Run production was a bit lacking during the first half of last week's game before the offensive line started to assert itself physically in the second half. This week it will look to assert itself from the get-go, providing some punishing blocks for J.J. Di Luigi and company.
Speaking of Di Luigi, he looked great as BYU's primary back against Washington, combining for good yards on the ground and through the air. Bryan Kariya was his adequate self, and this week look for Joshua Quezada to get a few carries after starting out strong last week with a touchdown reception.
It's real difficult to tell anything about the Falcons based off of their first-week matchup against Norhwestern State. What we do know about Air Force is that they'll present a 3-4 base package that will go to a nickel formation quite often during the course of a game.
As is always the case they'll present an undersized defensive line, but they appear to have more size in their linebacker corps this year. Last week they were led by senior defensive end Rick Ricketts (6-3, 260) and junior inside linebacker Brady Amuck (6-0, 225), who will both look again to lead the team in tackles this week against BYU.
"I like what they do defensively," assessed head coach Bronco Mendenhall. "There's a number of similarities between us with what they bring. They're a 3-4 team, but they're a little more diverse in their zone pressure that they bring, but the philosophy is very similar. They like illusion, they like disguise, they play very hard and they're good tacklers."
The Cougars should find more success on the ground against the Falcons than they did a week ago against Washington. The offensive front has the tools to dominate a defensive front seven such as the one Air Force has, and a dominating and more punishing run-blocking performance has been the focus of the offensive line this week during practices.
Look for Joshua Quezada to get in the act a bit more with his first carries of his career, and also look for more rushes all around. The strength of the Air Force defense going back to last season was in its pass defense, while they proved to be quite average in defending the run.
BYU passing attack vs. Air Force
BYU has been able to have its way with Air Force in the past with dominant tight end play. Jonny Harline and Dennis Pitta would always have huge games against the Falcons, but without an established dominant tight end this time around, the focus may be elsewhere in finding success against Air Forcer through the air.
The tight ends did play well a week ago, however, and one of them could really separate themselves this week with a big game and a Pitta-like performance. Meanwhile, the wideouts were subpar against the Huskies, and will certainly look to work on their dropped passes this time around.
As mentioned, Air Force trends toward a nickel coverage frequently during the course of a game and were very successful last season utilizing a zone-heavy system that would bring pressure in a variety of ways. They'll be led by cornerbacks Reggie Rembert (5-8, 185 Sr.) and Anthony Wright Jr. (5-10, 185 Jr.).
"They return two corners who I feel are among the better players in the league," commented Mendenhall. "Overall, their collective is pretty strong with the type of kids they have and I think they put them in the right schemes."
The Cougar offensive line should be able to handle whatever Air Force throws at them, as there is no reason to be anything but extremely bullish about this group's ability in handling any pass rush. Air Force will likely use a lot of man-coverage on the Cougar tight ends, which should allow for at least one of the freshmen tight ends to really come through with a big game to separate himself from the others.
This is also a game where McKay Jacobson could really shine, as he'll most likely be used even more on the inside at the HR position. Look for Jacobson and one of the competing Cougar tight ends to have a big game, as Robert Anae will look to attack the middle of the Air Force coverage often.
BYU rush defense vs. Air Force
It was a bit of feast or famine for the Cougar run defense last week against Washington, with the play trending toward feast down the stretch. The Huskies weren't able to mount a consistent running attack, but were able to get through the front seven and into the secondary on too many occasions.
Perhaps most importantly, they were able to show good containment in limiting Jake Locker and big gains from the quarterback position, which is obviously key in defending Air Force's triple-option attack.
"It's not completely similar, but the principles are the same, no doubt," said defensive end Vic So'oto in defending Falcon quarterback Tim Jefferson as opposed to Locker a week ago. "He'll run it at us a lot more than Locker did and you have to be even more disciplined this week because that's what they do. They'll kill you if even one defender doesn't complete his assignment. We have to be precise in everything we do to defend them."
Tim Jefferson is as good as most Air Force quarterbacks and has shown some good ability to throw the football, and that's the defense will have to watch out for. At running back they'll feature returning starters Jared Tew (6-0, 217 Sr.) at fullback and Asher Clark (5-8, 185 Jr.) at tailback.
It's hard not to like BYU here, as it's a given in every year under Bronco Mendenhall that the Cougars will defend the Falcon triple-option more effectively than most.
"We're pretty much mirror programs with how we're solid in our schemes and in our assignments," explained So'oto. "They're like our offense in that when they have big plays, it's because just one guy is out of position on defense and they'll take advantage of that every time. For us, we've had 11 guys defending them for the most part in our games instead of just 10 - which Air Force kills - and that's been the success I think. We just have to continue to do that because if all 11 of our guys are defending like they should, then there will be no gain."
Indeed, the Cougars are very similar in their discipline, but with better athletes than Air Force, which has been the key to their success. Fans can look for inside linebacker Shane Hunter to have a huge game this week, as his abilities match up very well with what Air Force presents.
Air Force passing attack vs. BYU
The secondary was able to defend the pass well against Washington outside of a few blown coverages that led to big gains, which they've been cleaning up this week in practice.
Air Force obviously won't look to beat a defense with a consistent and productive passing attack, but they will throw the football to be sure. Tim Jefferson attempted just short of 10 passes per game last season, but did attempt 12 passes last week in a game where he sat for most of the second half.
"You have to be ready for anything against them," noted cornerback Brian Logan. "You can't just assume they're going to run it every time because that's when they get you. Discipline is key in defending Air Force and we can't leave our assignments in coverage at all."
This is a tough one to call given Jefferson's lack of pass attempts last year coupled with his 12 attempts last week in basically only two quarters of play. Look for Air Force to be deceptive with their passes in going for big gains when they do put it in the air, looking to take advantage of the towering Kevin Fogler (6-5, 215) down the field.
Overall, one would think this would be the Falcons' best chance to reverse its losing streak against a relatively young BYU defense, if not for the great discipline and assignment-sound football the Cougar defense showed forth a week ago. Given what the Cougars showed coupled with the athletic edge they always hold over Air Force, fans can expect a similar outcome as they've grown accustomed to.
Final Score: BYU 31, Air Force 21