Last week my keys to victory were to blow up the line, keep low, alert and finish quickly on defense, and keep throwing the Watkins. Well, the Wasatch Front again proved their muscle by blowing undersized Falcon defensive tackles and ends off the line all day. It never stopped. No matter what Air Force did, the line created holes for Brown and Tahi. Brown's 219 yards and 4 touchdowns is a personal record. Considering he did it on 25 carries goes to show just how dominant the O-line was.
The defensive front did an excellent job in quickly executing their assignments. With the triple option, yards are going to be generated, but the Cougars did well in keeping Air Force well below their season average while avoiding after effects cut blocks from the side and or behind.
Although Watkins' receiving yardage was not a lot to get excited about, he did catch five passes, and the fact that he was actively involved in the game allowed redshirt Freshmen Michael Reed to break out, leading receivers with 5 receptions for 103 yards and a touchdown.
While the defensive secondary has received harsh criticism for letting Air Force score 41 points, BYU had held the Falcons to a single TD until the final drive of the 3rd quarter. So was it another case of BYU having a poor secondary? I would say yes AND no. On the "yes" side, allowing five touchdown passes by your opponent does not say a whole lot about your coverage skills.
After the Notre Dame game, it seemed like the secondary floodgates had been opened once and for all. The problem with this kind of reasoning, is that issues such as injury and improvement are not considered down the road. BYU's secondary this Saturday will not be the same secondary that took the field three, two and one weeks ago.
What about the "no"? Well, the BYU defensive secondary did a good job sans the 4th quarter. I heard Tafuna's and Gooch's name mentioned throughout the game in key situations. On a day when Robinson played a supportive roll, knock-aways, interceptions and tackles were there to shut down Air Force through the air.
Some may want to counter with the argument that it was only when the Falcons began to throw it that BYU was exposed. The game tells a different story. Of the 31 pass attempts thrown by Carney and Fitch, 22 of them were made in quarters one through three. Another two attempts were foiled by sacks in the same time frame. With over 70% of the aerial attack resulting in 14 points, several breakups, picks and sacks, other factors have to be considered to really understand what occurred last Saturday.
An honest assessment would place the burden of Saturday's 4th quarter melt down on the shoulders of the special teams. 13 points were scored off of a blocked punt and a fumbled kick off return. Would anyone be as concerned with the secondary had Air Force ended the game with 28 points? Probably not. The focus would most certainly have been on the fact that BYU finally started picking off passes, and keeping QBs under 55% completion ratios
The young secondary still needs to learn to play an entire game, and Bronco was clear on explaining the importance of complete focus throughout. This weekend in Las Vegas will reveal whether his admonishments have taken hold.
The keys to victory in Sin City are:
1. Test QB Crash Test Dummy Style
2. Contain the Counter Scatback
3. Establish the Run
Test QB Crash Test Dummy Style:
One thing Sanford has had to deal with this year is the lack of a solid gunslinger behind center. To make things worse, is both of his main QBs are hurting badly. Shades of BYU when Beck and Berry were both hurt reminds us all just how important it is to have continuity behind center.
Sanford's available QBs are not that stellar to begin with, and the O-line has not helped their cause, allowing 24 sacks so far this season. Nine of the 24 have occurred against Air Force and Utah (can you say banged up, tired and unmotivated?). We do not even know who will start Saturday since Steichen's finger is most likely not completely healed from surgery four weeks ago, and Jackson is nursing a bruised ribcage.
If UNLV was in contention for a bowl game, I could see him burning true freshmen Mike McDonald's redshirt, but Sanford is without a doubt trying to nurse his way through to the end without doing that. What really hurts is that the Rebels have two QB's in the waiting in the wings who have the potential to really lead this team. USC transfer Rocky Hinds has been all the rage among Rebel fans. Forgotten in the hype, is another solid transfer from Tennessee. Former Volunteer walk-on Dack Ishii is also looking for an opportunity to improve the Rebel offense.
What this all means is the Cougar defensive line and linebacking corps can unleash any and all field rage in making life for the bruised up QBs even worse. Both Steichen and Jackson can ill afford to end up on the sidelines Saturday. If they do, Sanford will have no option but to rip McDonald's redshirt off of his back and throw him to the Cougars.
When the Rebels do get the pass off, they are able to spread the field rather well. With four bona fide receiving threats, including Mackey award finalist Greg Estandia, pressure through the line by the Cougars is imperative. UNLV has had a way of sticking around in games against BYU, and the sooner the defensive front wraps it up the better.
Contain the Counter Scatback:
Run options are limited to Curtis Brown's former High School teammate, starting running back Erik Jackson (5'6" 180). While he may not be lighting it up, his diminutive size could give him a break out game versus BYU. The Cougars have historically had problems with scats. Fans do not need to be reminded of another Rebel, Dominique Dorsey who, at 5'7" and 170 pounds, made BYU's defensive front look silly at times.
Jackson's size combined with any counter plays could pose serious problems for BYU. The Cougars have been more adept at handling the counter rush game, but it is much easier to maintain vision on a big hoss back lumbering off a cut than it is to be searching behind the O-line for a powder keg smurf zipping in and out of sight only to show up in the secondary five yards downfield. Pressure in the backfield needs to be covered by a backer or two to keep a three-yarder from exploding into an open field derby.
Establish the run:
Yes it may be a tired argument, but UNLV will be one of the better run defensive teams that BYU will meet this year. It is one thing to rip off 250-300 yards on the ground against CSU or Air Force, and another to do it on the Rebels. UNLV plays a swarming type defense that has a stop the run first mentality. Utah's Quinton Ganther was able to rush for over 150 yards and several scores. This is what Curtis Brown, Fahu Tahi et al need to do. Everyone still remembers the pain of Crowton's 68 pass debacle last year in Provo. Anae has learned to balance things well, and that getting the run game going even if it sputters a bit in the beginning will open up the field more and allow Beck to pepper the vanilla secondary with another 300+ yardage outing.