Typically, I try to focus in on one player, or one position group. But in this matchup, that's impossible. Texas will likely try any number of things to keep Van Noy away from the quarterback. Obviously, one will include a lineman, typically a tackle, when Van Noy comes from the outside. Can Donald Hawkins hold up against Van Noy? Hawkins has done a decent job in the past when faced with high-level rush ends like Devonte Fields, though Van Noy is more polished and harder to block. If Hawkins can't handle the task of protecting David Ash's blindside, what then? Does Texas just start rolling Ash away from Van Noy, the way Virginia often did? Will the Longhorns chip him with a running back or tight end? Quick aside: that's a big part of the reason Texas went into the JUCO ranks to get Geoff Swaim, for his ability to help out as a blocker. And if so, will that dampen the Longhorns' explosive passing offense by eliminating one potential receiver? And if Hawkins struggles, do we get to the point where Texas feels comfortable trotting out Desmond Harrison as more than just a rotation piece?
It's become somewhat of a consistent criticism over the last few years: Texas will struggle to run the ball consistently when you put a big, strong nose tackle over the top of Dominic Espinosa. It wasn't without merit. Espinosa spent multiple offseasons unable to truly lift because of shoulder or upper body injuries, meaning that his strength level was less than ideal when taking on those kinds of players. This offseason, Espinosa finally logged a full weights session for the first time in his college career. Will that make a difference on Saturday? Manumaleuna is more than just a big body in the middle … he destroyed Virginia's center on tape last week and made a whopping 10 tackles, including six solo tackles. If Espinosa can control Manumaleuna, the Texas rushing offense will have a great chance to get on track. If Manumaleuna is winning the day, the Longhorns might become much more one-dimensional. Even beyond that though, remember that Texas had Trey Hopkins learn the center position in the offseason, and Hopkins had some reps there in the first game against New Mexico State. If Manumaleuna is too effective, could we see Hopkins take over that spot, potentially on a more permanent basis?
Daje Johnson vs. the seams of the BYU defense
If you read my breakdown on the Longhorns' four verticals play earlier this week, you know just how deadly it is to have a player with Johnson's speed — he was clocked at a fully electronic 4.34 seconds in the 40-yard dash at The Opening coming out of high school — attacking the seams of a defense. Johnson's speed really helps make Texas that much more deadly, as defenses must pick their poison. Unless they go max cover and have two deep safeties to help protect all areas of the field, Texas is going to have Johnson, Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley (and don't forget Kendall Sanders, who returns to the Longhorn fold this week) in one-on-one matchups, or, as we saw against New Mexico State, in places where they can attack open areas of the field. BYU's defense is superb in part because the Cougars do such an outstanding job of not allowing big plays. If Texas can spread BYU out and hit for a few big plays early, it would go a long way toward helping the Longhorns' chances to come out with a win.
This one could almost be a continuation of the matchup above. Bills and Sorensen are ball-hawking safeties who give BYU a great presence along the final line of defense. Ash will need to control those two, through use of his eyes, by throwing players open and additionally through the use of play action and the quarterback run game. Keep Bills and Sorensen from being, well, Bills and Sorensen, and it might give Ash an extra opening to attack a largely untested group of cornerbacks — a group decimated by injuries and attrition — downfield. That's the weak spot of the defense, but to get to that underbelly, you have to make sure Bills and Sorensen aren't able to help.
Texas linebackers vs. Taysom Hill, BYU quarterback
Defensive coaches often hate facing teams with an effective quarterback run game, because the quarterback can create some serious mathematical issues. Playing a 4-2-5? That means you likely have six potential tacklers in the box going against five offensive linemen, a quarterback and a running back. That's six tacklers dealing with six blockers and a ball carrier. The math doesn't work. Add in the deception of read and option plays, and if everybody isn't where they're supposed to be, a defense can get gashed. Texas struggled against the run a year ago, largely because after Jordan Hicks went down, the inexperienced group of linebackers wasn't as assignment sound as it should have been. That group did improve as the season went on, and those players are back this year, along with Hicks, after they were thrown into the fire a year ago. Hill's ability to run represents the first real test to see how far they've come. And you don't want to dedicate too many extra players into the box, because the Cougars do have a pretty good receiving corps capable of stretching a team downfield.
X-Factor — Turnovers
This could be the X-Factor every week, but it seems especially prevalent here, in a game where both offenses could feasibly struggle to move the ball. BYU lost last week's game because the punter struggled to catch the ball, and an interception set up another touchdown. Texas, meanwhile, moved the ball well last week, but didn't have any scores until late in the first half because of three untimely turnovers. Both will need to be significantly sharper this week.
BYU under head coach Bronco Mendenhall has gone 66-9 in games that they've held opponents to 24 points or less. That's an amazing mark, and it also doesn't quite tell the whole story, which is this: the Cougars are also 8-21 when they allow more than 24 points. While we've only had one game to gauge, I get the feeling that Texas will have one of the more explosive offenses in the country, something evidenced by the fact that the Longhorns scored four touchdowns of 20-plus yards in just a 12-play span last week. This week, the challenge is significantly tougher. But if you're asking me if Texas gets past the 24-point barrier, I think the answer is yes.
TEXAS — 27
BYU — 17