Why did I cheer? For the striking fact that over the course of this season both Bronco Mendenhall and Robert Anae seem to be going from strength to strength. The enthusiasm with which they have attacked their jobs, the humility with which they have accepted the need to learn and change things when needed. All summer we heard about how BYU was going to use the Texas Tech offense to return to glory. It was all about passing the ball.
Coach Anae, realizing the Cougar's strength in the backfield, has been flexible enough to implement a game plan that is geared to beating the opponent instead of running a system. It is refreshing to know that the fans can trust that the coaches will do what they need to do to give BYU the best chance to beat their opponents instead of stubbornly trying to force prepackaged schemes down the throats of opposing teams. No, this does not translate to abandoning a scheme or system, it just means being flexible enough to adapt when necessary. Add to this the fact that BYU has solid weapons in both the backfield and downfield and you have a coach's dream.
The dream came true last Saturday as BYU dominated CSU in almost every category. While the hurry up offense was not needed, a couple of early turnovers by the Cougars made the game closer than it should have been. While the ground game was clicking, the fact that BYU was able to pressure Holland and shut down Bell were vital in securing the win.
Holland has had the luxury of his O-line's max protect blocking scheme. Saturday, BYU introduced some new twists in their blitzing strategy that confused the Rams and rendered the max protect useless. What resulted were four or five sacks depending on who you are talking to, and a quarterback that could not connect in key situations.
It will be more of the same on defense as BYU enters their biggest game of the season against the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. Nobody is really giving the Cougars a fighting chance to take a W out of South Bend and on the surface it may look bleak. Digging a bit deeper however, there are things that BYU can do to come out victorious, and these things are:
1. Continue what was started vs. CSU in pressuring the QB 2. A more balanced attack 3. The McLaughlin group needs to be money
Last week, the defensive line came alive in forcing coverage that allowed the linebackers to come in and shut Holland down. This week, the Cougar D-line has another opportunity. BYU defense has been going up against some serious beef over the past few weeks, but the Irish O-line is rather slim in comparison. With the speed and aggression of both Manaia Brown and Vince Feula, their size suddenly becomes a factor in splitting open the line enough so that The Viking, The General and Walkenhorst can plant a few well placed hits on The Mighty Quinn.
Keeping Quinn busy makes the slowly improving BYU secondary's job of containing four excellent veteran passing threats a bit easier. Cornerback Kayle Buchanan will have the chance to prove his worth in place of starter Nate Soelberg who currently is wearing casts on both arms.
While we can marvel at the ease with which Curtis Brown and Fahu Tahi ripped through the Colorado State defensive line, running against the Irish will be a stiffer challenge. The advantage of size again can play into BYU's hands as the Notre Dame defensive line is the same size as that of CSU's. They are a bit quicker, but with the power running game clicking, BYU should be able to out bruise them. With the pass blocking advantage stemming from the wider splits, Beck should perform well enough to find the open man on most occasions. Notre Dames defensive secondary is one of the worst in Div I-A.
Even though there are several veteran DB's starting, their coverage skills have allowed over 300 yards per game. There are also several size mismatches for BYU to exploit, and this is a golden opportunity for Watkins to get open. For this to work, Beck must patiently accept what is given initially which, like the Boston College game, will be the short stuff underneath. Also it is important that Coach Anae is patient in letting the run develop, and not give up on it to early. A balanced attack will force Notre Dame's secondary to be out of synch during the entire game.
Finally, this game will come down to field position. Where drives start are vital as both teams will most certainly give up a big play or two. It is easier to deal with a broken play that ends up a 50 yard scamper if the drive is starting at the 15 verses a touchdown with a drive starting from the opponents 45. McLaughlin (the punter) needs to make the most of his opportunities to pin the Irish deep. A few drives starting inside the ten or even the five keep BYU in the game longer as Notre Dame does not play a lightening strike type offense (think Boston College).
McLaughlin (the place-kicker) needs to get air and depth on the ball to allow special teams to contain returns. Again, field position is vital in this game. Also BYU will need him to be money when forced to kick a field goal as the Irish defense stiffens in the Blue Zone. Three is better than zero, and this game could come down to whose kicker was more accurate.
This will be a tough bruising battle regardless who wins.