1) Gary Crowton: I think we saw a wiser, more patient and more pragmatic Crowton on Saturday night against Notre Dame. He allowed his defense and special teams to dictate the game, and in crunch time he forgot about style points and just played for the win. Stanford isn't going to get any gifts from Crowton like they did last year.
2) BYU's rush defense: I really like this defensive front for BYU; they manhandled Notre Dame's power running game on Saturday. I expect them to do so again against Stanford. You have to believe that Bronco Mendenhall loves his chances when his game plan forces offensives into being one-dimensional.
3) Stanford's offensive line: Stanford's line is young – four sophomores and a junior start – with more sophomores and freshmen behind them. Against San Jose State, there was some instability on the line. They had some problems picking up the blitz. They've got a much bigger challenge against BYU's big, fast and deep defensive line.
4) BYU Special Teams: Special teams were a big key on the Cougars' upset of Notre Dame. Kicker extraordinaire Matt Payne is one of the best weapons in BYU's arsenal and I don't think that will change in Palo Alto. I don't see how Stanford will be able to sustain many drives long enough to score if they start inside their own 30.
5) Return of the BYU deep pass: Stanford now knows they will have to defend 50 yards behind the line of scrimmage against BYU Watkins, Austin Collie and other Cougar receivers. That should open up some shorter passes and crossing routes.
6) Second game improvement: The rule of thumb in college football is that teams make their biggest improvement from the first to second game. This will be the second game for both teams, but I wonder what Stanford really learned from their easy victory against a weak San Jose State. BYU faced a much more difficult test. They have a better idea about what parts of their game needs immediate work.
7) Negligible home field advantage: In 2003, Stanford averaged just under 45,000 fans in a stadium that seats 85,500. When USC and California come to town, the stadium fills and is loud. The rest of the time it is nothing special. I expect the 10,000 - 15,000 BYU fans in attendance to make this game almost a neutral field.
8) Memories of 2003: BYU was the better team in 2003. If Berry played last year, it would have been a BYU blowout. As it was, BYU might have won were it not for a questionable coaching decision and two blown assignments from an overly aggressive BYU linebacker. I think the Cougars have something to prove to Stanford. It's payback time.
9) "Happy Feet": Last Saturday against San Jose State's blitz, Stanford quarterback Trent Edwards admitted he had happy feet in the pocket. Bronco's defense is not a good prescription for that ailment.
10) Naked quarterback bootleg: Stanford's best play last season was a naked quarterback bootleg that took advantage of the defense's aggressiveness. You can bet BYU will be ready for this play and similar plays this year.
Why BYU may not win:
1) Turnovers: Under the circumstances, Berry did pretty good on the whole against Notre Dame, but that interception for a touchdown in the wrong direction was awful. Also, if Naufahi Tahi can't hold on to the ball (two fumbles), he should be replaced. Turnovers can negate a lot of good work by special teams and any defense is vulnerable in a short field. Stanford had no turnovers against SJSU.
2) Lack of an effective BYU running game: Perhaps Notre Dame's front seven was responsible for the Cougars' lack of running success last Saturday, BYU needs to develop a legitimate running threat, even if it is sparingly used. Without it, Stanford will just key on the passing game and won't "bite" on play action. Moreover, in a tight game, the ability to move the chains on the ground will allow BYU to run out the clock and not have to rely on circus catches by Watkins. 3) BYU's offensive inconsistency: The big play is back in Provo, but we didn't see a 10 or 12 play drive against Notre Dame. Look for Stanford to play their secondary soft and see if BYU can put together a string of plays.
4) Experienced Stanford defense: Stanford returns 9 of 11 defensive starters from 2003. 5 of these starters are 5th year seniors! Their front seven is probably not as physical as Notre Dame, but their secondary is better with all four players returning – including three seniors. Whoever starts at quarterback for BYU is going to face another good defense.
5) "Fun 'n Gun": Stanford's offense is a variation of Steve Spurrier's previous "Fun 'n Gun" offense from Florida. It is different from the "West Coast" offense in that it goes downfield more and let great athletes make plays in the open field. It doesn't look like Stanford has Florida type athletes, but Edwards has improved a lot since his 54-yard passing performance last year against BYU.
Stanford connected for several big plays against San Jose State and Bronco admits his defense, at times, is vulnerable to the big play. Look for Stanford to call some "max protect" plays to see if they also can't connect deep.
KNUTE'S PREDICTION: BYU wins the special teams and turnover battles and defeats Stanford 27-10. The matchup will be a close game dominated by defense. Stanford will struggle with BYU's defensive front – both run blocking and in pass protection. After a few possessions, BYU starts to put some plays together – mostly short passes – that begin to open up the Stanford defense.
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