Not much is wrong with the Cougar running game through the first three games of the year. J.J. Di Luigi has been able to put up some Harvey Unga-like stats, with the offensive line providing a good push upfield.
Although the yardage is somewhat similar, the way Di Luigi is getting his yards is quite different from how Unga got his. While Unga proved to be more effective running out of the power-I formation, Di Luigi has done his best work out of the spread shotgun formation.
The Wolf Pack will defend out of their base 4-3 formation and will show three-man fronts on occasion during passing downs primarily. They're big and experienced along the defensive line, with two seniors and two juniors starting.
"They remind me of Air Force a bit with how they play," observed offensive lineman Braden Brown. "They're quick and they play very hard, so they're going to be a challenge for us just like Air Force and everyone else has been."
At linebacker, they'll employ a so-called "Wolf" linebacker, who is more of a safety/linebacker hybrid. Their leading tackler at linebacker through three games is James-Michael Johnson (6-1, 240 Jr.), who has led the defense in yielding 155 yards on the ground per game so far this season.
If the stats hold true, the Cougars should be able to gain well over 100 yards on the ground, and even approach 200 yards. The run-blocking up front has been very adequate, and with Jake Heaps due to get the majority of his reps out of the shotgun, fans can look for Di Luigi to get a lot of carries and a lot of yards.
BYU passing offense vs. Nevada
The Cougar passing attack has been nothing short of anemic so far this season. Since the decent outing through the air against Washington, nothing through the air has worked. No wide receivers or tight ends are making plays.
A lot of the blame for why the Cougar passing game hasn't gotten on track is obviously due to the lack of consistency the wideouts and tight ends have been able to forge with one quarterback and how that quarterback manages the system. Another huge factor has been the offense's inability to get the ball deep and make the defense respect the deep threat, which would open up coverages underneath.
The Wolf Pack will not pose any big threat in limiting the Cougar passing attack, as they've yielded plenty of yardage through the air to some subpar programs through three games. Teams have been able to throw for an average of 247 yards against them, and a typical Cougar offense should be able to gain well over 300 yards against them.
They'll present a primarily zone-heavy system that will utilize very little man-coverage. They'll resort to a nickel coverage quite often during the course of a game.
The big key for the passing attack will come with the offensive line's ability in picking up the pass rush effectively. There is very good reason to believe they'll be able to do just that, with Matt Reynolds looking well-recovered from his ankle injury that really contributed to a lot of gaffes in overall pass protection last Saturday.
We all know that Robert Anae's offense is rhythm-based, and with Heaps expected to get every snap, fans can expect to see much better production through the air. We've been waiting for McKay Jacobson to break out all year, and he's a very good bet to have that breakout game against the Wolf Pack.
BYU rushing defense vs. Washington
It's been feast or famine for the defense in defending the run this year. They did well against Washington, took a beating against Air Force, and had one good half against Florida State.
How that translates to how they'll defend Nevada is anyone's guess, but it's believed that the offensive futility has contributed mightily to a lot of defensive frustration and subsequent bad play.
Nevada is a load to defend on the ground, with a quarterback who has dominated defenses with his ability to run the football and break it for big-gainers on any given play. Colin Kaepernick will be the biggest challenge the defense has faced all year, which is saying something considering who they've gone up against.
"Kaepernick is better than all of them from what I've seen on film," mentioned defensive end Vic So'oto. "All of the players we've gone against have been huge challenges, but this guy, wow, I'd have to say he'll be our biggest challenge yet."
Nevada will operate out of the pistol formation, which is a shortened shotgun that will have the running back lining up almost directly behind the quarterback. Their primary running, senior Vai Taua (5-10, 220) is a load as well. He has rushed for 320 yards so far this year, with an average of 6.2 yards per carry.
Nevada will gain some good yards here, although it's easy to like a couple of factors which should help the defense in defending Nevada's very potent ground attack:
1. They'll be at home and they've been seeing running quarterbacks for three straight weeks. Young teams usually fare far better at home, and due to that, fans can expect better containment of Nevada's rushing attack than they've seen each of the past two weeks.
2. Better offensive production should do well to keep the defense fresh, focused and confident.
BYU passing defense vs. Nevada
The Cougar pass defense has been pretty good so far this season. There are question marks regarding Brian Logan's availability, and Travis Uale will be expected to improve upon his performance from last week.
The book on Kaepernick last year was ‘very good runner, average-to-poor passer.' That is certainly not the case this year, as he has a 170.3 passer rating. Through the first three games of the season he's completed 70 percent of his passes for 728 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions.
He'll throw a lot to his tight end Virgil Green (6-5, 240 Sr.) and to each of his wideouts. Nevada will utilize three-receiver sets almost exclusively with a single back due to the pistol formation that they run.
The Cougars could be in trouble here if Logan can't go and if Uale isn't able to improve much on his dismal performance against Florida State. Like it is with defending the run, the defense will have to lean on the offense to be much more productive than they've been in order to keep them fresh and motivated.
Overall, this is a very tough game to predict, as BYU certainly has the tools to put on a good performance like they usually would against a team like Nevada. It's very easy to like this young team a lot better at home, and with Nevada being on the road for the first time this year, it should work a lot to BYU's favor.
There has been a much better focus this week during practices, with coaches visibly upset with the overall execution of this team on both sides of the football. Nevada is a load to be certain, but better line play by the Cougars coupled with the friendly environs of LaVell Edwards Stadium should lead to the type of performance fans have become accustomed to since Bronco Mendenhall became head coach.
Final Score: BYU 34, Nevada 31