The news here is that Manase Tonga may not play, and if he does he will be somewhat limited due to a knee injury. He had recently regained his form, thus aiding the Cougar run game tremendously, but was a very limited participant in practices this week.
Harvey Unga is nursing his own nagging injury, but should be good to go come Saturday. The good thing here is that the backups have proved able this season, as J.J. Di Luigi, Bryan Kariya, and most recently Jo Jo Pili have all provided much needed backup help at the position.
Last year the Aztecs couldn't stop anyone on the ground, but have fared much better this season with seven returning defensive starters. They employ a 3-3-5 base formation under new defensive coordinator Rocky Long. Long knows how to coach defense and how to give offenses unique challenges with his 3-3-5 defensive set that was once used by Bronco Mendenhall here at BYU.
They'll be led by a defensive front that returns three starters at each position. Like most of Rocky Long's fronts they're not big on size, but are big on splitting gaps and taking up all the blockers, thus enabling the linebackers and safeties to make plays. The primary playmaker up front is junior defensive end B.J. Williams (6-3, 240).
At linebacker they'll be led by Luke Laolagi (6-1, 225 Sr.), who has started since his sophomore year. The Aztec position, which is the center/rover-like safety position, will be manned by senior Nick Sanford (6-2, 210).
Given the Aztecs' unusual sets and the different way they attack an opposing offense, it could cause some headaches for the Cougar offense. This will especially be the case if Manase Tonga isn't able to play. Regardless, the Cougars have been running well on everyone here of late.
Fans can expect good ground production from the Cougars in this game, although they likely won't be as prolific as they have been over their past three games. This is a San Diego State team that has seen their run defense production improve pretty dramatically this season. They're certainly not great as of yet, but they will form one of the stiffest challenges on the ground BYU has faced so far this season.
BYU pass offense vs. San Diego State
There isn't a lot to add as far as insight into what has developed into an extremely consistent facet of the Cougar offense. Max Hall is coming off almost a perfect outing against UNLV and should be rolling once again come Saturday.
McKay Jacobson will again be out, but Luke Ashworth and Brett Thompson have both proved very apt in filling in at the ZR position. Overall there is little if any weakness in the Cougar passing attack.
The Aztecs so far this season have yet to play any passing attack that even comes close to the productivity of BYU's passing game. As is the norm for a Rocky Long defense, they'll rely on confusion and gimmickry to disrupt the passing game. Look for a steady barrage of blitzes from every angle in an attempt to disrupt the timing and flow of Robert Anae's rhythmic passing attack.
Max Hall has been there and done that with just about every pass defense known in the football world. The Aztecs will throw nothing at him that he hasn't seen before and subsequently exploited to his team's advantage. Given the relative uncertainties surrounding the run game, fans can expect a lot more pass attempts from the Cougar offense in this game.
BYU run defense vs. San Diego State
This area has been much improved since Florida State ran all over the Cougar defense a few weeks back. A lot of this is attributable to the improving play of both Romney Fuga and Tevita Hola at nose tackle, and to the return of Matt Bauman.
San Diego State's running game has been serviceable, although the Aztecs have encountered some injuries at the running back position. They're currently relying on true freshman Walter Kazee (5-9, 175) to handle the load, and as his weight would attest to, his strength is around the edges and not up the middle of the defense.
The Aztecs operate out of a classic two-back, two-wideout, one-tight end set most of the time, although they will employ three-receiver and single-back sets on occasion. Their offensive line has some good experience with three returning starters from a year ago.
Look for San Diego State to struggle getting much of anything up the middle while relying on sweeps and off-tackle runs. This isn't the toughest run attack BYU has faced, and the Cougars should be able to see similar success to what they had last week against UNLV in stopping the running game.
BYU pass defense vs. San Diego State
BYU's pass defense in general was worlds better last week against UNLV than it was a year ago against the same team. The coverages have tightened, as they're getting better and more consistent play at virtually every position in their secondary.
Scott Johnson is gimpy coming in and it is questionable regarding how much he'll be able to play, if he'll play at all. If Johnson can't go it will be a big blow not just to the pass defense, but to the defensive production as a whole. Craig Bills will fill in if Johnson can't go, and has proved able when he's been called upon this season.
The Aztec passing game is led by quarterback Ryan Lindley (6-3, 205 So.). He's a classic drop-back quarterback who isn't much of a threat at all to run the ball. That will be a welcome break for the Cougars, although they have fared well against running quarterbacks here of late.
Lindley's primary target and the primary offensive threat the Aztecs pose will be receiver Vincent Brown (6-0, 180 Jr.). Brown is easily one of the top receivers in the conference and will work to give the Cougar secondary all sorts of headaches come Saturday.
San Diego State has been able to exploit the Cougar secondary in one-on-one matchups in the past as much as any conference opponent. Fans can look for much of the same Saturday, as they'll likely pick on Brian Logan and try to get him in one-on-one matchups with Brown.
Logan has held his own so far this season, but look for Brown to have a productive game. Given the matchup in the run game, you can expect the Aztecs to be throwing a lot this Saturday while using more multiple-receiver sets than they do on most occasions.
Final Score Prediction: BYU 38, SDSU 17