Well BYU isn't quite there, and in spite of the injury ridden defensive breakdown, this is the BYU of now. What does that mean for this Saturdays first road trip to San Diego? It means that the Cougars have an excellent chance of getting there, to victory that is.
Even though San Diego State has lost three games, they pose certain threats which if not handled properly could spell big problems for BYU. Defensively, Aztec defensive backs are slower than TCU. The SDSU front 7 are not as physical as TCU either, and even if Tom Craft tries to implement a little cut blocking, do not expect to see it done that often or executed as well as the Horned Frogs did.
Offensively one could not ask the Cougars to do more than what they are already doing, they just need to keep the momentum going. The Aztec defense has improved over the past two weeks, but they won't be able to stop the burgeoning juggernaut that is BYU.
With the offense clicking, what does BYU than have to do to win this Saturday in San Diego?
Three Things: Shut Down O' Connell, Create turnovers, Score, Score, Score.
Last weeks TCU match up revealed the glaring weakness in depth on defense for BYU. Two seasons of off field antics and the new coaching philosophy have lead to the expulsion or transfer of 15 players. Most of these no-shows were key cogs in the future of the BYU defense. Losing that much depth over two seasons could hurt most programs.
Sure we can criticize Bronco for not recruiting more JC DBs or DLs, but in all honesty, the issue may lay more with the pressure to win and focus energy on the starters versus getting the 2s and 3s up to snuff on how the defensive system works and their assignments. A 3-3-5 is most effective when a 3 man rotation at every position is available, with each man understanding their assignments. There will be a drop off in execution level due to talent and experience, but during the 3rd and 4th quarters last Saturday, there were several defensive players who literally looked lost out on the field. So with injuries one deep on the roster how does coach Mendenhall accomplish the three things mentioned above?
Shut Down O'Connell:
Bring an extra man maybe even two to the line of scrimmage on defense. Play a 4-2-5 and bring the pressure through stunts and blitzing packages using linebackers. San Diego State QB Kevin O'Connell is very accurate having completed just over 70% of his passes. While not that fast, he is elusive and is a threat to run if the pass is not open. O'Connell has been sacked 9 times that last two weeks, and San Jose State ( a team not known for their defensive abilities) was able to drop him 6 times behind the line of scrimmage.
Now that the scrubs have been thrown into the fire, it is time that they step up. This week BYU's second teamers should receive more reps in practice and be more comfortable in their assignments. This means better coverage as a whole. Of course Aztec receivers Ortiz and Webb are much better than TCUs cadre of wideouts so this will be a tough task.
Getting pressure to the QB means forcing him to throw less accurately. BYU might get burned a few times, but with the offense on fire, this is worth the trade off. SDSU's starting right tackle is redshirt freshman Eric Rouser. He has an unusual size combo for a position that requires immense girth. He is 6'8", but only 250lbs. Their starting TE is heavier than him. Using Kehl or Wagner as a Down linemen on that side would create a speed mismatch. Also due to his height, Rouser's center of gravity would make it harder for him to stay as low as Kehl or Wagner. The young lineman was exploited often during the San Jose game and had the Spartan defenders been more skilled they could have increased the number of sacks past 6.
Right now BYU is -3 in turnover margin. For a team whose defense prides itself in swarming the ball carrier, -3 is not good. Sometimes it is better to keep a captured ball carrier standing long enough so a teammate or two can take a swipe at the ball. Where BYU has really struggled is picking off the pass. Only one interception recorded so far. That in itself may not necessarily reflect a poor defensive effort, but the reality is that BYU defenders have had ample opportunities to secure a tipped or errant pass, but were not able to get the turnover. San Diego State is -2, which means the opportunities are there for BYU to exploit. If they can get on O'Connell early and force a couple of early turnovers, it could really set the emotional pattern for the rest of the game.
Score, Score, Score:
Until the 2s and 3s can prove their worth on the field and shore up the injury laden defense, it looks like BYU will have to rely on a horse race mentality. That means scoring often and preferably every time the offense gets the ball. If there is ten minutes left in the game and BYU has a 30 point lead, that is not enough to go conservative. Unless the backups are shutting down the field to keep O'Connell guessing and unless the backups are able to keep the L Train, RB Lynell Hamilton, under wraps, BYU just needs to keep the pressure on. Sure they can bring in the 2s and 3s on offense considering the depth they possess, but the message should be clear. Score until the game is over. Right now BYU's defense is in limbo, and we won't know from week to week just how they will perform. The good news is that by the end of the season, a lot of those scrubs will be seasoned veterans. The bad news, is that BYU needs seasoned veterans now. If the injuries drag on expect a few red shirts to be pulled over the next two weeks.