OSU v. BYU: Position breakdown, who has edge?

CORVALLIS -- Oregon State will face a BYU defense that has held its last 12 consecutive opponents under 300 yards in total offense. Can No. 10 OSU, sans Sean Mannion, move to 5-0 against a BYU defense rated No. 5 in the nation and tops in the land against the rush? We tell you all that and then some in this wide-ranging analysis…

CORVALLIS -- Oregon State will face a BYU defense that has held its last 12 consecutive opponents under 300 yards in total offense. Can No. 10 OSU, sans Sean Mannion, move to 5-0 against a BYU defense rated No.5 in the nation? We will tell you all that and then some… Is it Cougar hunting season? Or injury season? Notable Note: In case you've been living under a rock, Sean Mannion is out – the sophomore quarterback and co-team captain has surgery pending and his return timetable, as well as the details on the knee injury itself, are being kept mum by Mike Riley as of press time. But for now…

Quarterback: Ironic, really. BYU true freshman Taysom Hill suffered a season ending injury to his knee – so now we turn to Riley Nelson and Cody Vaz. Nelson has been out the last two weeks nursing a nagging back injury and Vaz has been out since, well, 2010. What we have is a paradox – Nelson, not expected to be playing at full speed due to the back injury, has gathered meager statistics thus far (64-for-109, five TDs, five INTs) while Vaz, despite a huge disparity in collective experience is healthy. Vaz also was more efficient throwing on the run than Mannion during fall camp.
Edge goes to OSU and Vaz, the force will be with him.

Tailback: Junior Michael Alisa (6-1, 220) is out the next six to eight weeks according to sources in Provo. In his place is true freshman Jamaal Williams, who posted big numbers against Hawaii with 155 rushing yards and two TDs on a mere 15 carries. But on balance, Williams lacks experience in comparison to what Storm Woods has established his freshman season. And Williams does not have the same dynamic support behind him on the depth chart as Woods does in Malcolm Agnew and Terron Ward. Regardless, both will be challenging two of the top rushing defenses the nation has to offer - BYU is No.5 in total defense – but OSU has a stout front of their own who too can stand their ground.
Edge goes to OSU.

Tight End: Kaneakua Friel has been one of the few scoring threats, with 20 receptions for 248 yards and four touchdowns, making the combined efforts of OSU's Connor Hamlett and Colby Prince (124 yards and one TD to Hamlett) look rather smallish. That said, OSU stepped up implementing the tight ends into the pattern the last two games. Prince and Hamlett have blocked better in the open field for the run game. Friel has shown flaws – dropped passes, poorly run routes, an occasional missed assignment, what have you. But on the whole the junior has overcome the adversity of Bronco Mendenhall essentially telling him to quit the TE slot over the offseason, and has turned a corner.
Edge goes to BYU.

Offensive Line: Words cannot explain how important the endurance and tenacity of OSU's front five will be to the outcome of this game. Ranked No.1 by the NCAA in rush defense (59.5 yards/game); BYU will bring it and attempt to shake up Vaz, and stop Woods/Agnew in the back field. It will be a long day unless guys like Isaac Seumalo, Josh Andrews and Colin Kelly can effectively read the slew of defensive facelifts and exotic blitz packages coming their way. The defensive front consisting of Eathyn Manumaleuna, Romney Fuga and Russell Tialevea in BYU's 3-4 is stout -- OSU is going to have to bear down and execute better than they have all season, otherwise Vaz and Woods/Agnew are going to be a non-factor and it will all fall on Vaz. The same should be said for BYU. Their young front five has been sent reeling from the loss of Famika Anae (6-6, 318) due to continuing knee issues. Seniors Braden Brown and Ryan Freeman will need command the game up front if they hope to stifle the speed of Dylan Wynn, Scott Crichton, and Michael Doctor, among others.
Edge: Tied.

Wide Receiver: With the exception of junior Cody Hoffman (6-4, 215) and Friel, the BYU passing game has been lackluster at best. Hoffman (31 receptions, 432 yards, two touchdowns) alone accounts for nearly one-third of BYU's total receiving yardage. Gee, I wonder who Nelson is going to target on Saturday. Also at wideout is the up-and-coming J.D. Falslev (5-8, 184), who has made a mild impact this season. The Beavers own this category. Brandin Cooks and Marcus Wheaton have combined for 984 yards and six touchdowns this season. Granted, BYU knows full well who Vaz plans to target over the weekend – but the Wheaton/Cooks tandem can and will outplay the likes of Hoffman, Falslev and Ross Apo… if Vaz has time.
Edge goes to OSU.

Defensive Line: Well the stats stack up a lot nicer for OSU's defensive front four than they do with the starting three for BYU. With a total of 49 tackles and 10 sacks for OSU's d-line, it's no wonder opposing offensives have struggled. Wynn and Crichton (six sacks) have been big, especially late in games. Couple that with Castro Masaniai filling up running lanes faster than Quik-Crete and super-sub Rudolf Fifita and you have the No. 1 defense in the nation in third-down stops, No. 4 against the run and No. 23 in scoring defense, allowing an average of just 17 points.
But they aren't No.1 in the nation this week against the run game – BYU is. BYU has held opponents to a dismal 1.9 yard/carry average, two TDs and a net gain of only 357 yards on the ground in their first six games. Two words – holy crap. Sure, between Tialavea, Manumaleuna and Fuga there are only 37 tackles and 2.5 sacks, but they are opening up the blitzing lanes with ease, and BYU ‘backers show no mercy.
Edge: Tied – given the utility of the D-line for both squads. OSU wants aggressive, unrelenting speed and back-field domination – BYU shoots for consistency and big holes leading the LBs to the quarterback. Both systems work like a charm.

Linebackers: Kyle Van Noy, Brandon Ogletree, Ezekiel Ansah, Uona Kaveinga and Spencer Hadley hold a combined 156 tackles, 13 sacks and 28 tackle for a loss. A nifty little statistic – each one of BYU's top five linebackers have more tackles than the No.1 tackler for the Beavs backer squadron (D.J. Welch, 18 tackles). Ogletree alone has made more stops than Welch, Doctor, and Feti Taumoepeau combined. Both teams are quick to the ball, solid in pass protection, and aggressive – but BYU is in a class by itself. No contest, BYU will be the bigger man in the ring for this bout at the opening bell.
Edge goes to BYU.

Secondary: Jordan Poyer and Rashaad Reynolds have that "it" factor that helps take the Beaver defense to the next level. The duo is reliable and hard hitting -- Reynolds tackles like a little Ray Lewis/Ed Reed genetics experiment. Poyer has soft hands, a rare and valuable asset to find in a cornerback (see the three ducks he plucked against WSU) and above all, he is an astute player who knows how to read a quarterback. They lost a bit of steam in their tilt in Tucson but both Reynolds and Poyer become dynamic influences on a game when the pressure is on them to perform – such will be the case against BYU. Preston Hadley and Jordan Johnson/Joe Sampson are no slouches. They have speed and tackle well in the open field, something Poyer struggles with occasionally.
Edge goes to OSU.

Coaching: Bronco Mendenhall has one of the more prolific defenses in college football. But some of his luster has faded and his coaching decisions are coming under greater scrutiny (and his remarks about Friel were perhaps poorly handled). He is currently under scrutiny for allowing the true freshman Hill to literally run the clock out last weekend against a strong Utah State team, after which Hill got popped in the knee and is now gone for the season. But on balance, he has helped the BYU program stay afloat in his eight year tenure. Mike Riley has a dependable, resilient staff behind him and the take here is that losing Mannion will be something they'll find a way to overcome for as long as he's out.
Edge goes to OSU.

Intangibles: Okay, so obviously not having Mannion is probably going to throw some Beavers off at the onset of the game -- his injury is a big deal. But Vaz has some talents that Mannion lacked, primarily in his focus under pressure and ability to open up plays on the run. He may not be very tall, but he still has good vision and a high football IQ. Don't be surprised if Vaz has a good showing on Saturday. Having not seen him on Saturdays since 2010, what his production will look like is anyone's guess, but our educated opinion is fans will see a credible showing. BYU meanwhile is 4-2 having lost to Utah and Boise State and barely beat USU last weekend 6-3. But they're 4-0 at home, and this game is in Provo, too.
Edge: BYU

Final Thoughts: This is a huge test for Oregon State. A crazy out-of-this-world BYU defense has stumped and thumped many a talented QB, and Vaz has to release the ball in a jiffy or face a pounding. This will also be Woods' time to shine if he wants to prove that he can pull his weight for this OSU squad. Defense will be the story of this game, but BYU's offense is looking ramshackle with Hill out, Nelson sore and potentially still recovering and Alisa gone for the foreseeable future. If BYU's defense holds OSU to 14 points, but OSU's defense disrupts the BYU ball handlers early and often, OSU comes out with a win. It's really anyone's game. The deciding factor from this chair, resulting in the slimmest of margins, is that it's being played on the road. – Final Score Prediction: BYU over OSU by a score of 14-13

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