October 11, 2012
BYU vs OSU Pre-Game Predictions and Analysis
How good is Riley Nelson? The question that weighed on the minds of fans all summer will finally be answered this Saturday. After picking apart poor defenses in his first two games this season Riley struggled mightily as he tried to play through fractured vertebrae in the two games that were supposed to have answered that question this season. All excuses are off the table now, Riley says his back is 100% and his arm strength and decision making is back to pre-injury form. If he can succeed against this Oregon State defense, then he deserves every ounce of love that Bronco gives him.
I will admit, Riley really played well against Utah for having played through fractured vertebrae. But he shouldn't have been trying to play through fractured vertebrae in the first place, and I'm not a big fan of him not regretting it. Riley can sleep well at nights because he gave it his best effort, but BYU probably beats Utah and definitely beats Boise State if Hill or Lark started those games. Riley gave it his best effort, but he didn't give the team its best chance. All may be forgiven if Riley can lead BYU to victory against the toughest defense BYU will have faced yet this year however.
Oregon State has a defensive line that pressures the quarterback just as much as Utah's defensive line does. Like Utah they can get pressure on the quarterback by only rushing four down linemen, and they can pursue mobile quarterbacks trying to escape the pocket as well. Against UCLA I saw Oregon State's OLB DJ Welch (#4) run step for step with Johnathan Franklin down the sideline in coverage, which prompted the commentator's mention of Welch being a track star in high school. Later in the game UCLA's mobile QB Brett Hundley escaped a Welch blitz, and I saw 263-pound DE Scott Crichton out-run both of them and get the sack. It was Ziggy Ansah-esque. He is certainly the favorite for first team All-Pac 12 at DE, and the other DE, Dylan Wynn is also getting love from the media as a potential All-Pac 12 player. Their two inside guys are great at occupying blocks so that MLB Feti Unga (#41) can tackle any runningbacks trying to find some daylight in between the tackles.
This Beaver defense is fantastic against the run when they commit to it, they limited Wisconsin's Montee Ball to 61 yards and UCLA's Johnathan Franklin to 45 yards. The primary difference in those games compared to when they allowed Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey to run for 115 yards on 17 carries was that the OSU safeties were 100% committed to stopping the run against UCLA and Wisconsin. As a result UCLA was able to complete some long passes in one on one coverage without safety help over the top, but UCLA was mostly one dimensional because the Beavers had decided that Franklin wasn't going to be the guy that beat them. The Beavers secondary reminds me a lot of BYU's secondary in that they are physical, they play very well in run support, and they tackle well in the open field on short routes and in the flats. OSU CB Jordan Poyer is one of the better cornerbacks in the country, he is very opportunistic and has a real knack for the ball. Poyer had a pick-six against Riley Nelson and BYU last year, and had three interceptions against WSU just last week. OSU plays a zone that employs man to man principles, so anytime Hoffman can get a mismatch with another defender on him it presents a good opportunity for the Cougars.
If there was a week so far this season that the Cougars needed good play from their offensive linemen it's this week. Riley will need time in the pocket for his receivers to get open as Oregon State will usually drop seven into coverage while rarely rushing more than four. BYU will also need to do their best to establish the run game, a balanced attack is the key to putting up points on this team. If the Cougars can get the safeties to need to commit to stopping the run then that will really open up the intermediate and deep routes for these Cougar receivers. The running game however is very likely to take a giant step backward this week as the Cougars lose the effectiveness of running the option and all of the yards that both Taysom and Jamaal were able to gain off of that play. If this line isn't able to open some holes and get the ground game going then the OSU safeties will be able to hang back in coverage while the two fantastic defensive ends pin their ears back and pressure Riley. When defenses get pressure on Riley he is that much more likely to turn the ball over either on a bad decision passing the ball or fumbling it away on a sack. Talk about pressure on BYU's two shakiest position groups.
Hoffman accounted for almost 75% of Riley's passing yards last year against Oregon State. Hoffman is going to attract a lot of attention from this Oregon State defense that can key in on stopping play-makers so effectively. This is a very big opportunity for Apo to have a breakout game and establish himself not just as an athletic possession receiver but as a deep threat as well. Apo told Kacey Robbins this week that he felt that his biggest strength was his ability to get behind a defense and catch the long ball, and this will be the week to do it. Riley doesn't have the biggest arm but he is really accurate on three step drop fade routes, and Riley to Apo might be a key combination if Oregon State forces somebody other than Hoffman beat them like I think they might.
How fortunate is BYU that OSU QB Sean Mannion is out for this game? Very. Mannion is one of the better quarterbacks in the country and he has one of the best wide receiver duos in the country at his disposal. Wheaton and Cooks aren't as tall as Hoffman and Apo, but they're faster. Both of these receivers are capable of taking a catch to the house on any given play. Cooks took a slant route 75 yards for a touchdown against UCLA, and he created ridiculous separation out-running the UCLA secondary while doing it. He also caught a short dig route in the middle of the field, spun on one foot while a UCLA safety tried to take out his other leg, and almost out-ran everybody to the endzone. UCLA had figured out by then to take a little more conservative angle while chasing him down. Wheaton is just as good of a receiver, he really gets open well on intermediate routes and caught a deep ball over the top against UCLA.
Oregon State likes to throw a lot of quick throws, even on play-action, and will rarely go deep on anything that isn't play-action. Expect even more quick throws as they try to get Vaz feeling comfortable in the pocket. The Oregon State offensive line is good, they do a pretty good job of opening holes and protected the quarterback well enough to allow Oregon State to do a lot of play-action passing. It's likely that Bronco will frequently only rush 3 or 4 to help keep everything in front of the defense and be able to rally to the quick pass. It will be really important for this defense to not allow any big plays by these receivers. OSU's tendency to throw quick throws really plays into the strength of the defense, so for them to be able to get into the endzone I think that Vaz will need to be able to connect with one of the receivers over the top on a deep route. That's a pretty tall order for a first time starter without much of a run game against this defense.
Oregon State runs a pro-style offense whose running backs do all of their running in between the tackles. The only time that they'll run to the outside is when they hand the ball off to the receiver going in motion behind the quarterback. This was very effective for them with James Rogers and it's just as effective now with Cooks and Wheaton. Twelve yards can come and go pretty quickly when you're running that fast. Fortunately for the Cougars they have two OLB's that are pretty fast themselves, and their two MLB's are going to be spending a lot of time flat-backing OSU's undersized fullback and stopping red-shirt freshman RB Storm Woods in his tracks. I anticipate BYU being able to really limit OSU's running game and put the pressure on Vaz to do it all one dimensionally.
Anybody hoping for one of those old WAC 70-69 shootouts is going to be very disappointed this game. BYU plays a new brand of game, and it's the SEC shootout of 7-6. One quarterback is making his first career start and the other has never had success against a defense better than WSU's, and they are going to be dueling to see who can keep from getting scored on by the opposing defense. The Beavers have the advantage of being capable of making a field goal, which is oh so vital in a game like this. But BYU has a quarterback that drips leadership like my car drips oil, and his 4th quarter comeback Tebow gene will overcome the athletic genes on the other side of the ball. Nevermind that a comeback was only necessary because of poor play the previous three quarters. 14-9 BYU.
Follow me on Twitter: @lancewarchibald
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