"They don't have as many returning starters," said Nelson. "I think last year's team, as I remember looking at the scouting report, they had a lot of guys that played in a lot more games – guys who were starting in their 20th and 25th game, and this year that might be the only difference. As far as talent level, technique and the kind of athletes they have on the defense, that's still the same."
While there might not be as much experience, the TCU defense has only allowed an average of 3.61 yards per rush this season. Establishing an effective run game will take some pressure off of Nelson and help open up the various facets of BYU's passing game.
"Well, hopefully we can get the run game going and open up the play-action game," Nelson said. "As we kind of keep them off balanced, hopefully that can open up the downfield passing game. We definitely have to be high-percentage in our quick game, drop-back game and in our play-action game, and get lucky downfield once or twice.
"If we can rush the ball like before, it will take a lot of pressure off of me personally and I think off of everybody. The run game establishes drives and it builds confidence in the team. Football is a physical game and the run game is where that's more evident with who is playing more physical. Hopefully we'll come out and play physical, and I'm confident that we will."
TCU's defensive line lost first-team All-American defensive end Wayne Daniels, but Braden Brown will have his hands full with Stansly Mapoanga, who is rapidly becoming a force on the TCU defensive line.
Coach Patterson mentioned that BYU's offense this year is basically still the same with the exception of one thing: a dual-threat quarterback that has the ability to sustain drives with his legs.
"If it forces them to keep one guy in coverage, great!" Nelson said. "If it doesn't, then playing football is normal. I haven't given two thoughts to my run game. The only designed run play that we have is the draw, and that's the only time I think about turning into a runner. The other times I just react."
Linebacker Tank Carder is the best middle linebacker in the MWC, and one of the nation's best for that matter. TCU's linebacker group will be the toughest Nelson will start against this season, but the Cougar offense hopes to contain their dynamic playmaking ability.
"They're going to make their plays, and what you have to do is limit the amount of plays they're going to make," Nelson said. "Guys like them, you just can't straight-up block, and once they get into coverage and get their hands on receivers, you're just going to have to do things to limit their play. If we can do things to limit their success, we'll have a good day."
In the secondary, there is experience at the field side cornerback position in Greg McCoy, who is projected as a NFL draft pick. At the boundary side there is less experience in sophomore Travaras Battle, who is a returning starter. The Cougars feel the real chink in the Horned Frog armor lies in its secondary, due to there being less experience there.
"We got the scouting report and there are not as many returning starters in the secondary," Nelson said. "Greg McCoy is a senior and I remember seeing his name since I've been here. They also do have Battle coming back as well from last year."
Senior TCU strong safety Johnny Fobbs played in 11 games last season, providing depth to the secondary. The player with the most experience in the Horned Frog secondary, having started six games last season, is Tekerrein Cuba at the weak side safety position. Cuba leads TCU's defense in solo tackles with 26.
"Also, [Cuba] is back as well at the safety spot and then their other safety [Devin Johnson] is new," Nelson said. "I know they have enough guys with enough experience that there isn't going to be much of a drop off. All they do is reload and, man, we're expecting to ball, and what I think is this game is going to come down to who makes plays in the fourth quarter."
Under Nelson's tenure, the Cougar offense has averaged 391.2 yards and 26.8 points a game, but over the past three years TCU has beaten BYU by an average score of about 34-6. The key to BYU beating TCU will be how well the offensive line is able to control the Horned Frogs front six and allow the Cougar backs to dictate the game while opening up the pass. If BYU can't establish the run, either with the running backs or with Nelson, the Cougars' offense could be in for a difficult time.