Last week the Utes fortunes took an even sharper turn for the worse when their number one receiver John Madsen and their starting QB Brian Johnson were taken off the field with season ending leg injuries. BYU however have been improving something about their game each week. Their recent defensive success has added another dimension to the already loaded gun that is the Cougar offensive game.
Wyoming was, perhaps, the Cougar's toughest conference test over the past month, even tougher than New Mexico. The reason for that would be the way the Cowboys were able to use traps to break open the run defense and put 166 yards on the ground against a team that had limited UNLV to only two rushing yards a week earlier.
The feeling for this game was one of methodic conservativism. Sure there were a few super highlights, such as Matt Allens acrobatic 11 yard reception deep in Cowboy territory and of course both of Cougar tight end Jonny Harline's touchdown catches. The game however did not have any flash to it. The Cougars simply worked their plan, which meant giving the ball to Brown and Tahi for the most part. It worked to the tune of 267 yards total rushing.
Last week's keys against Wyoming were to get the receivers involved early in the game, corral Corey Bramlett and keep it clean. Much was made of the weather in the early going and how strong the winds were. BYU came out slinging, and Beck was able to hit receivers early. It was clear based on how Wyoming's defense was set that they were prepared for runs at the start. Those runs were to come, just not right away.
Even though the offense sputtered a few times, forcing McLaughlin to punt, the pass helped back up the defenders a bit. It also let Wyoming know that they were in for a multi-pronged attack regardless of the weather. As fortune would have it, the weather in the stadium died down, which aided the QBs of both teams.
Corey Bramlett was not corralled very much during the game. It looked like the Wyoming O-line was easily handling any pressure the Cougars put on them, allowing Bramlett time to air it out. This is rather misleading. After watching the game a second and third time, it was clear that Broncos defense was working to take away the screen passes as well as add bodies into the secondary to keep everything in front of them.
This meant leaving the undermanned defensive line alone to try to create things on their own. It is one thing for a nose tackle to take on a double team to open holes for linebackers to shoot through, and another for the nose tackle to actually get through. It was a calculated gamble on Coach Mendenhall's part to do this, and it allowed Bramlett to connect time and time again to open receivers. The gamble paid off in then end, however, to the tune of five turnovers and plenty of useless yards.
Interestingly enough, when the defense did bring the pressure, it resulted in errant passes, and a couple of picks.
BYU played a clean game up until end of the third when it really did not matter. Their last two flags were worth 30 of the 65 total yards they were given. Wyoming however continually shot themselves in the foot with flags in key situations that could have been a difference maker.
The victory in Laramie has BYU at 5-1 in their last six games. This weekend is a chance for the Cougars to add a sixth conference win as they battle it out with the beleaguered Utes. This week's keys to victory are:
1. Grind it out early
2. Welcome Ratliff to Div I-A
3. Keep it Rollin in the second half
Grind It Out Early
The Mountain West Conference is well aware by now of the prolific running game that is BYU. In their last four games, BYU has averaged just a hair more than 266 ypg. Utah's defensive line is decent, but not outstanding, and BYU has the horses to make things difficult for the Utes. Brown's quickness, Tahi's hardnosed style and young Latu's combination of both of those traits only serve to exasperate the problem that Utah will find themselves in if BYU grinds it out early.
Just as last week, the pass is there when it is needed, the key however is to get the Utah defense breathing hard early. BYU will bring the best and most physical and dominant offensive line Utah has faced their entire season. They have the ability to open up holes to get Curtis another century with Tahi handling bruiser duty.
Welcome Ratliff to Div I-A
Much has been made of BYU's seeming difficulty in handling opponents backup QB. This however has been overplayed. TCU has realized that Ballard is much better than Gunn ever was, and he has proven it over the course of the season. To be honest, BYU was actually playing against the Horned Frogs backup from the get go. The Air Force game was simply an issue of BYU having a total meltdown in the fourth after thinking the game was already over. Anyone watching the Cougars has to notice the improved third and fourth quarter play lately.
So what does it really mean for Mr. Ratliff who gets his first chance to start a Div I-A game when his only prior experience as a starter was at the JC level? It means that regardless of how much coach Whittingham dresses up the situation, his charge is in for a brutal learning curve.
The Ute offensive line is average at best, and many potential sacks this year were disguised by the fact that Brian Johnson is extremely mobile and was able to turn many broken plays into yards. Ratliff is not a runner, he is a gunner who needs an offensive line to give him the time to find his receivers and connect from within the pocket.
With Utah's primary running back Quinton Ganther gimpy, Ratliff is going to need Casteel's help to run the ball and a lot of time to air it out. He is not used to this kind of game speed as was apparent in his four snaps in a last ditch effort to win Saturday's game against New Mexico.
Bronco needs to give this kid happy feet early, but stunting, slanting and playing as aggressively as the defensive did during last year's Notre Dame and Boise State games. BYU has been lights out in the turnover department, averaging more than four a game over the last three contests. Bringing pressure early and hard will most certainly create a few more turnovers to capitalize on. This needs to be as ugly as it can be for the neophyte QB.
Keep It Rollin' In the Second Half
I have to get a little dig in at Utah for their Keep it Rollin' campaign that has been rolling downhill like a snowball in an avalanche. BYU cannot afford to take any breaks, and they need to keep enough in the tank to play the second half like they would a brand new game. Even if BYU is taking a considerable lead into the locker room, this is rivalry week, and the Utes will try to create something early to get back into it.
BYU has to take the kill shot by grinding it out and making throws when necessary. Beck's unselfish play of late has really opened up the opportunities to exploit the weak Utah secondary. The players need to focus all their attention on scoring as often as they can.
Utah tends to take the second half off, and it has caused more than one loss this season. BYU cannot count on Utah being absentee for this game's second half. The answer is to play them as if they were playing for the national championship: ALL FOUR QUARTERS. Doing that should allow BYU to get their twos and threes on the field in the fourth for valuable game experience.