Let's start with the good news. BYU's offensive line is talented and very experienced coming in, which should provide for a consistent ground attack against just about anyone.
The bad news is that BYU will enter Saturday's matchup without an established primary running back. Both J.J. Di Luigi and Bryan Kariya have proven to be very serviceable. It's hard to say, however, how each will do carrying the primary running load, since they haven't had to do that other than against Oklahoma last season.
The good news is that both did prove able when given the primary running back duties against the Sooners, and both are coming off a very productive fall camp session.
Offensive coordinator Robert Anae should be able to keep the Huskies off balance a bit with Riley Nelson at quarterback. Nelson should see about half of the reps and will look to run as much as he'll look to throw, given what we saw during fall camp.
The Huskies return their front seven virtually intact from last season, but that's not necessarily good news in their ability to stop the run. They weren't atrocious and did end the season on a high note, but a quick look over their collective performances last season strongly indicates that they can be had on the ground.
They will present a strong middle fronted by defensive tackle junior Alameda Ta'amu (6-3, 330), who was noted widely by Cougar offensive linemen as being the biggest challenge up front. They'll present a two-gap attack that likes to present a lot of shifts and different looks.
"They'll shift a lot and go to three and then five defensive linemen according to the situation," noted Cougar offensive lineman Matt Reynolds. "They're strong up the middle and they're very athletic outside, so we'll have to be ready for that. They'll be a challenge for sure."
At linebacker they'll be led by senior outside linebacker Mason Foster (6-2, 242), who finished seventh in the Pac-10 last season in total tackles and set a school record with six forced fumbles. Inside, they'll start Utah native Cort Dennison (6-1, 236 Jr.) with converted safety Victor Aiyewa (6-1, 219 Sr.) playing opposite Foster in their 4-3 base defensive system.
"Their linebacker are big, strong and they're fast from what we've seen on film," said Kariya. "They're quick to the ball and they're fast in the open field. They remind me a lot of Oklahoma's linebackers with how athletic they are on film."
With the Huskies looking to be improved from last year and the Cougars losing their most productive back in school history, the Cougars won't likely be as productive on the ground as they were in 2008. The Husky defense did allow 148.8 yards on the ground a year ago, however, so it's reasonable to expect BYU to run for over 100 yards against them.
It's hard not to love the prospects of BYU's offensive front against anyone, let a lone a defensive front that yielded a lot of yards to most opponents a season ago. Look for BYU to focus on the run to take pressure off of their two new starting quarterbacks while gaining well over 100 yards.
BYU passing attack vs. Washington
This is where it gets interesting, as it's become apparent that coaches have been hiding a lot of what they'll present through the air during the fall practice session. The Cougars will present a very potent group of wideouts who have good game experience.
What they won't be presenting is a reliable tight end option nor the necessary rhythm to their passing game that they have since 2006. Coaches will obviously be putting the ball in the air a lot more with Heaps at the helm than with Nelson, and Heaps showed enough during August to give promise for a relatively good performance in what will be his first game at the collegiate level.
The strength of the Husky defense is the secondary, as they did much better against the pass than the run a season ago. Offenses almost invariably choose to run first however, which may indicate that they weren't as good as their pass-defense numbers would suggest, as most teams found it easy sledding on the ground against them.
They gave up 240 yards through the air per game, which isn't a stat indicating a dominant pass defense when coupled with the 148 yards they gave up on the ground per game.
They'll be led by strong safety Nate Williams (6-0, 215 Sr.), who has started in each of his previous two seasons. The rest of the secondary all started a season ago, with free safety Nate Fellner (6-0, 201) and Desmond Trufant (6-0, 177) having started as true freshmen.
They'll present a base cover-two system with some man-coverage thrown in.
"They'll mix it up some, but they're primarily a zone team," explained Kariya. "They like to zone blitz and they'll bring pressure from a lot of places, so we'll have to be ready for that."
Their sack leaders returning from last year include linebackers Foster and Dennison and safety Williams, which indicates their penchant for blitzing often from different positions.
"We'll have to be ready for anything, as they'll blitz from anywhere on the field," noted Reynolds.
Look for the Huskies to bring the heat on most passing downs, if not all of them. With two new starting Cougar quarterbacks, it's simply what most defenses would do in order to keep them off balance.
What they'll be bringing in regards to blitz packages will be something the Cougar offensive front and backfield has seen before, however, which should lead to relatively good protection. Look for the Cougars to limit their passing attempts however to the tune of about 200 yards come Saturday.
BYU rush defense vs. Washington
The Cougars will be presenting an almost entirely new defensive front seven, so it's all but useless to predict their rush defense performance based on last year's statistics. They have looked very solid along the defensive front throughout fall practices, albeit with some spotty play at inside linebacker.
The biggest threat of the Washington ground attack comes with Jake Locker (6-3, 230 Sr.), who will be the fastest player on the field and will wreak havoc on a defense given his abilities.
"He's without question the fastest quarterback I've ever gone against and he might be the fasted player I've ever tried to tackle," noted safety Andrew Rich. "You can't really spy him because he'll be faster than anyone who is matched up with him one-on-one, so it's going to take a collective effort from guys being disciplined in their assignments."
The Huskies will also present a potent tailback in Chris Polk (5-11, 214 So.), who ran for 1,189 yards with a 4.9-yard average last season.
"It's not just Locker," said Rich. "Their running back was one of the best freshmen running backs in the country. He's fast, he's strong, he's one of the better running backs we'll face all year in just watching his film from a year ago, and I'm very sure that he'll be much improved from a year ago."
The Huskies will start three seniors along their offensive front, with all five starters having good game experience coming in.
The Huskies ground attack looks to be potent coming in, and with the added pressure presented by Locker running out of the pocket, it could prove to be scary for a defense that is very inexperienced at inside linebacker. It's hard not to like what BYU presents on the outside, however, as they'll be more athletic and better able to pursue Locker and other running quarterbacks in the open field than they were during the past two seasons.
Look for Washington to gain well over 100 yards on the ground, however, with Locker likely to be their leading rusher.
BYU pass defense vs. Washington
The pass defense looks to be the strength of the Cougar defense, with a wealth of experience and talent in the secondary and guys up front that should be able to mount a better pass rush than last year's group. The Cougars will be as strong as they've ever been at corner and strong safety entering the matchup against Washington.
The notion that Locker isn't a good passing quarterback and is only a real threat on the ground isn't a correct one. Last season he showed good ability to get the ball downfield for a respectable 130.08 pass efficiency rating to go along with 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
"He can throw, there's no question about that, and it makes him even more dangerous," noted Rich about Locker. "He can really do it all. He's good at his short passes and he can throw a good deep ball for sure. There's a reason why he's considered as a first-round pick. It's because he can beat you in a lot of ways."
At receiver, they'll be led by two very good returning starters in Jermaine Kearse (6-2, 205 Jr.) and Devin Aguilar (6-0, 188 Jr.), who were first and second on the team in catches last year, respectively. Kearse is their main deep threat and had eight touchdowns and a very impressive 17.3 yards per catch on 50 receptions last season.
"They're very, very good and very fast at receiver," noted cornerback Brian Logan. "On film they're about as good as anyone we've faced and hopefully we'll be ready for the challenge. They like to throw it deep on you, so we'll have to be ready for that."
Look for the coaches to put a lot of responsibility on the Cougar cornerbacks, as the front seven will focus on containing Locker outside of the pocket. Fans can expect a lot more man-on-man situations than is the norm for a Cougar defense, which could lead to a lot of long completions.
While the Husky defense looks to be improved, they don't appear to be that great of a threat for a Cougar offense that didn't show a lot of consistency during fall camp. Subsequently, fans should expect the offense to score more than 20 points while approaching 30 points against them.
Defensively, the Cougars will have their hands full with some very potent weapons. Andrew Rich and the rest of the secondary will be key, as they need to shut down the passing game to allow the front seven to fully focus on Locker and the potent Husky ground game.
Regardless, Washington should be able to account for some big plays, which will keep this game close. Overall, LaVell Edwards Stadium coupled with a very, very good Cougar offensive front should prove to be the difference.
BYU 27, Washington 23