The biggest surprises of the evening will likely not come from the defensive side where both teams use different variations of the 3-3-5 that New Mexico coach Rocky Long mentored and schooled Mendenhall on for years.
While there is expected to be some defensive fireworks, the real show will be on the offensive side where BYU head coach Gary Crowton plans to unveil more new wrinkles in his offensive arsenal that New Mexico has not seen this year.
The one certainty with a Crowton offense is to expect the unexpected. Though we are not privy to his game plan, here are some things to look for on offense by the Cougars:
* Two-back sets out of the shotgun. Crowton employed this new wrinkle against USC with one running back on either side of quarterback Matt Berry. Crowton said, "We didn't necessarily do that to slow down their (USC) rush, it's just something we do in order to get more running backs on the field at the same time. I feel we're really deep and talented at running back and I'm happy with how it went for the most part. We'll probably do more of that instead of using the two tight ends so much as we've done in the past."
* If it's not broke, don't fix it. Look for Crowton to go with a lot of two-back sets against New Mexico in both the shotgun and under-center formations. Fui Vakapuna is overdue for a breakout game against New Mexico if he gets enough touches. Reynaldo Brathwaite will be the primary back with Naufahi Tahi getting a lot of reps. What makes them particularly dangerous is they are all excellent receivers out of the back field.
* Daniel Coats will continue to get the ball. This is a non-brainer. Texas Tech provided the best blueprint on how to attack Long's defense over the past two years, putting up 40-plus points against the stingy Lobos defense. Crowton weighed in on what Texas Tech did make them so successful. "They'll find a match-up on the outside which they like and they'll just go there again and again, getting a lot of stuff underneath and then, bam, they hit you downfield."
Coats provides the best one-on-one match-up in the slot or outside that Crowton can exploit to his advantage. Coats has lined up as a slot receiver at times instead of the typical tight end slot. We look for that to continue against New Mexico. Crowton will try to exploit the one-on-one match ups to the outside since Coats will be mismatched against whoever New Mexico throws at him. He warrants double coverage which frees up other offensive options for Berry/Crowton to exploit.
* BYU will likely run the ball often. USC's fast and powerful defensive front called for Crowton to spread the field and use quick hitters in order to soften up the front seven. That is not the case against New Mexico.
* Of course, this is Crowton we're talking about and anytime you predict a run-heavy offensive attack you're bound to get bitten in the rear with the Cougars air arsenal. But we expect BYU to run the ball a lot more this week, especially since New Mexico's starting nose tackle abruptly quit the team this week. His replacement is 40 pounds lighter.
New Mexico on Defense:
* The Lobos are experienced a well-versed in Long's 3-3-5 scheme. Like his former student Mendenhall, you can expect the unexpected from Long's Lobos. Similarly, Mendenhall will likely show new looks the Lobos have not seen before either.
* Long may go with his "vacant middle" formation with no defensive tackles opposite interior linemen, choosing to overload either or both sides of the ball. We personally don't think we'll see this formation on Saturday, but you can bank on the fact that Long will throw something at BYU's offense that they haven't seen and subsequently haven't prepared for.
* New Mexico's defense is well-stocked with seniors and upper classmen that know all the nuances of Long's defensive scheme. Of the 22 players that appear on New Mexico's two-deep defense, 12 of them are seniors and five are juniors. They will be up for this game and the formations and scheming should be wild, to put in mildly.
* With Berry's inconsistency to hit the long ball so far this season, look for New Mexico to crowd the line of scrimmage more often than not. This will allow Berry many opportunities to go over the top of the defense on fly and post patterns downfield. When Berry finds his deep ball with pinpoint accuracy again, watch out.
New Mexico on offense:
* New Mexico will try and run the ball on BYU. Starting tailback Dontrell Moore is a bit hobbled, so look for the Lobos to use D.D. Cox as their primary back tomorrow. Cox will be running behind a mammoth offensive line that averages no less than 320 pounds.
* Rocky Long's radical scheming doesn't stop with his defenses. His teams have regularly employed unique formations on offense as well. One of these formations is lining up two offensive linemen in the backfield, flanking the running back as they pounded it up the middle. We look for more of this Saturday.
* New Mexico also has all his wide receivers that appear on their three-deep roster standing over six feet tall, with three 6-3 or taller. With experienced quarterback Casey Kelly at the helm, we look for the Lobos to exploit their receiver's height advantage with a lot of fade patterns.
* BYU will not see a wide receiver like USC's Mike Williams in New Mexico, but we do look for the Lobos to go to the fade often with Dwight Counter, the main recipient.
* Is New Mexico's offense for real? After struggling throughout much of last season, New Mexico's offense has come out on fire averaging 570 yards per games. Of course, this production came against a weak Southwest Texas team and an untested Texas Tech defense.
BYU on defense:
* BYU's defensive personnel are not nearly as well-honed in the 3-3-5 scheme as New Mexico's defensive personnel, so the Cougars will not be as radical in their scheming. However, look for Mendenhall to throw stuff at New Mexico they have not seen yet.
* Mendenhall will counter Long's running game defensive wrinkles of his own. The good news for BYU's defense is that they went with a three-man front almost exclusively against USC's great front five. More impressively, they effectively stifled the Trojans vaunted running game.
* BYU has more talent than New Mexico at virtually every defensive position. New Mexico's weakness in their front line is BYU's strength. Look for BYU to be very stingy up front once again and New Mexico will have to beat BYU downfield on Kelley's arm.
Make no mistake about it, the Lobos will be up for this game. This could easily be considered New Mexico's most important MWC football game ever. This is a program that believes they have turned the corner after wallowing at the bottom of the MWC and WAC for so many years. They have to be beat a respectable BYU squad to earn some credibility points after last week's loss at Texas Tech.
* New Mexico will hold nothing back from their playbook to beat BYU.
* BYU got a taste of how good they can be when they don't shoot themselves in the foot with turnovers and penalties. No one is overlooking the Lobos and the players and coaches are primed and prepared for the first MWC game.
* Says Crowton: "This is our first conference game and you don't want to start out conference play with a loss. Winning the conference is the main goal for this team, so we feel that winning this first game is extremely important. We'll be up for this one."
Offensive lineman Quinn Christensen weighs in: "You bet we want to make a statement with this game. We feel we should be the best team in the Mountain West every year and we were sort of embarrassed last season, so yeah, we want to come out strong as if to say BYU is back."
Adds linebacker Colby Bockwoldt: "I don't know if I'd say that ‘we're back'; we're BYU and the conference knows that we're a tough and talented team. If they don't know that, then they should. Sure, we were a bit down last season, but BYU is a program known as being a top program. We're looking to continue that this year and will do just that."
Look for an emotional game on both sides. Both teams feel this is a landmark game for them for different reasons. Expect an ugly win in either case. A convincing victory for BYU sends a message loud and clear to the rest of its MWC foes that the Cougars are back and they are again the baddest boys on the block.
TBS Prediction: BYU 27 - New Mexico 10
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