Last year the banged up Arizona defense had some trouble stopping the run. They could look really good one game, but struggle the next. On five occasions they gave up more than 200 yards rushing and were 1-4 in those games. Two teams, USC and Washington, rushed for more than 300 yards. Twice times the Wildcats held teams under 100 yards rushing and the Wildcats either won handily (UCLA) or lost because of offensive and special teams mistakes (Oregon).
When BYU runs the ball it gives the offense balance. It keeps the defense on their toes. The BYU passing scheme is tough enough to stop on its own, but it becomes even tougher when they can efficiently run the ball.
"They were most productive when they ran the football," Mike Stoops said about last year's BYU team.
The feature back for the Cougars is Curtis Brown. Brown, who Stoops calls a ‘complete back', rushed for 1,153 yards and 14 touchdowns a year ago. Those were impressive numbers, but many times it was feast or famine for Brown. Six times he was over 100 yards, but five times he failed to rush for 50 yards. On three occasions he did not get over 30 yards. They lost all three of those games.
Arizona was not the best pass rushing team a year ago and it would be a huge benefit if they could concentrate on getting to the quarterback. If they can make the running game a non-factor, then they can turn their defensive ends loose to attack John Beck.
Stopping the run will not be easy. BYU has a mammoth offensive line that averages over 310 pounds. They do not have the reputation of being the most physical unit, but they are strong and big and can wear down defensive linemen.
To stop the run the Wildcats will have to use their speed to fill gaps and make it tough for the BYU linemen to get a piece of them. BYU utilizes wide splits which makes it tough to fill the gap, but the Wildcat coaches have had time to prepare and scheme against the strategy. The Cats will also need great run support from the linebackers and safeties to limit the room Brown has to operate.
Football is a chess match. One coach makes a move and the other counters. There are a number of different aspects you must excel at to succeed. It is funny then that the key to success for Arizona may be stopping one specific aspect of the BYU gameplan.