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August 30, 2012For the Cougar fans that still have nightmares about Andy Dalton and Christian Ponder shredding the BYU secondary for touchdown after touchdown, the idea of facing Mike Leach's "air raid" is probably causing some anxiety. Cougar Fans that remember Tulsa passing for 454 yards in 2007 are feeling even more nervous about Thursday night's matchup. Take a deep breath, remember Bronco's statements about the quality of this BYU secondary, and fear not BYU fans. Vegas favors BYU by 13 points, with an over/under of 65, so expect WSU to score some points, but expect BYU to score even more.
Throwing the football is not new to the Washington State Cougars, who finished 9th in the Country in passing yards last year. The same school that produced Drew Bledsoe and Ryan Leaf back in the day, had another good quarterback last year, and really impressive depth at the quarterback position. WSU played three different quarterbacks during the season last year because of injury, and all of them played pretty well. With Mike Leach now coahing the team expect Jeff Tuel (SR) to be even more successful throwing the football than they were last year.
A big part of Tuel's success will be getting the ball into Marquess Wilson's (JR) hands. Wilson stands 6-foot-4, had 82 catches for 1388 yards and 12 touchdowns last year, and more than 1,000 yards receiving his freshman year. Now WSU has a freshman that is looking to hit that mark himself this year. Gabriel Marks (FR) is a 4* recruit from the 2012 class that was the 13th ranked receiver in the country coming out of high school. He has really impressed in camp and has shredded the WSU secondary who has been focusing on trying to stop Wilson. Their tight end is listed on the depth chart as a Y receiver, and the H receiver is former running back Ricky Galvin (SO) at 5-foot-8, 171 pounds.
The "air raid" attack is all about spreading the ball to different receivers at different places on the field so that you can't key in on one area or one receiver. It does rely on being able to move the chains on short passes and bubble screens, which I think BYU's physical secondary should be successful in limiting the amount of yards after catch WSU is able to gain. Sorenson's improvement from last season to this year will be apparent right away against WSU, and he will start look a lot like former Cougar great Andrew Rich. The athleticism of BYU's outside linebackers also benefits them against an offense like this, those receivers won't have much time to make a move before Van Noy and Hadley will be right on top of them. WSU's offensive line is very suspect, so expect them to try to make even more quick throws than they otherwise might like to in order to get the ball out of Tuel's hands quickly. They also are going to have at least 4 wide almost every play so the quarterback won't be getting much protection help from running backs out of the backfield. I think this lack of protection puts the WSU offense at a decided disadvantage. It's very hard to beat a nickel defense on intermediate and deep throws without having the time to make double moves and let routes develop. With WSU's non-existent running game and lack of protection up front, I think WSU will have a hard time moving the chains and sustaining drives. As BYU fans know well enough by watching Hoffman the last few years and Collie before that, a talented receiver will make plays. So I do see WSU putting some points on the board, but not enough to make up for their inability to stop opposing offenses.
The offenses that WSU's defense faced last year consistently had great games putting points on the board. SDSU put up 42 points on the Cougars, Colorado scored 27, UCLA 28, Oregon State 44, and a Jon Hays led Utah offense scored 30 against them. And as expected, Stanford, Oregon and Washington all put up 38+ points on the WSU Cougars. They have made the switch to a 3-4 with the new defensive coordinator that Leach hired, and they are going to be playing a lot of man to man coverage with their cornerbacks while their safeties help over the top. The safeties were more focused on stopping the run last year and are looking to prevent as many big plays through the air with the new emphasis on stopping the deep pass. I anticipate them having a harder time stopping the run as their safeties focus on stopping the deep ball this year, and this was a run defense that allowed 4.4 yards per carry last year. Their pass defense was even worst last year as they allowed a 152.97 passer rating for opposing quarterbacks. To put these numbers into perspective BYU allowed 3.63 yards per carry and a passer rating of 112.58 (according to cfbstats.com). Horton is their better cornerback who has been matching up against Wilson in camp. The other cornerback is reportedly not nearly as good of a cover man despite having two years of experience under his belt. The front seven for WSU are much less experienced than the secondary, especially after two starting linebackers and a starting defensive tackle were dismissed from the team.
I see the BYU Cougars having a lot of success running the ball. This isn't a Pac-12 defense like that of Utah or Stanford, this defense is much more comparable to Oregon State's defense last year. BYU ran for 282 yards against that Oregon State team, and this years BYU offense should be a much better running team than they were at that point last year. Expect BYU to establish the run, and work the play action pass to Friel and Falslev while Hoffman and Apo draw a lot of attention. If the safeties start getting sucked in or biting on the playaction Hoffman and Apo can beat man coverage, especially since neither WSU cornerback measures taller than 5-foot-11. Alisa should have a great game, and the Cougars should be able to sustain long drives, especially with Riley's ability to convert on third downs. Expect a lot of 3rd and short situations for BYU as the running game and short passing game should click for BYU as the inexperienced WSU front 7 adjusts to their new scheme. One way that I do see Apo being utilized a lot this year is on bubble screens, to just get the ball in his hands to give him an opportunity to break the tackle of a smaller cornerback and make a decent gain. Depending on how big of a cushion Washington State cornerbacks give him this may be something that BYU finds a lot of success in against WSU as their safeties play further from the line of scrimmage, and their OLB's are sucked in focusing on the run. I'm not expecting a bunch of big plays from the BYU offense this game, I anticipate more methodical drives down the field, and plenty of points generated by the BYU offense.
With this being the first game of the season it affects the game in a couple of different aspects. In any game where Bronco has more than a week to prepare for the game his defense is at it's best. This WSU offense might normally score a couple more points against BYU, but they should be a little rusty in their first game running a new scheme. The personel was already in place for WSU as they were pass happy in their previous system, but it still requires a little adjustment. If this game were later in the season it might be a little more high scoring on both sides, but first games are almost always lower scoring as offenses work out the kinks. BYU's most athletic and deepest secondary they may have ever enjoyed will pass the opening season test, and help lead the BYU Cougars to victory. 31-24 BYU.