Nebraska fields an experienced defensive line consisting mostly of upperclassmen. Only one in Jack Gangwish, who is now a senior, has just one year of playing experience. The BYU offensive line expects a fight when the first ball is snapped at Memorial Stadium this Saturday.
“They’re all pretty good players,” said BYU offensive tackle Ryker Mathews. “Their inside defensive tackles are all pretty good players and pretty stout. We’re going to have to move them around, but their front four is really good, all four of them.”
The projected Nebraska defensive front four consist of the following players:
DE Greg McMullen, 6-3, 280-pound Junior
DT Maliek Collins, 6-2, 300-pound Junior
DT Vincent Valentine, 6-3, 320-pound Junior
DE Jack Gangwish, 6-2, 265-pound Senior
“We’re going to have our work cut out for us, but I think we’ll do it,” Mathews said. “I think we’ll be ready and I think we’ll be very competitive.”
The two Nebraska defensive tackles with the most game time experience are DT Vincent Valentine and DE Greg McMullen with three years under their belts. Going into Lincoln, Nebraska to show the world that BYU is one among the big boys by asserting their will early up front is absolutely important.
“It’s incredibly important that we go in there and do well,” said Mathews. “We as an offensive line group have to go in and be able to trust each other. If we trust each other going in to play the game we’re going to be able to assert our authority and show them exactly what BYU football is all about.”
The success of BYU this season rests upon the arms and legs of Cougar quarterback Taysom Hill. Hill is a potential Heisman Trophy candidate this season. If the Cougars are to come away with a victory in Lincoln this Saturday, Taysom Hill will have to be protected.
“Yeah, we understand that 100 percent,” said Mathews. “We as an offensive line put a lot on our shoulders. It’s obviously his choice if he wants to run around and do his thing outside of the pocket, but, I mean, even if he does that we have to make sure there’s no extra guys jumping on the pile and keep him protected as much as possible to keep him healthy. Coach Tujague expresses it in our meetings, and if we can do that, we could be something special this year. It’s definitely our role to keep him healthy.”
Protecting Hill’s blindside from the likes of Cornhusker defensive ends such as Greg Mullen, Mathews understands the important role he plays. However, he’s confident he can get the job done.
“I mean there’s obviously pressure,” said Mathews. “It’s Taysom Hill and he’s a Heisman Trophy candidate, but I’m confident in the way that I’ve been playing. There’s no scared nature about it or I’m not worried that he’ll have to worry about his blindside.”
While BYU has played Mike Riley-coached teams in the past, new personnel and schemes are expected now that he’s the head coach of Nebraska. The Cougar offense is preparing for what they’ve seen while the Husker coaching staff was at Oregon State. At the same time, they’re expecting the unexpected.
“We don’t really know what they’re going to do because Nebraska has a new defensive coordinator,” said Mathews. “We’ve been watching Oregon State and they kind of do a lot of different things. It’s the kind of thing were we’re preparing for a lot of dropout and a lot of blitz. Whatever they decide to do with their front seven we’ll be prepared for it. Hopefully we’ll be going so fast that they won’t know where to blitz.”
A more polished Cougar offense that knows the scheme having meshed together over the years might give them a slight edge over a team learning the system of a new coaching staff. For Ryker Mathews, the biggest excitement about this Saturday’s contest is the fact he gets to hit someone who isn’t wearing a BYU jersey.
“I’m looking forward to playing someone other than our own defense,” Mathews said with a giggle in his voice. “I think this year we have an opportunity to be something special, and we’ve been training like it and practicing like it. We haven’t really had many down practices, and have been training hard for four weeks. When you’ve been training like that for four weeks straight you want to go out and hit someone of a different color.”