"They've been up and down this season," said Cougar outside linebacker David Nixon regarding the Aztecs. "They almost beat a pretty good Notre Dame team earlier in the season. They should have beaten them. Then they came back and got beat pretty badly by New Mexico. It all depends on what day you catch them on, and knowing how teams come to play us, we're expecting to catch them on their best day."
As Nixon acknowledged, BYU's recent opponents have give the Cougars some tough battles, and the defense is expecting SDSU to try and do some things differently to catch the Cougars off guard, much like those other teams have done.
"The past couple of games teams have played out of their minds against us," said Nixon. "Teams have thrown in things we haven't seen before, and we're expecting the same thing from San Diego. They'll probably throw in some gadget plays that we haven't seen."
The Cougar defense will be looking to create problems for redshirt freshman quarterback Ryan Lindley, who ranks tops among freshman quarterbacks in the country. The Cougars will look to attack the offensive line in hopes to disrupt the Aztec passing game.
"Their offensive line is something that we're looking to exploit," said Nixon. "We feel we can do some things there that will help us up front to help take off some pressure in certain areas."
When looking at how the matchups fare in terms of scheme versus scheme, one area that has become a defensive issue for BYU is containment on the outside. Teams like UNLV, TCU, New Mexico and Colorado State were able to have success in this area. The Cougar defensive coaches had tried to shore up this aspect of the defense with different personnel packages that were used during the TCU and UNLV games, and the Cougars will continue to try and shore up this part of their defense as they look to defend their home field at LaVell Edwards Stadium one last time.
"[SDSU] run an offensive scheme that has kind of burned us in past games," said Nixon. "They run a spread offense, and Colorado State tried to run a little bit of it. I think they're going to try and attack our edges because that's where we're the most vulnerable. That's something we're really trying to tighten up, is our edges as outside linebackers and corners and then pursuit from the inside linebackers and d-line.
"They've got great skill players, but at the same time if you look at the film - and this is what any great offensive coordinator would do on opposing teams that are going to play us - they'll look at what's beating us. What has really hurt us in past games is basically getting to and attacking our edges. I think they'll try and exploit that. However, our coaches are geniuses and they have an answer for everything right now."
SDSU runs a spread option offense that, according to Nixon, is similar to what UNLV and TCU ran.
"They try and utilize their athletes in a spread offense with the option ride schemes," said Nixon. "They run a lot of bubble screens to try and get one-on-ones with their receivers. They also do a lot of inside zones and counter plays that are some of the more conventional plays a lot of teams do with this style of offensive scheme. With the ride and ride option, they're basically trying to attack your corners. Then they'll try and spread you out or go with a 20 personnel formation, which are two backs and two tight ends. They'll then move the receivers out on the edges to try and attack you on the outside. We've seen a lot of this style of offense in the past."
That style of offense is becoming more common within teams in college football, including those in the Mountain West Conference. After the Cougars face SDSU, they'll face a similar offensive style on the road at Utah.
"Other than us, I think teams are starting to move to that style of offense," said Nixon. "If you have great athletes, I think it can really play to your strengths. Being able to spread you out and put guys on the outside is something that teams are doing more, and like I've said, we've had difficulty lately with that. We're working to better defend against it."
One of the skill players SDSU will use to attack the Cougar defense is Atiyyah Henderson, a 5-foot-9-inch, 175-pound tailback entering his second season as a starter. The scouting report on Henderson is that he's a speedster that can make plays on his own in the open field, and is someone that can beat players to the edge in the option ride formation the Aztecs utilize. According to Nixon, however, Henderson isn't the only Aztec running back that can do this.
"They're shifty smaller guys," said Nixon. "Their backs are well utilized and the [SDSU] coaches know how to get the ball to them effectively. Anytime you have quick, shifty smaller guys with speed, you have to really cover a lot of ground quickly and that's what we'll be looking to do the most."
Meanwhile, SDSU utilizes two primary tight ends. One is 6-foot-2-inch, 245-pound junior Matthew Kawulok, and the other is 6-foot-4-inch, 265-pound Waika Spencer. Of those two, Kawulok is the primary pass catcher, but SDSU doesn't utilize their tight ends in the passing game as much as UNLV or CSU do. This season Kawulok has a total of 19 catches for 199 yards, and Spencer has four catches for 53 yards.
"It's basically the same thing we've seen from them over the last couple of years," Nixon said. "They just use their tight ends primarily as blockers. I'm expecting the same thing out them in this game."
There are two primary receiving weapons within the SDSU offense. First, there is 6-foot, 185-pound Vincent Brown at the X receiver position. Brown is SDSU's primary receiving weapon and had eight catches for 183 yards and three touchdowns in SDSU's victory against Idaho.
At the weak side slot receiver position is 6-foot-6-inch, 230-pound first-year senior starter Darren Mougey. A former quarterback for the Aztecs, Mougey had a career-best five receptions for 97 yards against Notre Dame this year. For the most part, Mougey will be matched up against Coleby Clawson whenever he lines up in the slot position.
In the audio interview below, Cougar safety Kellen Fowler gives his thoughts on the SDSU receivers and scheme, and also talks about why he believes more teams are moving towards the spread option.