Preview of Jernaro Gilford–Mike Williams Match-up?

BYU's primary cornerback <b>Jernaro Gilford</b> is a private person that leads with quiet authority and maturity. This is HIS homecoming game.

The Los Angeles native who graduated several weeks ago has spent time studying the game tape moves and motions of the best player he will face in college this year in Mike Williams, USC's 6-5, 210 pound all-everything wide receiver as a true freshman last season.

Williams is fast, athletic, with amazing hands and knows how to get open, but he is not a sprinter. USC's secondary receiver, Keary Colbert, would be all-world on any other team and is more of a sprinter.

Williams' 81 catches as a true freshman last year moved him to 19th on USC's all-time receiving list. Only two other Trojan wide receivers have caught more balls in a single season. Williams averaged 15.6 yards per catch and scored 14 touchdowns against a tough schedule.

The good news for BYU is that Williams' quarterback last year, Carson Palmer, won the Heisman Trophy and is gone. New quarterbacks typically take a year or more to "click" in offensive coordinator Norm Chow's complex system.

The bad news is Chow and his quarterback coach, Steve Sarkisian, are BYU football alumni and will prepare and play this game like they have something special to prove. The significant difference is they have much higher caliber athletes now across the board to execute their X's and O's. They don't have to play a perfect game to win because their athleticism can cover for some mistakes.

Williams' impressive freshman stats show he was 16th nationally in receiving yards (97.3, 5th in PAC-10) and 20th in receptions (6.2, 3rd in PAC-10), among other things:

* Caught a touchdown pass in 7 consecutive games.

* 81 catches were 3rd most in a season at USC.

* 14 touchdown receptions tied the USC season record (2nd highest in the NCAA last year).

* Three touchdown receptions against Washington in 2002 tied a USC game record.

* 13 catches at Oregon was a USC freshman mark.

* Has NCAA freshman season record for catches (81), receiving yards (1,265) and touchdown catches (14).

Chow is noted for playing the percentages and exploiting match-ups like a chess player. More than likely, he will size up each player in BYU's secondary and incorporate plays that will take Williams out of Gilford's side of the field – and toward players that are not as tall, quick or experienced.

That is not to say Chow will have Williams avoid Jernaro Gilford, just that the 6-5 Williams will have an easier time catching balls elsewhere – if quarterback Matt Leinart has the time, makes the right reads and throws on the money.

Every Cougar defensive back knows who Williams is. No one likes to be embarrassed, but that's exactly what he did to a lot of PAC-10 and Auburn defensive backs last year and last week.

When BYU beat Notre Dame in basketball some 20 years ago, Danny Ainge was unable to get the ball in scoring position for much of the game because the Irish put guard John Paxson on Ainge in a box-and-1 defense, with one specific assignment to deny him the ball.

Well, you can count on BYU defensive coordinator Bronco Mendenhall cooking up several flavors of unorthodox defense for Leinart and Williams to confuse quarterback reads even more than usual? If it goes according to plan, it could be akin to the clever box-and-1 deny-Ainge-the-ball strategy that almost worked over two decades ago.

But this is a different sport and a much different time.

If the Cougars have something special in mind for Williams, the combinations might include the following:

* Gilford being assigned to be in Williams' hip pocket all day, or much of the day, with zone coverage often bringing a second man into the fray. The message to the quarterback: It does not matter if you put Williams in a slot or run him in motion, Gilford will be his shadow any point on the field when we decide to do so. You need to throw a perfect pass to Williams each time, because Gilford will go man-up on him, with help from unpredictable directions. Beat us with someone else. It's still possible to complete a pass to him, but it needs to be perfect.

* Have Gilford and Barney play their normal position at cornerback, with have one of the two Katbacks in "roll-up" type coverage with one man principally on Williams. Whichever side of the field he begins on, they would disguise their coverage pre-snap and pick up Williams if he starts the play on their side of the field. If he starts the play at the tailback slot to confuse the Cougars, Aaron Francisco could signal which Katback tracks him and the other covers in zone. This would also play mind games with a new quarterback because Williams would look open. The risk is if they move to cover too soon, it blows the disguise.

Some teams use a zone with man underneath. USC has two proven wide receivers and a good tight end and that is where the secondary will be expected to focus their attention.

USC has a great offensive line this year. If BYU's defensive pressure can get to Leinart and confuse him, Williams' prowess may not matter. However, game prep must anticipate a Trojan offensive line that can block and give the quarterback time to make correct reads and throw.

Williams is a game breaker. Do we sit back and allow him to attack? I don't think so. Mendenhall will come up with something.

We'll all have to wait and see what it is.

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