One thing is certain, and that is that BYU's secondary is struggling. Of the ten players slated in the two-deep, only four were recruited as scholarship players. The rest were walk-ons, and six out of the ten are sophomores. If that was not tough enough, most of these players are starting or getting considerable playing time for the first time ever. Several are still dealing with injuries. Add to that the fact that one of their best is really a linebacker playing out of position, and you have one of those situations that can really test a team's mettle.
Is it any wonder that the Fighting Irish were able to air it out with such success? What you may not understand however, is that BYU was four plays away from winning the game. A fumble early near Notre Dame's end zone squirted out of bounds as the Cougar defense was not able to control it. Scoring off of that would have put BYU up 17-7. Todd Watkins on three occasions let three passes slip through his hands in uncharacteristic fashion which either could have gone all the way or at least set up BYU in great position to score. Even with these missed opportunities, BYU was only down by five points with five minutes left in the 3rd quarter.
The thing about missed opportunities, is that at some point during the game, the winning team strikes in a way that takes the fight out of the opposition. BYU caved when Notre Dame returned a John Beck interception 83 yards for a score to seal the deal.
Last week my keys to victory vs. Notre Dame were:
1. Continue what was started vs. CSU in pressuring the QB. 2. A more balanced attack 3. The McLaughlin group needs to be money
Notre Dames pass blocking was superb, and coach Weiss wisely utilized the short passing game to keep the pressure off of Quinn. In spite of his hyperbole about BYU rushing eight or nine every time (the truth is that BYU brought four to five on almost every down), the defensive line was stymied by excellent blocking. BYU's offense was still fairly balanced. They did get over 100 yards rushing, and as frustrating as it might have been for some fans to watch the Cougars handing off so late in the game when they were playing catch up in the fourth, sticking with the plan meant keeping the worn out secondary off of the field. The kicking game was money? Hmm, maybe spare change, but not money. Missing field goals is never good, and punting needs to be more consistent.
Well that game is now in the history books, and many who witnessed it may have witnessed the birth of a dynasty. Notre Dame may have awakened. How they finish out, will tell us allot about what to expect next year.
What about BYU? Well this is the home stretch. Four conference games remain, and none of the teams left on the docket really strike fear in the hearts of the fans. This saturday BYU is at home to battle the Falcons of Air Force. They look to bounce back, and to do so, they need to do three things:
1. Blow up the line
2. Defense keep low, alert and finish quickly
3. Keep throwing to Watkins
Blow up the line:
Nobody really believes that Air Force can manhandle the BYU offensive line. Not only are they out muscled, but they lack the speed to adjust to blocking changes off the snap. Fahu Tahi and Curtis Brown need to have huge games, powering their way through into the secondary. One of these backs needs to rack up over 100 yards by halftime to put this game away early.
Defense keep low, alert and finish quickly:
Air Force does not have the bodies to go head to head most Div I-A defenses, so what do they do? They cut block. Many coaches, fans and orthopedic surgeons wish that the cut block be eliminated from the game. Too many knees have been introduced to the unhappy triad (orthopedics.about.com/cs/sportsmedicine/g/unhappytriad.htm) because of cut blocks. With a bona fide chance at a postseason game, the last thing BYU's defense needs is more injuries.
Keeping low off of the snap allows for the defender to press the offensive player down towards their feet for a chance to scramble around or even over the top. Staying alert means not slowing up on a dead ball, but pushing forward and away from the end of the play. Too many inertia related cut blocks after the whistle have the potential to take a player out and even if a flag is thrown, what good does it do. The player is still writhing on the ground looking at missing a few games or more. Finishing quickly, means beating your man, and finishing your assignment. If you are blitzing get around your man and don't get stood up. If you get stood up, you may be looking at a second player either hitting you at your knees or rolling up from behind. Either way it can have you hobbling. One trick my son developed against cut blockers actually works rather well. It deals with placing a hard knee into the crease between the helmet and shoulder pad as the block is being set up. A few bell ringings tend to make the opponent less enthusiastic.
Keep throwing to Watkins:
After a disaster last week vs. Notre Dame one could understand it if Watkins may be a bit gun shy at having to handle the ball again. Well to clear things up. Watkins readily admits that he just was not with it last week, no excuses, but has already boldly made it clear that he will bring it this Saturday vs. Air Force. Beck needs to get Watkins the ball on a few deep routes. Nobody on the defense can cover him, and Beck will have all day to ponder who to throw to. Getting Watkins in the end zone and over 100 yards receiving will make it that much harder on future opponents.
As long as Watkins does not get the ball, the defenses can begin to focus on limiting Jonny Harline and Brown out of the backfield. This has to be business as usual, and that means Beck to Watkins deep a few times every game. Remember UNLV, Wyoming and Utah will all be watching. If they see Watkins torching the secondary with a payoff, they are than forced to take his threat seriously.
A final word concerning the secondary. This is a perfect game to bounce back with. The offense will be much slower. Yes Air Force has Brown and Kirkwood both tall receivers, but they are not game breakers, and there won't be that much passing going on with Carney averaging around 13 passes a game.