This isn't your father's Brigham Young squad, the one that won scoring in the 30s and 40s while allowing three to four touchdowns a game. Over the first two contests of the season, the Cougars have averaged 18.5 points per game while allowing a half a point less at 18. That ranks 40th in the NCAA, just seven spots behind West Virginia's 33rd at 16 points per game.
In the opener, Arizona rushed for 115 yards in a last-second 18-16 loss to BYU. That was part of just 328 total yards for an UofA offense which had scored only three points entering the final 10 minutes of the game. The Cougars were nearly as tough in a one-point loss to Utah, surrendering 363 total yards, 169 on the ground on 42 attempts (4 ypc). It's part of a larger pattern that emerged under former head coach Bronco Mendenhall, who left in the offseason for Virginia after racking up the second most wins in school history with 99 behind only the legendary LaVell Edwards' 257.
Mendenhall, who played defensive back at the junior college level before transferring to Oregon State, brought a new mindset to a pass-happy program that relied on merely outscoring the opposition for the better part of two decades under Edwards. BYU held seven opponents to 24 or fewer points last season, and just four scored more than 28. In 2014, half the foes failed to reach 26 points, and in 2013 10 of the 13 teams to play BYU scored 23 or fewer points, including the first six. That trend has continued under first-year head coach Kalani Sitake, a former fullback at BYU who was the defensive coordinator at Utah and Oregon State for a combined seven seasons prior to coming back to Provo.
The Cougars (1-1) figure to challenge West Virginia's run game. BYU is running a new 4-3 look under coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki. Led by end Harvey Langi, linebacker Butch Pau'u (18 tackles thus far) and senior defensive back Kai Nacua - who had his ninth pick against Arizona - the Cougars have been able to control the passing game via pressure. BYU had 40 sacks last season, and has been able to limit time in the pocket enough that teams have at times turned to the run. That has been equally solid, Brigham Young 121 rushing yards in 2014, 142 last season and 142 this year.
It will serve as a solid test for a West Virginia team averaging 238 yards per game primarily behind Rushel Shell (87 ypg) and Justin Crawford (70.5 ypg). The two have served as a nice compliment to one another, Shell's newfound consistency and power a mix with Crawford's speed and burst.Crawford had an excellent opener against Missouri. rushing for 101 yards and a score. But the JuCo transfer was more pedestrian against Youngstown State, being limited to 40 yards on 12 carries.
"Take your hat off to Youngstown State," WVU running backs coach Ja'Juan Seidersaid. "That's a really good team. Defensively and offensively that team is going to be something to be reckoned with in their conference. That team wasn't different than (Missouri). They came to play. But it's the same thing we complimented (Crawford) on last week about trusting the system and playing within it. You see certain things throughout the week you think you can exploit and you're in the game and you try to press it. It was one of those games where he tried to press it when we had it. I thought he pressed.
"Rushel played well. I didn't know how Crawford was early and you didn't know what Kennedy (McKoy) would do until he got out there and played. So that was good. I thought (Shell) took the coaching throughout the week. We had to press stuff differently because of how they were in the fronts. I thought he played the way we coached him to play and when he got comfortable he ran the ball with rhythm. He moved the chains for us."
Seider also noted that West Virginia's bye week came at a beneficial time, as the Mountaineers not only get an additional prep week for an established and improving BYU defense, but also to work on themselves. The Cougars open their home schedule against UCLA on Saturday.
"We beat ourselves up," Seider said. "It's little stuff that we need to get better at. We still have young kids playing in big spots. We need to bring them along and go from there. That game gets you ready for a tough opponent coming up. The bye week is good. You'd like to bank it for another game or two, but I think it came at the right time. Coming off camp and these two weeks, get our feet under us and get healthy and coach those young kids in the two deep to come back and be ready to play."