Vegas Bowl victory over a Pac-10 foe. After a season like that, what else really matters?

Cougar Fan’s 10 wishes for 2007:

1. That Max Hall follows in John Beck’s footsteps as ably as he did at Mountain View High School in Mesa, Ariz. And if not Mad Max, then how about Brenden Gaskins to the rescue?

Wish granted: Hall passed for 3,848 yards and 26 TDs en route to first-team All-MWC honors.

2. That Mark Weber follows up on Jeff Grimes’ great offensive line coaching and leads the O-line to an even higher level of execution and excellence.

Wish granted: The O-line yielded only 20 sacks on 503 pass attempts in 13 games (1.54 sacks per contest), good enough for 34th best in the nation. The running game averaged 144.4 yards per matchup. Is there room for improvement, though? You bet. NCAA D-1 leader Tennessee surrendered a meager four sacks on 519 pass attempts in 2007.

3. That Fui Vakapuna’s ankle is fully healed. Ditto for J.J. DiLuigi’s foot, Manase Tonga’s shoulder, Ben Criddle’s toe, Brandon Bradley’s knee, Tom Sorensen’s knee, and David Nixon’s ab.

Wish granted: Vakapuna, Tonga, Criddle and Nixon all healed enough to make huge contributions in ’07. DiLuigi redshirted, while Bradley and Sorensen both played in seven games.

4. That Austin Collie regains his freshman year form and Michael Reed continues to develop into a big-play receiver, giving the Cougars a super-duper dual wideout threat.

Wish granted: Collie was first team All-MWC with 56 receptions, 946 yards and seven TDs. Reed had a solid line of 41 grabs, 449 yards and four TDs to help keep opposing defenses on their toes.

5. That this season’s batch of Cougar tight ends (So’oto, George, Pitta, and Mahina) delivers a performance equal to that of Harline and Coats last year.

Wish granted: Pitta was first team All-MWC with 59 catches, 813 yards and five TDs. George had 17 grabs for 200 yards, and So’oto amassed 12 receptions for 124 yards. Mahina began serving a LDS mission in ’07.

6. That the entire defensive unit is as hardnosed and stingy on points allowed as last year.

Wish granted: The defense slipped just a bit, giving up 18.5 points per game — up from the 2006 mark of 14.7. Opponents’ rushing yards per game was reduced to 97.5 from 114.1 in 2006. Overall, BYU’s defense was ranked 13th in the nation.

7. That a newcomer to the program, whether a freshman or transfer, surprises the heck out of everyone with a performance like McKay Jacobson or Ian Dulan turned in last year (or Collie in ’04).

Wish granted: Redshirt freshman running back Harvey Unga earned freshman All-American and All-MWC first-team honors with 1,227 yards rushing and 13 TDs. True freshman defensive lineman Eathyn Manumaleuna played a huge role and blocked a would-be winning field goal by UCLA in the 2007 Las Vegas Bowl to preserve a Cougar victory.

8. That, like this year’s theme, the team truly “raises the bar” and take the program to the next level. To begin with, that would mean a payback over Arizona, an upset over UCLA, and certainly another spanking on the Utes.

Wish granted: The bar was raised with another 11-2 season, a second straight undefeated conference run and second consecutive MWC title; moreover, BYU earned a final AP ranking of 14th and the No. 15 spot in the coaches’ poll. The Cougars defeated Arizona, split with UCLA, and beat Utah for the second straight season.

9. That the Class of 2008 recruits live up to their word and sign their LOIs in February.

Wish granted: Well, signing is one thing, but qualifying is another. Running back recruit Seta Pohahau and wide receiver Atem Bol were both non-qualifiers and headed off to the junior college ranks. There’s never a guarantee BYU will see those athletes return to the program, depending on academic progress, risk of injury, or transferring to another school. However, several solid walk-ons, including JUCO All-America safety Andrew Rich, of Snow College, helped bolster the overall 2008 recruiting class.

10. And last but not least, that CSTV/Comcast execs get their act together and sign a contract with DISH and/or DirecTV to carry The Mtn in time for the start of the 2007 football season!

Wish NOT granted: 2007 was another painful year for Cougar Fans living outside of The Mtn channel’s tiny footprint, thanks to ineptitude galore on behalf of MWC leadership, Comcast and CSTV. Fortunately, these monkeys finally got their act together and hooked up with DirecTV during the winter.

Keys to Game vs. Northern Iowa Panthers

Lavell Edwards Stadium in Provo, Utah, will be a pressure cooker on Saturday afternoon as one of the most eagerly anticipated college football seasons at BYU gets under way with the Cougars entertaining the Division 1-AA powerhouse Northern Iowa Panthers.

Make no bones about it — all of the pressure is on the 15th-/16th-ranked Cougars. The Panthers are pressure-free as the visiting team, lower-division underdog, while BYU is considered the best bet this year among non-BCS programs to qualify for a BCS bowl game in January 2009.

On the heels of back-to-back 11-2 seasons, two straight MWC championships, consecutive Las Vegas Bowl victories over Pac-10 foes, and the highest preseason ranking since 1984, BYU players and fans have been looking forward to the kickoff of the 2008 season since last December.

During the offseason, BYU fan boards were filled with complaints about having to play a Division 1-AA team, after Nevada of the Western Athletic Conference canceled its scheduled visit to Provo.

However, as a longtime elite program in the 1-AA division, Northern Iowa hardly represents a patsy game for the Cougars. Last year, the Panthers were ranked No. 1 for the final six weeks of the regular season, but lost a heartbreaker to Delaware at home in the divisional quarterfinals to finish 12-1.

NIU returns 13 starters, including its two top playmakers, preseason first-team All-America running back Corey Lewis (1,513 yards rushing, 16 TDs and 642 more yards on 54 receptions) and senior wide receiver Johnny Gray (70 receptions, 910 yards, five TDs, plus 129 yards an four scores on 14 carries, and another score off a punt return).

Three keys to winning the catfight

Control both sides of the line of scrimmage. Northern Iowa returns only one starter on its offensive line, while BYU brings back just four starters on defense. But the Cougars’ defensive strength is their front line. Jan Jorgensen, Russell Tialavea and Ian Dulan have a deep and capable supporting cast that includes Brett Denny, Bernard Afutiti and Mosese Foketi. Regardless of who is on the field at any given time, the Cougar D-line must constantly pressure Panther QB Pat Grace and plug the vertical gaps RB Corey Lewis will be trying to penetrate.

The Panther offense relies on getting Lewis and Gray as many open-field touches as possible. If the D-line can limit those touches and bottle up Grace and Lewis in the backfield, it will give the Cougars’ youthful back eight enough time to fill the running lanes and lock down Johnny Gray on his routes.

Veteran offensive line coach Mark Weber says this year’s interior line has the potential to be the best unit he has ever guided. If these guys can live up to such lofty expectations, Max Hall will have plenty of time to find Austin Collie, Michael Reed and Dennis Pitta and pick apart the Panther defense through the air. That will, in turn, create a field day for Harvey Unga and the running corps.

Northern Iowa’s only hope to limit the Cougar attack is by getting immense pressure on Hall for all four quarters. It’s really difficult to imagine that happening in this game.

Rapid assault with a shock-and-awe campaign. The Cougars need to put the game away as quickly as possibly. Easier said than done, because the Panthers are a well-coached, patient squad. But if you look at what happened to what was at the time fifth-ranked Michigan last year against Appalachian State (you knew this comparison was bound to pop up), the Wolverines raced off to a quick 14-7 lead in the first quarter and then got complacent in their Big House.

Before Michigan knew it, the team was down 28-17 at the half and had to play catchup the rest of the contest. The longer you allow an underdog to hang with you, the more confidence they gain, and the more problems they begin to create in foiling your game plan. Ultimately, Appalachian State prevailed 34-32 in the biggest shocker of the decade, and the Wolverines never recovered from the shame of that upset.

Ideally, BYU needs to rack up an insurmountable lead at least midway through the third quarter, so starters can be rested and the reserve troops can gain much-needed game-time experience.

Respect your opponent. One of the Cougars’ biggest obstacles they will face this week and for much of the season is overconfidence. Every team on their schedule, including Northern Iowa, is capable of defeating BYU should the Cougars regard them too lightly.

If Bronco Mendenhall and his staff can succeed in keeping the troops focused on executing their individual assignments, and keep each game at hand in perspective, this could be a very magical season for the program and Cougar fans everywhere.

Report Card vs. Northern Iowa

In a word, the BYU Cougars’ 41-17 victory over Northern Iowa on Saturday was sloppy. Thanks to five fumbles, BYU squandered a 27-3 halftime advantage and led only 27-17 at the close of the third quarter. The visiting Panthers had wrestled control of the game’s momentum, putting the stadium’s blue-clad fans on the edge of their seats.

Fortunately for the Cougars, the Max Hall-to-Dennis Pitta connection revived in the fourth quarter and yielded several big plays to set up the game’s final two scores.

What does Saturday’s uneven performance against UNI tell us about next week’s road game against the Washington Huskies?

Look-back – Offense

1. Hall is stronger and has more zip on his ball this year. It took him and Austin Collie nearly three quarters to start clicking, but that’s understandable when you consider Collie sat out most of the fall camp healing a hairline leg fracture. Look for Collie to make more of an impact next week in Seattle.
2. Pitta is the Brooks Robinson of college football tight ends; in other words, he’s a vacuum cleaner who catches everything thrown his way. Look for foes to key on him more this year — increasing opportunities for his fellow receivers.
3. The Cougars will not be able to afford turning the ball over four times against Washington, UCLA or any top-tier MWC teams this year. Backup running backs Wayne Latu and JJ DiLuigi coughed up the ball three times on five rushing attempts. Harvey Unga was absolutely punishing every time he touched the ball, and the Cougs will need him and Fui Vakapuna both healthy next week against the Huskies if they want to return to Provo, Utah, with a win.
4. The offensive line gave up only one sack, but it cost seven points and a temporary momentum shift when Hall, after being taken down, fumbled the ball away in the end zone near the close of the third quarter. The O-line’s potential was evident, but the unit was inconsistent against the Panthers. The group will need to turn it up a notch against Washington next week. As the O-line goes, so goes the Hall-led passing game.

Grade: A-minus

Look-back – Defense

1. Kudos to the defense for holding Corey Lewis to 42 yards rushing on 18 attempts. However, the unit also gave up 81 yards on 11 carries to QB Pat Grace. Although both players were largely contained, Grace’s ability to slice upfield on the read option should concern the coaching staff about containing Husky QB Jake Locker next week.
2. Matt Ah You and Coleby Clawson had strong showings and David Nixon was, well, David Nixon. These guys and fellow linebackers So’oto, Bauman and Doman need to crank up their play next week if the Cougars hope to stop Locker.
3. The D-line racked up four sacks and the bulk of the credit for stopping Lewis goes to these front-liners. They delivered the goods as advertised and made the young Cougar secondary look much better than it really is right now.
4. That said, the secondary did manage to shut down the Panthers’ leading receiver, Johnny Gray — who didn’t catch any passes. The defense only yielded 10 of UNI’s 17 points, so all things considered, look for the ‘D’ to build on this experience and turn it up on the road next week.

Grade: B

Look-back – Special teams

1. The punting game looks solid. CJ Santiago had a 42-yard average on three punts; two of his attempts landed inside the enemy 20.
2. True freshman O’Neil Chambers didn’t disappoint, almost breaking off two kickoff returns. He totaled 99 return yards on three attempts, including a 50-yarder.
3. Mitch Payne was 5-of-6 on extra points. True freshman Justin Sorensen handled the kickoff duties and only allowed one return on seven boots.

Grade: B-plus

Keys to Game vs. Washington Huskies

Brigham Young’s BCS-busting dream season could easily become a nightmare in Seattle if it doesn’t take Washington seriously this weekend. This game is the first real test that will indicate if Bronco Mendenhall truly has mended the deficiencies in his game preparations for early season road contests. In the past two years, all of BYU’s four losses occurred within the first few games of the season on the road at Arizona, Boston College, UCLA and Tulsa.

Five keys to defeating Washington

1. Contain Jake Locker. Duh. This one’s pretty fundamental. Oregon held Locker to 57 yards rushing on 16 carries and 12-of-28 passing for 103 yards last week. The Ducks also sacked him three times. The Ducks won at home 44-10, although the game was close (21-10) at the end of the third quarter. Ty Willingham pulled Locker once the game was out of reach with just over 7 minutes remaining.

Locker is a 6-foot-3, 222-pound speedy, powerful runner who poses the option threat every time he touches the ball. He’s not a terribly accurate passer and more dangerous on the ground, but the kid is competitive and will find a way to beat you if you don’t bottle him up on every play.

At the same time, the Cougars cannot afford to let running backs Chris Polk or Brandon Johnson pick up the slack for the Huskies on the ground. Oregon held Polk to 19 yards on 14 carries and Johnson to 13 yards on seven rush attempts. Quite simply, they took away the ground game and forced Washington to try and beat them through the air. BYU would be smart to follow a similar game plan, especially with the depth and strength the Cougars possess on the defensive front line.

2. Protect the ball—protect the quarterback. BYU got away with fumbling the ball four times last week to Northern Iowa. If the Cougars do that in Seattle, they’ll leave with a loss.

The Cougars need Max Hall to turn in another zero-pick game as well. It’s pretty demoralizing to a defense when Hall is able to sit in the pocket and pick it apart with an array of targets at various distances across the field.

If the O-line keeps the pressure off Hall, the ground game will open up and then Harvey Unga and Fui Vakapuna can land some pretty nasty one-two punches in the gut of the Husky front eight. Washington is sporting a 3-3-5 defensive scheme under new coordinator Ed Donatell and it has good team speed. Oregon managed 496 total yards on offense against the Huskies—256 yards passing and 240 yards rushing. A balanced output of that caliber would bode well for the Cougars in Seattle.

3. Control both sides of the line of scrimmage. This is really a sum of the first two keys to the game. Washington returns solid experience on both sides of the line—just like the Cougars—and it’s not rocket science to figure out the veracity of this equation. If BYU can contain Locker and the Husky rushing attack while protecting Hall and giving him enough time to read through his progressions and find his open receivers, besides winning the turnover margin, then the Cougars will go home with a much-deserved victory. Both sides of the line need to step up their game in a big way against the Huskies.

4. Spread the ball around. Washington will try to neutralize BYU’s weapons and force the Cougars into a one-dimensional attack. They’ll gladly allow Dennis Pitta a couple hundred receiving yards in exchange for bottling up Unga and the ground game and marginalizing the rest of the wideout corps. Hall needs to get the ball to Austin Collie and Michael Reed on a consistent basis early in the game to stretch the field on the Husky defenders and as Bronco Mendenhall has said, “force them to pick their poison.” The rotational receivers like Hafoka, Ashworth, White and Chambers need to make some big plays when called upon like White did last week in the fourth quarter.

When the Cougar offense is humming in high gear and several players are getting touches and gaining yardage, a state of confusion and panic sets in on the defensive side of the ball. When this happens, Hall & Co. chew up the clock, wear the opponent’s defense down and the scoreboard starts to rock ‘n roll at a dizzying pace for the Cougars.

5. Start fast and take the crowd out of the game. There are several reasons why BYU has never won in four tries in Seattle, but the overarching factor in all four of those losses has been a slow start on the Cougars’ part.

The Washington home-field advantage is real. Even in down years, the Huskies have pulled off major upsets on their home turf and the fans are itching to make one happen this Saturday. It is imperative for the Cougars to score early and often to quiet the 70,000-plus faithful in Husky Stadium. It’s the first home game of the new season and both players and fans will be pumped up to cage the Cougars.

If the Huskies have the lead or are hanging close in the fourth quarter, it will be a monumental achievement for BYU to pull off a win on Saturday.

Prediction: I would be surprised to see BYU start fast and sustain any sort of comfortable lead against a very hungry, agitated Husky team. I envision a see-saw struggle with the Cougars hanging on for a 24-20 win. The scoring could go a bit higher, perhaps 34-30, with special teams play being a deciding factor.