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Archive for October, 2008

Fourth and inches …

I told you so… when I mentioned I wasn’t ready to hand the keys to this year’s national championship game over to USC (Fourth and inches…week of Sept. 20, 2008). The Trojans’ first two wins were far short of spectacular when you consider that even Duke has ravaged Virginia this season and Ohio State is clearly a different team with Tyrelle Pryor at QB. The Buckeyes would play USC much closer if the game were this week.

Logic would tell you… that the Trojans aim to demolish the Ducks this weekend and prove last week’s loss to Oregon State was a fluke. But do you recall how USC responded last year after being upset by Stanford? The Trojans struggled to defeat Arizona in the Los Angeles Coliseum, 20-13.

Coaching carousel rumors… Rumors — you’ve gotta love ‘em. If you want to believe the ones currently floating around cyberspace, then get ready to see Lane Kiffin at Syracuse next year and Kyle Wittingham at Washington. No word on where Ty Willingham will land; Willingham to Wittingham — that would be interesting.

BCS-buster watchBrigham YoungUtah and Boise State are the only remaining teams with a shot despite the fact that Tulsa and Ball State will probably go undefeated this season. Texas Christian had a great opportunity to make its big statement at Oklahoma last week but fell to the Sooners, 35-10. Boise State actually has the easiest path to the BCS because it has nothing but a pitifully weak WAC schedule ahead, whereas the Cougars and the Utes both have to face TCU and each other.

Just how weak is the WAC? Simple. No WAC team has ever won at Boise State on its puke blue carpet. Do you think that would have happened on a normal green playing field? Hardly. Why the NCAA allows BSU’s desecration of the gridiron is mind-boggling. Apparently, they won’t do anything about it until Wisconsin paints its field red or Washington changes its rug to purple.

Conference Power Meter: 1. Big XII; 2. SEC; 3. Big Ten; 4. ACC; 5. Pac-10; 6. MWC; 7. Big East; 8. C-USA; 9. WAC; 10. Sun Belt.

Heisman Thermometer: Hottest: Chase Daniel, Missouri. Getting hotter every week: Javon Ringer, Michigan State. Still hot: Sam Bradford, Oklahoma. Cooled off a bit from a bye week: Max Hall, BYU. Mercury rising: Colt McCoy, Texas.

Top games this weekend and why:

Oregon State at No. 15 Utah: Last chance for MWC to smack-down the Pac-10 in regular-season play.
Stanford at Notre Dame: This contest is really a bellwether of where these two teams are at in their rebuilding efforts.
No. 7 Texas Tech at Kansas State: Tech hasn’t played anybody of note until this game. Does it matter?
Illinois at Michigan: OK, Wisconsin was favored and couldn’t get the job done in Ann Arbor. Your turn, Illinois.
South Carolina at Mississippi: Gamecocks not so cocky about this one after seeing what Ole Miss did in the Swamp last week.
Florida State at Miami: This used to be one of the most anticipated matchups in college football. Does anyone outside of Florida really care now?
Arizona State at Cal: Hey, the Pac-10 is up for grabs after USC lost its conference opener last week.
Navy at Air Force: Because these guys protect your candy assets.
No. 13 Auburn at No. 19 Vanderbilt: Wouldn’t it be something if Vandy managed to pull this one off?
No. 5 Texas at Colorado: Which Buff team will show up this week? Will it be the one that nipped West Virginia or the one that Florida State trounced?
No. 14 Ohio State at No. 18 Wisconsin: If the Badgers fail this week, the only team between the Buckeyes and another Big Ten title is Penn State.
No. 4 Missouri at Nebraska: Remember when the Cornhuskers used to chew up Mizzou and spit them out year after year? Look out for the upset.
No. 23 Oregon at No. 9 USC: You’ve really gotta feel for the Ducks in this one. The Trojans are hellbent on proving last week’s loss to the Beavers was a fluke.

Upset Specials: I was 1 for 2 last week, correctly picking Northwestern over Iowa (thanks, Tyrell) but misfiring on Washington in its home loss to Stanford. This week: North Carolina over No. 24 Connecticut (would’ve picked this one even if the Huskies still had their starting QB) … and two way out on the limb: Kansas State over No. 7 Texas Tech; Pitt over No. 10 South Florida.

Keys to Game vs. Utah State Aggies

The bye week has been kind to the BYU Cougars, although there is a sort of edgy anxiousness that usually sets in with the break from weekly game action. Minor injuries have been on the mend. Linebackers Grant Nelson and Terrance Hooks received medical clearances and rejoined the BYU game roster. Coaches were able to pay visits to several key recruits as well as spend extra time studying game films.

The BCS hype building up among sports media outlets around the nation has no doubt saturated the Cougars individually and collectively. Likewise, they’ve had a chance to see how a lack of focus can lead to disasters like USC’s dismal showing in Corvallis, Ore., and Florida’s faltering at home against Mississippi.

Focus, execution and discipline will be critical with each passing week from now on and it all begins in a place that appears to be the easiest game on the schedule: Logan, Utah. BYU shouldn’t approach the Aggies differently than any other opponent they face this year. The table is set and every season goal is still within sight. The Cougars need to hunker down, stay focused and take care of business from hereon out.

Cougar keys to this game

1. Execute the game plan. Game plans are the blueprint for players to follow in constructing victory on the field. In general, the offensive portion of the game plan consists of several packages of plays with alternative sets and formations that provide the best matchups and ways to isolate particular strengths against the opponent’s weaknesses. On the other side of the ball, the plan includes alignments and packages that can neutralize threats and exploit certain tendencies. The combination of expert planning and individual player and unit execution on the field as directed on the fly by the coaching staff is what delivers the results.

Ideally, in a game like this one, BYU would like to get by with a fairly basic assortment of bread-and-butter plays on offense, revealing just a few new little twists on the game film to keep the next opponent guessing. The defense will do whatever it takes to keep feeding the rock to its hungry offensive machine. Quite simply, executing the game plan Friday means getting the job done as quickly and effectively as possible. Utah State should provide just enough resistance for the Cougars to work on shaking off the bye-week cobwebs.

Friday’s game is not just important in the win-loss column. It’s a very important building block type of experience to get everyone back on the same page in game speed action. It’s essential for Max Hall and his receivers to regain their timing in this game. Important to find new ways to get the ball more to Dennis Pitta and Andrew George. Helpful to get Fui Vakapuna more carries. It’s a good test to see how focused the team can be with all the outside distractions swirling around them.

2. Put the game out of reach early. You’ve read this before and I’ll keep harping on it throughout most of the season. The longer you let any underdog hang around, the risk of an upset increases exponentially. If Key No. 1 above happens, this will occur. And if this occurs, the next key, No. 3, will naturally follow.

3. Get your reserves plenty of playing time. This will happen when you put the game away early like the Cougs have done the past two games. Although it’s not a key to success in this game, it is a key to success for the rest of the season. Just wait and see how many of the reserves that saw substantial action in these early contests help out and make key plays in games down the road this year.

Prediction

This Cougar team can toss a third consecutive shutout, but I don’t think it will happen on the road. If it was a home game in Provo, it would happen tonight. BYU will be a tad rusty from the extra week layoff and I expect a turnover or two—quite possibly from special teams play–might help the Aggies break the old goose egg open. Watch out, though, once the offense gets humming: BYU 52, Utah State 10

Report Card vs. Utah State

Ugly. Uninspired. Disappointing. The list of adjectives that could be used to describe BYU’s lackluster 34-14 over occasional instate rival Utah State is seemingly endless.

Despite leading 34-0 after the first three quarters, the Cougars’ performance against the Aggies was riddled with sloppy and careless play. It was hardly a reflection of the program’s theme this year, “Quest for Perfection.”

It might sound a bit harsh when you consider BYU left Logan with a 20-point margin of victory on Friday night, but that’s what high expectations will do for a football program that aspires to be among the very best in the nation.

From a fan’s standpoint, the sloppy 20-point win also failed to exceed perhaps the most important measuring stick for this game — 58-10 — that had already been laid out by the TUN (team up north) earlier this month.

BYU Offensive Grade: C-minus

The best play of the game was Austin Collie’s 76-yard touchdown reception, but if it hadn’t been for Collie coming back on the ball in triple coverage, Max Hall would have ended up with three interceptions instead of two. Despite a couple dropped passes, Collie ended with an outstanding line of eight grabs, 132 yards and two TDs.

Hall looked especially rusty on the night, constantly telegraphing passes, throwing into double and triple coverage while neglecting open receivers on the opposite side of the field. As funny and Jim McMahon-like as it might seem, he even registered a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty.

The offensive line provided stellar protection for Hall throughout the first 3 1/2 quarters of play, but finally yielded its first sack of the season near the 4-minute mark in the game. A noticeable drop in execution by the offense was evidenced by 75 yards in penalties (123 total team penalty yards).

The line play in the rushing attack was inconsistent throughout the night. Four drives were quashed by the Aggie defensive surge, forcing field goal attempts instead of advancing toward pay dirt. Several times, Harvey Unga hesitated at the line or was forced to run horizontal as daylight vanished at the line of scrimmage. Still, Unga ended up with 89 yards on 22 carries.

Fui Vakapuna ran the ball just three times for 7 yards, proving far more useful catching the ball out of the backfield (three receptions, 17 yards). In all, the rushing game was a huge disappointment and the weak link in the offensive attack, netting just 129 yards against the Aggies.

The Cougars came into the game with a third-down conversion success of nearly 75 percent. The inability to move the ball on the ground was the major factor in barely converting over 50 percent of third downs in the game (7 for 19).

Take away the 7 points the defense and Brandon Bradley accounted for, as well as the three turnovers that handed the offense a shortened field, and the 27-point performance against the Aggies would have been reduced by 10 or 13 points — probably not enough to even win the game.

BYU Defensive Grade: B

The Aggies earned 322 total yards (127 yards rushing, 194 yards passing) and 23 first downs against BYU. Their offense owned the Cougars in the final 15 minutes, although that was arguably garbage time because the score was already 34-0 at the end of the third quarter. Still, it came against the first-team defense, albeit a fatigued unit.

Utah State sports a speedy and elusive backfield and Brigham Young offered a workmanlike performance in containing the Aggie weaponry, including five sacks and several hurries. If it wasn’t for the defense forcing two fumble recoveries and an interception in the first quarter, the Cougars’ fast start would have been negated and an upset might truly have taken place.

BYU’s defensive backs tend to play loose coverage off the snap and a good portion of Utah State’s receiving output came on total yards after the catch. This could spell a serious problem for a young Cougar secondary if they fail to improve and tighten the noose against better passing teams (UNLV and TUN, for instance) on the schedule.

The rest of the season will bear out the Aggies have a dangerous offense that has quick-strike capability. If they can manage to play with the same intensity that they were able to muster in the fourth quarter against BYU, they are going to win two or three more games this year.

The defense was flagged twice for roughing the quarterback and penalized a total of 48 yards in the game.

BYU Special Teams Grade: C

Mitch Payne was 4 of 4 in extra points and kicked a 21-yard field goal and a 45-yarder. He also missed a 30-yard chip shot and had a 35-yard attempt blocked.

The kickoff defense looked porous at times, although it did force and recover a fumble in the first quarter. One of the Aggie returns in the third quarter went for 61 yards, but a penalty nullified the runback.

Freshman O’Neill Chambers averaged 27 yards on two kickoff returns. He also totaled 9 yards on two punt returns. C.J. Santiago averaged 42.5 yards on two punts.

Like the Cougar offense and defense, the special teams unit failed to put together a solid performance in every phase of their game and they’ll need to step it up when they head back into conference play next week against New Mexico.

Overall Team Grade: C-plus

AP Top 25 Weekly Recap

Oklahoma demolished Baylor to maintain the top ranking while Big XII foe Missouri leapfrogged dormant LSU to grab the third spot in the AP college football poll. North Carolina, Michigan State, Pitt and Ball State made the grade this week while Wisconsin, Fresno State, Oregon and Connecticut were all knocked out of the Top 25. Former Top 10 team South Florida tumbled to No. 19 with its home loss to Pitt.

1. OKLAHOMA SOONERS (5-0). Stoops’ troops took care of business in Waco on Saturday by polishing off Baylor, 49-17. The Red River Shootout with archnemesis Texas (No. 5) is the biggest game of the week in college football.
2. ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE (6-0). Either the Tide was complacent or it’s overrated. Or Kentucky is just a plain good football team. ‘Bama was lucky to escape the Wildcats’ visit with a 17-14 win and this week we’ll find out what Ole Miss can do in Tuscaloosa.
3. MISSOURI TIGERS (5-0). Mizzou destroyed Nebraska 52-17, helping pay back a few of the bad memories from decades of past defeats to the Cornhuskers in Lincoln. No. 17 Oklahoma State ventures into the Tigers’ playpen this Saturday.
4. LSU TIGERS (4-0). Louisiana State had the week off and they needed it as they head to the Swamp to take on No. 11 Florida in the second-best game of the week — one filled with plenty of national title implications in its own right.
5. TEXAS LONGHORNS (5-0). The Longhorns chased the Buffaloes off the Colorado range with a decisive 38-14 win on Saturday. Can they hold their own against Oklahoma this weekend?
6. PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS (6-0). JoePa collected career win No. 478 as Penn State turned in a workmanlike 20-6 performance over Purdue. Wisconsin will offer the Nittany Lions their most difficult test to date this week in Madison.
7. TEXAS TECH RED RAIDERS (5-0). The Red Raiders went from beating nobodies to a team that matters with their resounding 58-28 road win against Kansas State. They should be able to handle Nebraska quite easily this weekend after the thrashing Mizzou handed the Cornhuskers last Saturday.
8. USC TROJANS (3-1). The Trojans tried to atone for their Oregon State slip-up with a 44-10 pasting of the other school from Oregon with the Donald Duck logo. At the start of the season, this week’s foe, Arizona State, looked to be rather formidable, but three losses later, the Sun Devils might be more of a pushover this week.
9. BYU COUGARS (5-0). Brigham Young came off a bye week and revealed that it might have some difficulty handling a top 10 ranking in its 34-14 win over Utah State. This Saturday is homecoming and conference rival New Mexico is coming to Provo.
10. GEORGIA BULLDOGS (4-1). The Dawgs had an extra week to let the loss to Alabama sink in and motivate them for Tennessee’s visit this weekend. Expect them to pummel the Volunteers.
11. FLORIDA GATORS (4-1). Florida tuned up for its critical showdown with LSU by rolling over Arkansas in Fayetteville, 38-7. The Swamp will be rockin’ and look for the Gators to lay a little bit of Saturday night payback on the Tigers.
12. OHIO STATE BUCKEYES (5-1). Freshman QB Terrelle Pryor has totally changed the Buckeyes’ offensive attack in the same way Tim Tebow did for Florida when he came on the scene three years ago. Ohio State survived one of its toughest tests in Big Ten competition with a last-minute road win over Wisconsin, 20-17. Next up: Purdue visits Columbus this weekend.
13. VANDERBILT COMMODORES (5-0). The Commodores proved they are for real with a thrilling 14-13 victory over Auburn and they can become bowl-eligible this weekend on the road against Mississippi State. Vanderbilt is off to its best start since 1943. The last time the Commodores beat the Tigers was 1955.
14. UTAH UTES (5-0). The Utes staged a miraculous comeback over Oregon State in Salt Lake City on Thursday night, 31-28. Their reward is a jump in the polls and the most undesirable road trip in the Mountain West Conference: Laramie, Wyo.
15. BOISE STATE BRONCOS (4-0). The Broncos waxed a terrible Louisiana Tech team 38-3 on their puke blue smurf turf and now head to Hattiesburg, Miss., for an easy nonconference matchup against 2-3 Southern Miss.
16. KANSAS JAYHAWKS (4-1). The Jayhawks struggled mightily in their 35-33 close shave over Iowa State. The Colorado Buffaloes come to town in Big XII action this Saturday.
17. OKLAHOMA STATE COWBOYS (5-0). The Cowboys forced five turnovers against Texas A&M and rode off into the sunset with a 58-28 win last weekend. They’ll lay their undefeated season on the line in Columbia, Mo., on Saturday against Heisman front-runner Chase Daniel & Co.
18. VIRGINIA TECH (5-1). V-Tech struggled a bit with D-1 initiate Western Kentucky, 27-13. They’ll take a week off to prep for ACC action on the road against Boston College on Oct. 18.
19. SOUTH FLORIDA BULLS (5-1). How do you spell relief after dropping a Big East Conference game against Pitt and tumbling nine spots in the rankings? S-Y-R-A-C-U-S-E on Oct 18.
20. AUBURN TIGERS (4-2). The Tigers have the distinction of being the only two-loss team in the Top 25 this week after dropping a heartbreaker on the road to Vandy. The Arkansas Razorbacks visit Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday.
21. WAKE FOREST DEMON DEACONS (3-1). Wake Forest used its bye week to regroup after losing to Navy and hopes to return to the win column this Thursday night when ACC rival Clemson visits.
22. NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS (4-1). Butch Davis is quickly masterminding a major turnaround in Raleigh. The Heels knocked off previously ranked Connecticut 38-12 and they are ranked in the AP Top 25 for the first time since 2001. North Carolina faces a rapidly improving 4-1 Notre Dame team this weekend at home.
23. MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS (5-1). The Spartans escaped Iowa City with a 16-13 victory over Iowa and will face undefeated Northwestern in Evanston this weekend in a key Big Ten showdown. The Wildcats upset MSU last year in a 38-31 shootout.
24. PITTSBURGH PANTHERS (4-1). LeSean McCoy pounded out 142 yards and two TDs to help the Panthers upset former No. 10 South Florida 26-21 last Thursday night. After losing its season opener to Bowling Green, Pitt has rolled off four straight victories and it’ll look to continue the streak against the Navy Midshipmen on Oct. 18 after a bye week.
25. BALL STATE CARDINALS (6-0). Ball State shut out Toledo 31-0 at the Rockets’ Glass Stadium on Saturday night and they didn’t do it by relying on Nate Davis and the passing attack. MiQuale Lewis logged 157 yards and two TDs to lead the Cardinals. This week David Letterman’s favorite team will play on the road at Western Kentucky.

Fourth and inches …

~The Midseason Awards Special~

Top 3 Quarterbacks: 1. Chase Daniel (Missouri); 2. Sam Bradford (Oklahoma); 3. Colt McCoy (Texas).

Top 3 Running Backs: 1. Javon Ringer (Michigan State); 2. Donald Brown (Connecticut); 3. Evan Royster (Penn State).

Top 3 Wide Receivers: 1. Jarrett Dillard (Rice); 2. Dez Bryant (Oklahoma State); 3. Austin Collie (BYU).

Top 3 Quick Strike Threats: 1. Jeremy Maclin (Missouri); 2. Joe Burnett (UCF); 3. Arrelious Benn (Illinois).

Top 3 Tight Ends: 1. Chase Coffman (Missouri); 2. Dennis Pitta (BYU); 3. Bear Pascoe (Fresno State).

Top 3 Offensive Linemen: 1. Andre Smith (Alabama); 2. Alex Mack (California); 3. Ciron Black (LSU).

Top 3 Defensive Linemen: 1. Gerald McCoy (Oklahoma); 2. Greg Hardy (Mississippi); 3. George Selvie (South Florida).

Top 3 Linebackers: 1. Rey Maualuga (USC); 2. Scott McKillop (Pittsburgh); 3. James Laurinaitis (Ohio State).

Top 3 Defensive Backs: 1. Vontae Davis (Illinois); 2. Victor Harris (Virginia Tech); 3. Taylor Mays (USC).

Top 3 Coaches: 1. Gary Pinkel (Missouri); 2. Joe Paterno (Penn State); 3. Pat Fitzgerald (Northwestern).

BCS Busters still standing: Brigham Young, Utah, Boise State, Tulsa and Ball State.

Heisman ThermometerHottest: Chase Daniel, Missouri. Getting hotter every week: Sam Bradford, Oklahoma.Still hot but on the wrong team: Javon Ringer, Michigan State. Mercury rising, but needs a signature win: Colt McCoy, Texas

Conference Power Meter: 1. Big XII. 2. SEC. 3. Big Ten. 4. ACC. 5. Pac-10. 6. MWC. 7. Big East. 8. C-USA. 9. WAC. 10. Sun Belt.

Top games this weekend and why:
No. 1 Oklahoma Sooners vs No. 5 Texas Longhorns. Red River Rivalry? Why change the name? This is the Red River Shootout thanks to gunslingers Bradford and McCoy.
No. 4 LSU Tigers at No. 11 Florida Gators. Major implications in SEC title race and national title to boot.
No. 17 Oklahoma State at No. 3 Missouri. Gridiron fireworks with exciting gamebreakers like Jeremy Maclin and Dez Bryant.
No. 6 Penn State at Wisconsin. Penn State is for real if it wins at Camp Randall Stadium.
No. 23 Michigan State at Northwestern. Wildcats off to best start in more than 40 years and can become bowl-eligible with win.
Colorado at No. 16 Kansas. Intriguing Big XII matchup out of the spotlight from the other two big games.
Toledo at Michigan. They both wear navy blue and yellow. They are situated 45 miles from each other and have never played. Unfortunately, they are both having down years.
Notre Dame at No. 22 North Carolina. Bellwether game will help us know who’s for real.

Upset Specials: I was 2 for 3 last week, correctly picking North Carolina over then-No. 24 Connecticut and Pitt over then-No. 10 South Florida … way off on my pick of Kansas State over No. 7 Texas Tech. This week: Southern Miss over Boise State, Buffalo over Western Michigan, and Stanford over Arizona

Keys to Game vs. New Mexico Lobos

Last week’s sloppy 34-14 win over Utah State should help motivate BYU as the Cougars head into the final seven conference games of the season, with New Mexico first on tap this weekend.

Bronco Mendenhall’s players tend to play best when they have a chip on their shoulders. Certainly, getting pushed around by the Aggies during the fourth quarter last week (and the subsequent slight drop in their national ranking) left enough of a sour taste among the troops to trigger an appropriate course correction for the Lobo contest. Playing in Lavell Edwards Stadium in front of a standing room-only homecoming crowd won’t hurt the BYU performance, either, but predicted cold weather and snow showers could affect the Cougar passing attack and force a showdown between rushing games.

The short turnaround between Saturday’s clash with the Lobos and TCU on the road in Fort Worth next Thursday night also poses a potential distraction the Cougars must avoid. Despite its lack of a passing game, New Mexico is a dangerous foe that can slash and burn its way to a win with a relentless ground attack and opportunistic defense.

Four keys to defeating New Mexico

1. Limit the Lobos’ rushing attack to fewer than 150 yards. Nothing has been a more precise indicator of New Mexico’s success this year than its running game. The Lobos’ rushing attack has been dominating in each their three wins this season. They totaled 221 rushing yards against Arizona, 297 versus New Mexico State and 317 against Wyoming.

They also generated 216 yards on the ground against Texas A&M in a close 28-22 loss — a game they would’ve won had it not been for four turnovers. Conversely, New Mexico was held to 56 yards on the ground in a loss to TCU and 126 rushing yards in a loss to Tulsa.

Thanks to minor injuries, three Lobo running backs have shared the rock in the first six games. Senior Rodney Ferguson is the veteran running back in the system, averaging 5.0 yards per carry on 104 attempts, but freshman James Wright could very well be the most dangerous New Mexico ball carrier. In two appearances this year, Wright has an incredible 9.7 yards per carry (18 rushes for 175 yards). Senior Paul Baker rounds out the trio, having logged 88 rushes for 344 yards (3.9 yards per carry) to date.

Regardless of how they mix and match their running back trio, if BYU holds the Lobos to fewer than 150 yards on the ground, the Lobos won’t be able to hold on to the ball enough to dictate the game tempo or score enough points to turn the contest on its head. With QB Donovan Porterie out for the count in 2008, backup Brad Gruner is averaging just 69.8 yards on 15 pass attempts per game.

2. Win the turnover battle. The Lobos’ lack of a serious passing game forces them to try and create advantages in other facets of the game. Rocky Long’s defenses are notoriously hard-hitting and opportunistic. New Mexico ranks second in the MWC with seven interceptions and it’ll need to come up with at least two picks against the Cougars to frustrate the passing attack or plus-2 in other turnovers to shift and help maintain momentum on its side of the ball.

Max Hall will be pressured more than he has in previous games this year. He’ll need to protect the ball better and restrain himself from throwing into double and triple coverage like he did against the Aggies — often in telegraphic fashion to his right side. Last week wasn’t the first time this season that he consistently neglected the left side of the gridiron where the 10- to 12-yard routes and safety valves have been wide open. That’s largely attributable to the temporary loss of senior receiver Michael Reed, who is now listed as probable for this Saturday.

Need convincing how important the turnover battle will be in this game? Here’s a crystal clear statistic to consider: The Lobos are minus-7 in turnovers in their three losses and plus-7 in their three wins.

3. Prevent big plays on special teams. New Mexico takes great pride in its special teams play and it’s getting solid results so far this season in the returns category. Ian Clark leads the conference in punt returns with an outstanding average of 20.3 yards per runback. Teammate Glover Quin is second in kickoff returns in the MWC, averaging 33.6 yards. Franki Solomon chips in for the Lobos on kickoff returns with a solid 22.9-yard average.

BYU must contain New Mexico on special teams confrontations, considering any of these Lobo return men are capable of quickly shifting the game’s momentum by taking the pigskin to the house.

4. Get off to a fast start. The deeper into the game you allow an underdog to hang with you, the better their chances are for pulling off an upset. New Mexico has been a traditional slow starter this season, being outscored by its opponents 72-31 in the first quarter. Meanwhile, the Cougars have been absolutely overwhelming in the first half, outscoring the opposition 134-17 (59-10 in the first quarter).

The Washington game a month ago was the only time the Cougars have had to slug it out with someone in the fourth quarter. Through their first six games, the Lobos have outscored opponents 76-59 in the second half.

Another important reason to put the Lobos away early is the TCU game that’s lurking on the horizon next Thursday. It would be a welcome luxury to get the starters off the field as early as Mendenhall was able to in the UCLA and Wyoming games.

Prediction

The Lobos are not going to roll over as easily as previous home game opponents as long as they can prevent turning the ball over to the Cougars. New Mexico’s 3-3-5 defense will frustrate Hall early on, but Brigham Young’s offensive weapons are too potent and numerous to contain for an entire game. The weather could become a factor, mitigating BYU’s passing game and rendering a lower scoring outcome. However, if there’s a dry playing surface, it looks like BYU 38, New Mexico 20.