The Cougar running attack looked very good last week against Florida State, although the course of the game didn't allow offensive coordinator Robert Anae to let it work for the team, as they were playing catch-up for virtually the entire game. Harvey Unga is back and looked to be close to 100 percent last week, and he should be set to have his best outing of the year against the Rams.
The Cougar offensive front has proven productive so far this season and have been aided by the play of recently returned missionary Braden Hansen at the left guard position. Hansen was thought to have been gone for the year just after his injury against Tulane, but trotted back on to the playing field this past week and didn't appear to have missed a beat.
"I really thought I was done," remarked Hansen about his knee injury against Tulane. "I heard it pop and wow, I really thought that was it. I went in, got an MRI and I got a priesthood blessing from Coach Doman after the game, which I think helped more than anything and I didn't even miss one game. I don't feel totally healthy, but close to it."
Hansen has become a big part of an offensive front that had a lot of question marks heading into the season. Through three games, however, they've provided quarterback Max Hall with enough protection during passing downs while putting forth a good push on most running plays.
Colorado State, meanwhile, were very stingy against the run in their first two games of the year against Colorado and Weber State before giving up 169 yards on the ground last week against Nevada. They'll operate out of a 4-3 defensive set that is aggressive.
"They're solid," said Hansen about the Rams' front-seven. "They're good in their assignments and they'll give you a lot of different looks. They like to stunt a lot, which we'll have to be ready for, and they're very well coached."
The Rams' playmakers on defense are linebackers Mychal Sisson (5-11, 203 So.), who plays on the weak side, and middle linebacker Alex Williams (6-2, 222 Jr.). Strong safety Klint Kubiak (6-0, 212 Sr.) is very experienced and is someone who will make a lot of plays while playing close to the line of scrimmage.
"They'll alternate their linebackers a lot according to situation," informed Hansen. "They go a lot of two in the box and sometimes three in the box, but if they have to they'll go as many as four in bringing up their safety. We'll have to be ready for all of that and hopefully we can force them to bring four in the box to open things up for our passing game."
Along the defensive front the Rams feature two tough defensive tackles and some quick and athletic defensive ends.
"Number 62 is a beast and he'll be a challenge for us," said Hansen about James Morehead (6-6, 320 Sr.). "He's their big gun on the defensive front from what I've seen on film. We'll have to get solid movement on him for sure and try to get out of the way so our running backs can make yards."
Most of Nevada's success against Colorado State last week in running the ball came virtue of their shotgun offense that spreads a defense out and keeps them off balance with quick hits up the middle and elsewhere. When faced with more conventional running attacks such as BYU's, the Rams have fared very well.
With that being said, BYU should present the toughest offensive front and running back corps that the Rams have faced so far this season. With Unga back, look for the Cougars to rush for well over 20 times on the day while gaining more than 100 yards. Fans can expect BYU's running attack to be effective, but not necessarily overwhelming for a very solid Ram defense.
BYU passing attack vs. Colorado State
The Cougar passing attack has been productive through three games, as one should well expect given the talent and experience at quarterback and at tight end. Wideout O'Neill Chambers has proven very effective, although he certainly can't afford another fumble that may force Hall to look the other way on the passing tree.
Colorado State will present a pass defense that likes to mix it up and give the offense some different looks.
"They'll go man and zone on you from what we've seen on film," commented Hansen. "They also like to blitz quite a bit. They'll bring pressure mostly by zone-blitzing, but we've seen them man-blitz as well. Like I said, they'll throw a lot of stunts at you and we'll basically have to be ready for just about everything."
The Rams have accounted for seven sacks through their first three games. Their top sack man with two sacks is defensive tackle Guy Miller (6-3, 288 Jr.)
In their secondary they'll feature an experienced corner in Nick Oppenneer (5-10, 182 Sr.), and the aforementioned experienced strong safety in Kubiak. Their other corner Gerard Thomas (5-9, 171 So.) and free safety Elijah-Blu Smith (5-11, 186 So.) are exploitable, although they both have good experience.
"They run well and they're capable," said Hansen about a Colorado State secondary that has yet to give up 300 yards passing to any opponent while failing to hold any of those opponents to less than 200 yards passing. "We should be able to get some yards through the air if we contain their blitzes and let Max see the coverage."
BYU was able to do what they wanted through the air last season against the Rams, and that doesn't look to change this time around. Look for Max Hall to throw for more than 300 yards Saturday.
BYU run defense vs. Colorado State
The Cougar front seven got hit in the mouth last week against Florida State and will look to rebound against a productive Ram running attack. The Cougar front seven has been a strength while defending the run very well through the first two games before laying a big egg last week against the Seminoles.
"We just weren't very smart at all last week with our assignments," said safety Andrew Rich. "When looking at film it's incredible how much we missed. We weren't physical, but the good thing is that the mistakes were stupid ones that are easy to fix. We should be fine going into this game against Colorado State."
The Rams have seen good production on the ground so far this season, accounting for an average of 136 yards per game. Their horses will be juniors John Mosure (5-10, 211) and Leonard Mason (6-0, 216), who they rotate on a fairly equal basis. Freshman Lou Greenwood (6-0, 175) will also get in on occasion.
"They're real good players," said Rich about their running backs. "[Mosure] is a little quicker, while the other guy is more in the Gatrell Johnson-form of runner. He'll beat you on the outside if you're not ready. Overall they have three good running backs that we'll have to defend well against."
Up front the Rams feature a senior-laden offensive line that has done very well in both opening holes for the running attack and protecting the quarterback on passing plays.
Just as was the case last week, the Cougars will again have to defend against a quarterback that can be a threat to run the football, although not quite as often as Christian Ponder was a week ago. Grant Stucker (6-2, 203 Sr.) has gained 56 yards on the ground so far this season and will have to be accounted for.
"Him running the football isn't as big of a thing for them as it was for Florida State last week, but we'll definitely have to watch for it and be ready for it," said Rich. "It's something we didn't do well at all last week and I'm sure they think when watching film that they can make a lot of yard against us in running the ball up the middle and in maybe having their quarterback run. We have to prove that we're much better than we were last week, and I think that we will."
I agree with Andrew Rich in that the defensive front will prove much more able in defending the run this time around than they did last week. The defensive players have been in a grumpy mood all week and should respond well against the Rams come Saturday.
BYU pass defense vs. Colorado State
The Cougar pass defense showed very well through their first two games before failing against Florida State last week. The flats proved to be vulnerable last week, just as they did throughout last season, as the Seminoles burned the coverage with quick-hitting passes to the flat along with play action.
With Colorado State, they'll have a defend a team that likes to spread it a bit more than they did last season with three-wide sets. They'll run some gadget plays on occasion and like to try and beat a defense deep with veteran wide receiver Dion Morton (5-10, 172 Sr.), who is involved with most of their deep passes and gadget plays.
"They still go double-tight like they always have, but yeah, they're definitely spreading it out more this year," said Rich. "They like to give you a lot of different looks pre-snap with guys in motion, so it will help with recognizing what they're doing."
What will aide a lot in that aspect will be the return of the so-called "brain" of the defense, free safety Scott Johnson. While Craig Bills filled in admirably last week, Johnson's presence on the defense should help out with recognizing what Colorado State is running.
"I have my brain back," said Rich about Johnson's return to the lineup.
The Rams' leading receiver this year has been senior Rashaun Greer (6-1, 202), who has caught 11 passes so far this season. While the Rams very much focused on getting the ball to their tight ends during past seasons, they've gone very much away from that and don't even use tight ends during some formations during the course of a game.
"They're a very good offense that completes their assignments and that doesn't make a lot of mistakes," summed up Rich. "They've been productive with a very balanced attack and we have to go out there and prove that last week wasn't what we are as a defense."
While Colorado State likes to go deep with the football, look for a very disciplined BYU secondary to defend well in this aspect and against whatever gadget plays they throw their way. Defending the flats and against the quick-hitters will be another story. Jordan Pendleton in particular has to show more like he did against Oklahoma and Tulane than he did against the Seminoles in order for the defense to have more success. The boundary corner needs to show more aggressive as well.
The lack of an effective pass rush also did the Cougars in last week. Defensive coordinator Jaime Hill was trying some different blitz packages, but almost all of them were picked up effectively by Florida State. Look for the Cougars to have some more success in getting to the quarterback this week, although they'll certainly be hurt again by the absence of Russell Tialavea.
All signs lead to a shootout Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium. BYU should be able to do what they want for the most part against a susceptible Colorado State defense that does look to be a bit improved from last year. Nevertheless, BYU's offense has been humming and should continue to do so Saturday.
Defensively the Cougars should show better than they did last week, but look for the senior-laden Ram offense to be effective. With seven returning seniors on offense they'll pose a formidable challenge to a defense in big need of a rebound.
Final Score: BYU 38, Colorado State 27