Lost in last week's game against Air Force was the improved run-blocking from the Cougar offensive front. While there were some unfortunate fumbles that occurred, the big uglies were firing well off the snap, accounting for some big gains by J.J. Di Luigi and others.
Ball security was obviously addressed this past week in practices, and look for Di Luigi to rebound nicely. Bryan Kariya will be the secondary back and we'll soon see if Joshua Quezada gets his first chances at running the ball against a Florida State defense that can be had on the ground based on last year‘s performance.
It may have been more of a product of Oklahoma not having to run the ball much since their passing attack was humming, but the Seminoles fared very well in defending the run last week. Florida State will operate out of a 4-3 base defense that utilizes its team speed effectively.
While they're generally thought of as a man-heavy defensive team they have been trending more toward a zone coverage. "They have great athletes at every position," said offensive lineman Matt Reynolds about Florida State's front seven. "They're big and fast everywhere and they‘re a lot different than Air Force in that way. They probably won't present as many looks at Washington gave us, but they're probably more athletic than Washington was overall, so yeah, we'll have to be ready for them."
Florida State is relatively young along its defensive front but has some good experience at linebacker. The leading tacklers this season are their cornerbacks, which is obviously a product of Oklahoma taking it to them through the air rather than linebackers being unable to make plays.
Their primary playmakers at linebacker look to be a couple of seniors in Mister Alexander (6-3, 237), who will man one of the outside positions, and Kendall Smith (6-0, 242), who will man the middle linebacker spot. Up front they'll be led by defensive end Markus White (6-4, 265 Sr.), who will be lining up over the right tackle position primarily.
BYU should be able to run the ball somewhat effectively against the Seminoles, who didn't put up much of a fight last year in defending the run. Di Luigi likely won't be seeing close to the gaudy 14.7 yards per carry that he put up against Air Force, but he should be effective.
Fans can expect a more focused attack from the Cougar offensive front to the tune of a productive run attack that won't approach what it did to Florida State last season, but should provide for some good yardage nevertheless. The Cougar offensive line looks to match up very well with the Seminole defensive front on paper.
BYU passing attack vs. Florida State
Cougar fans probably can't remember a more anemic effort through the air than they saw last week. One would probably have to go back to the Utah game in 2003 to find a performance with less punch than the Cougars put forth through the air last week.
A lot of it had to do with the offense still searching for an identity, as they were clearly set off of their rhythm by Air Force and had no threat or real attempt to get the ball over the top of coverage. That will certainly have to improve this week if they have any hope of putting enough points on the board to beat Florida State.
As has been well-noted, Florida State wasn't able to do much of anything in defending Oklahoma's passing attack a week ago. Granted, the Sooners are regularly one of the best passing teams in the nation most years, but it did show that an effective passing attack can take a relatively young and inexperienced Florida State secondary for a lot of yards.
Unfortunately for BYU, they haven't shown forth a consistent and productive passing attack as of yet. They showed signs against Washington, and Florida State's man-heavy system should allow for more gains from the Cougar wideouts, but it's hard to predict a lot of yards from the Cougar passing attack against anyone at this juncture.
Everyone is extremely curious to see how Cougar coaches manage the two quarterbacks this week. Most indications point to a lot more Jake Heaps this week than Riley Nelson given the Seminoles' perceived weaknesses on defense, among other factors.
Heaps is reportedly coming off of a very good week of practice, and with the offense coming off of one of the more meager passing performances one will ever see from a BYU offense, you can rest assured that Robert Anae and company are looking for some redemption. That means more Heaps, as he's shown to be more able than Nelson at getting the ball consistently to the strength of Cougar offensive arsenal, which is at wide receiver.
Look for the Cougars to pass for well over 200 yards in this one, as we should begin to see a return to the Cougar/Robert Anae offense that we've all grown accustomed to.
BYU rushing defense vs. Florida State
While the Cougars struggled mightily at defending the run against Air Force, their game against Washington is probably a better indicator of how they'll fare against Florida State. Given the Falcons' very uncongenial running attack that BYU clearly wasn't prepared for, they'll be happy to return to the more conventional running attack presented by Florida State.
The Seminoles will rotate two primary tailbacks in Jermaine Thomas (5-11, 192 Jr.) and Ty Jones (5-10, 210 Jr.).
"They both run hard and they're athletic, just like everyone else on their team," noted defensive end Vic So'oto. "They really took it to us last year and we expect them to try and do the same thing this year."
Up front Florida State brings a very experienced offensive line that has a knack for getting off of the ball very quickly to gain an advantage over the opposing front seven.
"That's what they did last year to us; they fired off the ball faster, quicker and more effectively than we were expecting, I think," said So'oto. "This year I think we'll be more ready for it, but it still doesn't mean they won't be a challenge, because they most certainly will be."
Quarterback Christian Ponder is back, and although he hasn't looked to run the ball quite as much over the first two games this season, the Cougar defense knows it will need to be ready for him.
"He killed us last year," said So'oto. "It wasn't any really big gains, but every critical situation they had, it seemed as if he'd give them six-seven yards or whatever was necessary to keep the drive going, and we can't have that this year."
Florida State should account for well over 100 rushing yards in the game, but should be held well short of 200 yards by a Cougar defense much better suited at defending a traditional running attack than they were a year ago. The challenge will be when the Seminole running backs get past the first wave of tacklers and into the secondary, where the inside linebackers and safeties must do better at tracking them down and tackling them than they have so far this season.
BYU passing defense vs. Florida State
Pass defense has been the most consistent facet of BYU's team two games in. Yes, they blew some coverages, but overall the Cougar secondary has proven to be a stingy unit in not allowing for much consistency through the air in the early going.
Ponder had a very bad outing a week ago against the Sooners and will look to rebound this week. He was able to beat BYU with some consistent underneath patterns a year ago and will likely be doing the same this time around.
His primary target looks to be Taiwan Easter ling (5-11, 200 Jr.), who will be looking to beat the Cougars over the top of coverage throughout the game. Bert Reed (5-10, 175 Jr.) is another speedster who they'll have to look out for.
This looks to be a somewhat good matchup for BYU this week, as their coverage has shown to be much tighter this season in not allowing the consistent quick-hitters to the flat that killed them last year against Florida State. Ponder will in no doubt be looking to improve upon a very bad performance a week ago and will be looking to burn the Cougar secondary deep, as both Washington and Air Force were able to do successfully on a few occasions.
Both BYU and FSU have a lot to prove this week, as both are coming off of pretty dismal performances from a week ago. Florida State's advantage comes with having a clear and definitive offensive system and a clear and proven starter.
BYU should fare much better though the air this week, but it's hard to predict a win until the Cougars prove they can put up 21+ points on a consistent basis while utilizing a productive and consistent passing attack. It's easy to like the moves BYU made on offense this week, but they are a work in progress and will have their work cut out for them against a Florida State team hungry for redemption.
Final Score: Florida State 31, BYU 23