BYU vs. Washington: The Breakdown

The Cougars head out to Seattle to take on the Washington Huskies for their first road game of the year. After a rocky start against Oregon, the Huskies look to rebound at home against the Cougars. Meanwhile, the Cougars look to get over their first big road hurdle in their continued pursuit of perfection.

Not much is right with Washington's football program these days. Head coach Tyrone Willingham is squarely on the hot seat following last week's underwhelming performance by the Huskies when they dropped their opening game to Oregon by the score of 44-10.

Nevertheless, the Huskies remain a formidable challenge, as they'll start one of the more dangerous players in the country in the form of Jake Locker, who will be calling the shots under center for the Huskies. The Cougars obviously present some formidable challenges themselves, making for an intriguing matchup.

BYU running attack vs. Washington

And here it is, the matchup that is most likely in the forefront of most Cougar fan's mind. Will BYU be able to pose an effective running attack against a Pac-10 opponent?

The Huskies present a quick and athletic - albeit inexperienced - defensive front. The best experience Washington has along their defensive line is at one of the defensive end positions where Daneil Te'o-Nesheim resides. Te'o-Nesheim was named the team's defensive MVP a year ago and has started every game for the Huskies over the past two seasons.

All the other defensive line starters are first-year starters who didn't fare all that well against Oregon last week, giving up 256 yards on the ground. The defensive tackles in particular are inexperienced, as the Huskies be starting a sophomore in Cameron Elisara and a redshirt freshman in Enio Kelemete.

At linebacker Washington returns only one starter in their 4-3 defensive system. Sophomore Mason Foster starts at one of the outside linebacker positions and started the last four games of last season as a freshman. Foster led the team in tackles last week against Oregon with 10.

Meanwhile, the Cougars are looking for some help for star running back Harvey Unga to lessen his workload. Last week there wasn't much help, but this week the Cougars are hoping to see that help in the form of Fui Vakapuna, who returns to the lineup after his one-game suspension.

Prognosis: Should Washington choose to stack the box against the Cougar offensive front much like Northern Iowa did a week ago, then most Cougar fans are likely to be bellyaching about the rushing results regardless of the game's outcome. Should Washington play BYU straight up, then look for the Cougars to make over 100 yards on the ground, as the Huskies look very susceptible in defending against the run.

What I'll be Watching: Harvey Unga's play is a given. He'll be consistent and productive in both running the football and in catching it out of the backfield. My eyes will be squarely on Fui Vakapuna and how effective he proves to be playing primarily from the fullback position. Vakapuna has had his moments in practice, reminding observers more of his sophomore form than the form he showed last season.

How Vakapuna performs in lead blocking, pass blocking and catching the ball out of the backfield will prove ultimately more valuable than how he runs the football given his new role. Should he prove as effective as Manase Tonga was a year ago, it will be a huge boost to the Cougar offensive attack overall.

Leading Rusher: Okay, enough of the funny business of predicting Wayne Latu as the leading rusher a week ago. Unga will be the leading rusher on the team and will rush for more than 80 yards. This is the week BYU breaks through with a productive run attack against a Pac-10 opponent. If not this week, then when?

BYU passing attack vs. Washington

The Huskies return a lot of players at defensive back with part-time experience from a year ago. They'll be led by Nate Williams at the free safety position. Williams started last season as a true freshman. Alongside Williams will be senior Darin Harris at strong safety, converted safety Mesphin Forrester at one cornerback spot and redshirt freshman Quinton Richardson at the other cornerback slot.

Washington's starting cornerbacks are both more than 6-feet tall, and they teamed up with the safeties to give up 240 yards against Oregon last week. The Husky defensive backs go to nickel formations a lot and they collectively pose very good speed and athleticism.

Max Hall and company meanwhile had a field day against Northern Iowa's stacked box defensive scheme a week ago. Indeed, it appeared as if Hall could have thrown to tight end Dennis Pitta on every down for big gains. Hall and his receiving corps will undoubtedly be in top form once again against the Huskies.

Prognosis: Given the Huskies' success against the pass last week relative to the 256 yards rushing they gave up a week ago, it may call for Washington to stack the box against BYU this week. If they do so, you can look for Pitta to have another big game or for Austin Collie or even Michael Reed to have breakout games of their own.

What I'll be Watching: Along with how many players Washington puts in the box, I'll be watching to see if they choose to double Pitta or Collie on most downs. It seemed evident from last week's game that Coach Higgins doesn't plan to rotate his receivers all that much, but I'll be watching for Spencer Hafoka, O'Neill Chambers and Luke Ashworth and how often they're used.

Leading Receiver: I'm going with Austin Collie this week. Any defensive coordinator would have to be insane to not account big-time for Dennis Pitta after viewing what he did to Northern Iowa last week, and that should open some opportunities up for Collie down the field of play.

BYU run defense vs. Washington

The Huskies signed a very good running back last year in Chris Polk. Polk is a very promising combo back who, despite the fact that he didn't fair all that well against Oregon last week, should pose a formidable test for the Cougar defensive front this week. Along the Washington offensive front is a lot of bulk, as they average 332 pounds per man.

The most difficult assignment for the Cougar defense will be defending Jake Locker, who is apt to scramble and to run the option on any occasion. Locker is as dangerous as anyone the Cougar defenders will face this season. Containing and effectively defending Locker will be the chief focus for the Cougar defense this week.

Prognosis: The Cougar defensive front should do fine against the Husky run game. What I saw in viewing the tape is that although Washington is very strong up front, they're relatively slow out of their breaks, which Jan Jorgensen, Ian Dulan, Russell Tialavea and company should be able to take advantage of. Locker is the key here and his pulled hamstring may limit him to some degree, but he'll get some big plays nonetheless.

What I'll be Watching: I'll be watching the outside linebacker positions to see how effectively they work in containing Locker. It's no secret that BYU's defense thrives in gap discipline, and that will be the key against Locker. The onus will be on first-year outside linebackers Vic So'oto and Coleby Clawson to see how well they work to contain Locker and thereby prevent some big plays.

BYU pass defense vs. Washington

The Huskies weren't able to do much passing the football last week, as Locker completed only 12-of-28 passes for a mere 103 yards. As good as Locker is in running the football, he struggles at throwing it, and although he's improved in this area from a year ago, he still doesn't pose much of a threat to consistently put forth a good passing attack.

At receiver the Huskies' leading receiver is D'Andre Goodwin. Goodwin caught eight passes last week for 67 yards. Goodwin is a speedster who runs solid routes and measures in at 5 feet 11 inches and 175 pounds. Outside of Goodwin, there wasn't much production last week from the Husky receiving corps except for true freshman tight end Kavario Middleton, who caught four passes.

The Cougars weren't tested much against Northern Iowa, but both Scott Johnson and Brandon Howard had productive outings, keeping the Panther passing attack in check. There were some improvements that needed to be made, and we'll see if the Cougars tighten up their zones, among other things, in order to make for a better overall pass defense.

As mentioned, Washington has a very big but relatively slow offensive line. Their linemen, especially on the left side, proved to be a little slow out of their breaks, which should have Cougar right defensive end Jan Jorgensen licking his chops in anticipation of the opportunities he should have to get to quarterback Jake Locker.

Prognosis: Although the Husky passing attack looked benign against Oregon, Washington still has some great athletes that can beat a coverage at any given time. Washington certainly won't be looking to beat BYU with the pass, and in fact forcing Locker to stay in the pocket and throw it downfield is the best way to defend the Huskies. Look for Washington to throw for less than 200 yards on the day.

What I'll be watching: Yes, it will again be the containment of Locker on passing plays. Cougar coaches should be daring Locker to beat them downfield while keeping him contained on the ground. I'll also be watching for plays made by the secondary and especially from David Tafuna and Kellen Fowler.

To Sum Up

Washington should be much improved after being run over by Oregon last week. Yes, they look weak on tape, but that tape was against a formidable opponent on the road. BYU should win this game, but it could get close, as the Cougars aren't coming off of their best week of practice. Regardless, what BYU has should prove to be enough to beat a Washington team with loads and loads of question marks.

Final Score Prediction: BYU 27, Washington 20

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