BYU-SDSU Matchup a Battle of MWC Defensive Titans

In an ironic twist in the typically offense-oriented MWC, Saturday's matchup between BYU and San Diego State looms large as a battle royale of two top 20 nationally ranked defensive teams.

According to official NCAA statistics, the Aztecs currently rank No. 4 nationally in overall defense while the Cougars are No. 13. For the two pass-happy schools, SDSU and BYU are ranked No. 8 and No. 9 respectively in pass defense nationally.

The Cougars lead the series 20-6-1 that dates back to Nov. 22, 1947. Notably, BYU has not lost at San Diego in almost 15 years – the Aztecs last defeated the Cougars 27-15 at home in 1988.

BYU hopes to repeat last year's final result with yet another freshman quarterback John Beck upending the Aztecs. Last season, then-freshman Matt Berry threw for 280 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Cougars in a 34-10 victory. Berry is injured and is expected back next week against Colorado State.

Many of the Cougars offensive woes this year can be attributed to the youth in the underclassmen quarterbacks who have started all its games this year. Beck is a true freshman and has posted a 236.0 average-yards-per-game with a 42 of 86 completion ratio (.488) with two touchdowns and three interceptions in five games. He is also the second true freshman to ever start at quarterback in the history of the Cougars football program. Drew Miller was the first true freshman to earn the starting position for a single losing game against UTEP in 1997.

BYU head coach Gary Crowton said that injured regular starter Matt Berry may be suited up and on the sidelines as a back up if needed. Berry's hand is recovering well from surgery he underwent Sept. 14 for a broken bone sustained in his throwing hand during the New Mexico game.

Speaking of injuries, backup linebacker Lawrence Cowan could be out for another 2-4 weeks after dislocating his elbow during the Stanford game. Another linebacker, Bryant Atkinson, had part of his meniscus removed and is listed as questionable for the SDSU game. Backup cornerback Nathan Soelberg is also listed as probable for SDSU after he suffered a concussion against Stanford. The latest casualty is starting outside linebacker Levi Madarieta who sustained a stress fracture in his foot. His playing status Saturday is listed as a game-time decision.

Meanwhile, BYU's dynamic duo of standout freshman tight ends Daniel Coats and Philip Niu are already ranked in the top five of all BYU freshmen tight ends – after only five games into the season. Coats' is BYU's all time leading freshman tight end with 17 receptions, 252 yards and four touchdowns. Chad Lewis follows at No. 2 with 11 receptions (1993) for 172 yards and one touchdown. Niu is currently ranked fifth behind No. 4 Itula Mili with four receptions, 88 yards and two touchdowns.

San Diego State Scouting Report

With a newly revamped running game, SDSU will challenge BYU's 13th ranked defense on the ground. After holding Air Force, the nation's leading rushing offense to 194 yards – 144 yards below their season average of 338 yards per game, BYU now looks to contain a SDSU team that totaled that has gained 746 yards in 2003 with seven games remaining.

Leading the attack is talented true freshman running back Lynell Hamilton. Hamilton alone accounts for 596 yards of the Aztec's offense. He is ranked No. 12 nationally with an average of 119.2 rushing yards per game or 5.3 yards per carry.

San Diego State currently has the second best offense in the MWC and Hamilton just needs to average 57.7 yards per game in his remaining games to become the 15th, 1,000-yard rusher at San Diego State.

The good news for the Aztecs is the return of their starting quarterback Adam Hall in time for the BYU game. Sidelined with a bad ankle sprain for several games this season, he only needs 569 yards to break into SDSU's top 10 all-time career passing yards list.

Last season, Hall was ranked No. 10 nationally in total offense; led the MWC in passing yards (3,253), total offense (3,143), and passing efficiency (129.1). He was San Diego State's first 3,000 yard passer since 1996 and threw 17 touchdowns, the most of any Aztec quarterback since that same year. He is currently on the 2003 Johnny Unitas Golden Arm and Davey O'Brien Award watch lists.

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