Foolish, you say! Time will shortly tell if I am as dimwitted a prognosticator even as I concede how potent, powerful and prepared Dinwiddie (Ryan, that is) will be coming in as the country's sixth-ranked quarterback averaging 326 yards per game, while also leading an Boise State offense averaging 519.9 yards per game.
Ah, but there are some big "IFs" associated with this sober and straight-faced prediction:
* IF … quarterback Matt Berry is not injured and does NOT throw ANY interceptions for touchdowns. Like any relatively inexperienced sophomore QB, Berry occasionally makes really dumb reads and throws that have cost BYU wins, but he also looked and played impressively last week in Las Vegas.
Specifically, he demonstrated X-factor leadership in crunch time for the first time this year by tying the game 13-13 (coming from a first quarter 13-0 deficit) seconds before halftime and again seconds before the regulation game clock expired.
With calm and quiet confidence, Berry pushed himself and the Cougars over the edge in an overtime win that likely portends of games to come as the season rolls to a close. His reputation and legacy as a big-time clutch player will take root or lose ground in these final three games.
* IF … the Cougars defense remains as stiff-necked as they were against UNLV. Overall, BYU's defense is ranked No. 17 nationally, allowing 24.9 points per game. If the Cougars hold the No. 4 ranked Broncos offense to its 24.9-point average, significantly below their nearly 42 point average, BYU wins the game.
* IF … Bronco Mendenhall effectively covers and masks the blatant weaknesses of his defensive secondary, You can guarantee BSU will challenge Chad Barney's side every time they see single man coverage.
Barney would do himself and the team a lot of good if he not only stays on top of his man, but also be looking and aware of throws in his vicinity. Every time he has been beaten, it seems like he's trying to catch up to his man with his back to the ball. Jernaro Gilford came on strong last week after being exposed during the San Diego State and Colorado State games. Brandon Heaney's season-ending injury at this position has been costly for the Cougars.
* IF … BYU limits its turnovers to no more than two per game. Hey, I'd settle for less. The Cougars ball carriers must get it into their heads and hands how meaningless and harmful it is when they try for an extra yard to two only to fumble it away.
Missouri's head coach, Gary Pinkel, prides himself on his longtime focus and emphasis on NOT fumbling by specifically teaching and reinforcing how to hold and hang onto the ball at ALL times. Missouri and Toledo, where he was formerly head coach for nine years, is and was ranked No. 1 nationally in fewest fumbles. With 15 fumbles so far this season, BYU is ranked No. 116 out of 117 Division I football teams in fumbles lost. Cougar coaches and players must consistently work and focus on forcing opponents to beat them without doing it to themselves.
* IF … the offensive play calling continues to focus on BYU's proven strengths and abilities. Last week's run-oriented goal line calls at UNLV for short-yardage touchdowns capitalized on the Cougars' offensive line size and strength superiority and were right on the money. Deception has its place, but simple smash-mouth football, effectively used, must remain a vital part of the game plan. If BYU coaches insist on running the option with Berry, it's important for him to establish himself first as a legitimate option threat by consistently gaining positive yardage before he will fool defenders when the option rollout becomes obvious.
* IF … the Cougars reduce avoidable costly penalties on third down situations that give opposing teams an extra free set of downs. Nothing kills or hurts BYU's momentum on offense or defense game like these frustrating penalties. It all boils down to coaching and continuously reinforcing simple execution and discipline in practice.
* IF … BYU's wide receivers and tight ends consistently hang on to easily catchable balls and separate themselves more efficiently from their defenders to allow Berry better targets to throw at.
One key element noticeably missing from BYU's receiving game in recent years is an overall awareness by receivers to always be alert when their quarterback is in distress, especially since the offensive line has been porous many times this season. Time was when slow and generally white receivers uniformly killed opponents with this ability to read, react and run to open positions where they could rescue their fleeing quarterback with timely catches that moved chains and scored touchdowns.
* IF … the Cougars interior line can generate a more consistent pass rush up the middle, creating even more havoc for quarterbacks also being harrassed by BYU's fleet-footed defensive ends, linebackers, Cougarback and Katbacks. Unfortunately, injuries to Daniel Marquardt and Manaia Brown have been a big factor, but Ifo Pili has been a steady and stable presence in the middle. Only Colorado State has been able to consistently run up the gut against the Cougars all season.
* IF … BYU's much-maligned offensive line continues to improve their blocking and techniques against excellent teams the remainder of the season. Unfortunately, there's no overlooking the fact that BYU starts two and plays three freshmen offensive linemen exclusively in their two guard positions. They do and are prone to making rookie mistakes. The best you can hope for is for them not to whiff their assignments on critical third or rare fourth down plays.
* IF … the Cougars steady regulars like kicker Matt Payne and defenders Brady Poppinga, Aaron Francisco, Colby Bockwoldt, Mike Tanner, James Allen, John Denney, Jon Burbidge and true freshman standout David Nixon play to their consistent standards. Offensively, the stalwarts who must consistently rise to the occasion include Rey Brathwaite, Naufahi Tahi, Marcus Whalen, Taufui Vakapuna, Daniel Coats, Justin Jory, Toby Christensen, Chris Hale, Rod Wilkerson, Jason Kukahiko and Phil Niu.
* IF … injuries to key BYU contributors on both sides of the ball are kept to a minimum. This year's team has suffered an inordinate number of injuries to starters and it's time for some good fortune and favor to come their way.
* IF … the Cougars continue to improve on its Red Zone scoring ratio of more touchdowns that field goals. Thus far, the Cougars have scored 19 of 23 times it has entered the Red Zone.
The good news is BYU has an undefeated record against emerging WAC powerhouse Boise State; that's because BYU has never played the Broncos and Gary Crowton is 2-0 against them as a former head coach at Louisiana Tech.
The bad news is the Cougars' are facing perhaps the most potent offense they will see this season in the Broncos (7-1), fresh off a 77-14 pummeling of fellow WAC rival San Jose State.
For the Cougars to win, its defense must create confusion and havoc to Boise State's third-ranked offense which is averaging 517.9 yards per game. Notably, BYU's 17th ranked defense has successfully held seven of the eight teams they have played so far significantly below their regular season offensive averages. The lone exception was Colorado State.
BYU improves to 5-5 (.500) with a win tomorrow. Boise State has won five straight games. The Cougars have not lost to a team from Idaho since 1955; a meaningless stat against a very good Broncos' squad.
Bronco's defense must again seal and steal a trio of upset wins against excellent teams in Boise State, Notre Dame and Utah to close the season on a high note. All BYU's offense and special teams has to do is NOT cough up the ball too many times and score just enough points to finally swing the pendulum their way.
Tomorrow night's game will go a long way to show whether I'm even in the ballpark or way, way out in left field.
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