The good news is that Harvey Unga has seen a full set of reps during practices heading into Saturday's game and looks to be close to 100 percent. Should he see a full slate of reps, he'll add greatly to the overall effectiveness of the offense, particularly during short-yardage situations.
Fortunately, the offense hasn't seemed to miss a beat despite having Unga out. Considering just how big of a role he played within the offense during the past two seasons, the production has been remarkable.
"We're just working hard and just concentrating on completing our assignments," said J.J. Di Luigi, who has stepped up big-time along with Bryan Kariya in spelling Unga through the first two games of the year. "We need Harvey and we'll be better with Harvey, but yeah, I think we've done a good job filling in for him."
The Seminole defense has struggled, but most of those struggles have come with their pass defense. They have given up just less than 100 yards on the ground per game through two games this season.
"They're real quick to the football and very athletic," said Di Luigi about Florida State's defense. "They'll be tough on to run on the outside, but if we just follow our blocks and get to our spots quickly we should be fine."
The Seminoles operate out of a very basic 4-3 base alignment that relies on athleticism rather than scheme complexity. Most of their leading tacklers through two games play in the secondary, with the exception of senior starting weak side linebacker Dakota Watson (6-2, 226) who has led the team in tackles so far this season.
Along their defensive front the Seminoles are strong up the middle with faster rush-type ends that, like the rest of the defense, are very quick off the snap and in their subsequent pursuit of the football. "They're like Oklahoma defensively in that the whole defense is very athletic," summed up Di Luigi.
Should Unga truly be back or at least close to 100 percent, then look for the Cougars to attempt more rushes than they did against Oklahoma in the opener. Given the altitude, which Florida State likely won't be used to, the Cougar offensive front should be able to wear them out over the course of the game. Look for the Seminoles to become less effective in defending the run during the latter stages of Saturday's game.
BYU pass offense vs. Florida State
While the passing game struggled out of the gate against Oklahoma, it's been on cruise control ever since the game-winning drive in that game. Max Hall has spread around the football very effectively, which has kept opposing defenses on their toes, and looks to do the same against Florida State.
"We all know that whenever we're running our patterns that there is a good chance we'll be getting the ball," said tight end Andrew George. "That helps and you have to be ready for it because at any time Max will be looking your way. I didn't do that well last game on one occasion, but hopefully I've learned and we'll do better in running our routes as if we'll be getting the ball every time."
As mentioned, Florida State has struggled in defending the pass. They've given up an average of 299.5 passing yards through two games and will field a relatively inexperienced secondary that will be asked on to cover BYU's receivers in man coverage.
"They're very athletic and use that well to their advantage," said George about the Seminole defense. "It helps them be more aggressive and they're very athletic and more able to shut down guys in man coverage. They also like to blitz a bit, which will challenge us."
The Seminole pass rush will be led by their athletic defensive ends Markus White (6-4, 261 Jr.) and Craig Yarborough (6-2, 236 So.). Florida State obviously likes to blitz the aforementioned Watson, as he's recorded five sacks over the first two games of the year.
BYU should be able to make some big yardage through the air on Saturday. Man-on-man coverage is exactly the wrong type of system to best defend offensive coordinator Robert Anae's quick-hitting passing system. Should the offensive front be able to give Hall time, then the Cougars should be able to throw for over 300 yards.
BYU run defense vs. Florida State
The Cougars didn't give up much of anything on the ground against Tulane's running attack last week. They'll encounter a better run attack this week against Florida State, but should be able to hold their own.
One thing that has aided the Cougar ground defense tremendously so far this season has been their open-field tackling. "Guys aren't missing tackles," noted middle linebacker Matt Bauman. "Where I think we've improved a lot so far this year is in our open-field tackling. When guys get the open-field our cornerbacks and safeties aren't letting them get past them, which has been huge."
The Seminoles haven't seen much success in running the ball so far this season, although they certainly haven't been bad at it either. They average 94 yards on the ground per game and will be led by Ty Jones (5-11, 203 So.). Jones will rotate with fellow sophomore Jermaine Thomas (6-1, 190).
"Both their running backs are fast and can beat you to the outside," noted Bauman. "But the thing that we'll have to be most prepared for is their offensive line. They aren't the biggest offensive line we've faced, but wow, they're really athletic. They get off the ball very fast, probably faster than most offensive lines I've seen, and come right at you, so we'll have to be ready for that."
The most dangerous running threat for Florida State may come from their quarterback Christian Ponder (6-3, 217 Jr.). Ponder is a threat to run the ball on any given down.
"That will be a new thing for us," said Bauman. "So far we haven't faced quarterbacks who run, so we'll have to contain him and make sure he doesn't get yards running the ball. We've been real good at getting to the quarterback I feel so far, but with this guy we have to make sure that we don't only get to him, but contain him on the outside. He's very quick and elusive, so he'll be a challenge."
The Cougar front has been very stingy against the run so far this year and that should continue Saturday from a somewhat average Seminole running attack. The challenge for the Cougars will be in defending against Ponder running out of quarterback position, something they've struggled with in the past. The key will be with containment on the outside from Jordan Pendleton and Coleby Clawson. Ponder will likely gain some yards, but due to the much improved open-field tackling so far this year, they should be able to limit him somewhat in his yardage on the ground.
BYU pass defense vs. Florida State
BYU's pass defense has seen a lot of improvement so far this season, as defensive coordinator Jaime Hill has mixed in much more blitzes and aggressive play calls that has benefited the defensive play. The cornerback play has been productive, as has the play of the safeties.
It remains very much in question whether free safety Scott Johnson will play this Saturday. Thus, Hill and the defense will likely make do with true freshman Craig Bills, who has seen the majority of first-team reps this week, or Shiloah Te'o, who performed very admirably last week against Tulane.
Most of the Seminole production has been through the air this season, as Ponder has averaged 300 yards through two games. Their pass attack will be led by Richard Goodman (6-1, 190 Sr.), who has 13 catches through the first two games.
Ponder will also target his giant tight end Caz Piurowski (6-7, 271 Sr.), who has five catches for an average of 22 yards per catch and one of the team's two receiving touchdowns so far this season. "They throw the ball very well," noted Bauman. "They spread it around well like our quarterback and their receivers are very athletic. With their quarterback being able to buy time we'll have to make sure we don't let up in our coverage. So far we haven't had to cover for long stretches, but that could change Saturday, so we'll have to be ready for it."
Florida State will present a unique challenge for the Cougar defense in that they'll have to defend well when the pocket collapses and subsequently for longer periods of time, as mentioned by Bauman. Traditionally quarterbacks such as Ponder have thrived against BYU's defense, but look for the Cougars to defend against what Ponder presents more effectively.
BYU will enjoy more of a home-field advantage than usual considering Florida State's locale. With the altitude on their side, the Cougars should be able to wear out the Florida State defense and put up a lot of points. Florida State meanwhile will likely see better offensive success than both Oklahoma and Tulane, considering what they bring offensively.
Final Score: BYU 38, Florida State 24