UP CLOSE: 5 questions and answers on BYU

WANT TO KNOW MORE about BYU heading into Saturday? We asked someone who has been covering BYU closely for more than 10 years. Is quarterback Riley Nelson back to 100 percent? What's the skinny on the BYU defense, offensive line and running back positions? For insight on that and more…

…Brandon Gurney of the Deseret News fills us in.

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BF.C: What does QB Taysom Hill's injury mean for the BYU offense and is Riley Nelson back to 100 percent -- and if not, what can you tell us about the guy now on red alert: James Lark?

Gurney: Taysom Hill is an exceptional athlete who was making a lot of strides at the quarterback position. His strength was making plays with his legs, but he was starting to see defenses better and was viewed as the team's best option at quarterback by most fans and media.

It's impossible to know how healthy Riley Nelson is as they haven't been forthcoming regarding the exact nature of his injury. The two-week rest undoubtedly helps the issues with his back, but it's unknown how it will hold up once he gets hit.

James Lark is a seasoned vet within the program, but has been spotty with his practice performances through the years. He has shown flashes of good and consistent play during some practice sessions and coaches are hopeful he'll shine if given the chance. Lark is mobile, but is much more of a pure, drop-back type of quarterback than either Nelson or Hill.

BF.C: The BYU fans have to be thrilled with the defense. What are the key reasons why the BYU D has been so good, what should Oregon State fans expect to see from BYU on defense -- and what is the most vulnerable facet that Oregon State may try to chip away at?

Gurney: BYU has very good athletes at each defensive position this year. BYU typically doesn't have good athletes starting in its secondary, but that certainly isn't the case this year and that's the big difference with this defense to past years. Jordan Johnson and Preston Hadley are the best set of corners this team has had in 15 years. Joe Sampson brings and aggressive and athletic presence to free safety, but the biggest play-maker has proven to be Daniel Sorensen at strong safety.

The best player on defense is Kyle Van Noy at outside linebacker. He's a true NFL talent who can cover a lot of field and make the type of plays few BYU linebackers have proven capable of.

The defense has shown aggressive throughout the year and has allowed receivers to get behind the coverage on several occasions, but haven't been burned because of it yet. That could change once BYU faces a quarterback who is able to take advantage of secondary gaffes.

BF.C: With the BYU offense struggling at times this season, what does the offensive line do well, and what aren't they doing well?

Gurney: Most of the problems have occured in the interior of the offensive line. Senior Braden Brown and freshman Ryker Mathews have largely done an adequate job at the tackle positions. Offensive line coach Mark Weber has completely overhauled the interior OL due to some injury problems and some execution problems.

Senior Braden Hansen has taken over at center and seems to be doing well with it. At guard Weber is going with two new starters at guard in junior Manaaki Vaitai and sophomore Solomone Kafu. Both fared well against Hawaii and then against Utah State, but will be truly tested with BYU's next three opponents.

BF.C: BYU is known for their passing but they've produced a number of tough, hit-you-in-the-face running backs in recent years. Is there a guy just waiting to break out and could that suddenly emerge on Saturday against OSU?

Gurney: BYU has some exciting talent at running back. True freshman Jamaal Williams is a special talent who is now starting at running back due to an injury to Michael Alisa. He's an exciting and aggressive runner who knows the importance of running north and south.

Paul Lasike is another exciting talent, but due to some ball-security issues may not be seeing the reps he did last week. David Foote is an experienced walk on who will likely see second reps behind Williams.

BF.C: How much weight do you give the lack of spring contact (as well as fall camp) at BYU earlier this year to their 4-2 record and offensive struggles?

Gurney: I think it's affected the offensive line more than any other position group. Any offensive line needs to learn to work as a unit and not as five individuals and there was certainly a lack of continuity along the offensive front when the season started.

There have been a lot of position changes which has compounded the issue, but the team believes it's figured out who should be playing and the group should see improvement as a result.

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