The Cougars (1-2) have held foes to just 111 yards rushing and less than four yards per carry in facing solid-not-spectacular offenses in Arizona, Utah and UCLA. BYU has surrendered just 53 points all season, an average of 17.7 per game which ranks it 30th in the NCAA FBS. It's the key reason why Brigham Young has even managed to play close in a losses to Utah (20-19) and UCLA (17-14) and a last-second win over Arizona (18-16). The unit doesn't run particularly well, but the linebackers have shown intelligence and the ability to scrape down the line in pursuit of the zone read run game, and the front has alternated between odd and even looks, at times standing up both ends with just two tackles playing down.
It's a multiple look which could serve the Cougars well, but it's a unit that lacks the overall speed of Missouri, which is why pass protection for route development and keeping quarterback Skyler Howard clean, as well as the ability to create some rushing lanes for Rushel Shell and speed back Justin Crawford, are paramount in challenging the sound scheme.
West Virginia's line, through two good performances, has been shuffled. Yodny Cajuste suffered a season-ending ACL tear in the first quarter of the opener. Tony Matteo has surprised with two starts. Adam Pankey was suspended for a game, Colton McKivitz filling in at tackle while Pankey now continues to shuffle between the interior and exterior line, as he has for much of his career. Only center Tyler Orlosky, right guard Kyle Bosch and right tackle Marcell Lazard have played the majority of the snaps in the same position.
"I think the adversity we faced, with losing a starter to suspension before the season and losing a starter in game one (was positive)," Orlosky said. "It's good to have the rotation because they can refresh a bit. But it doesn't really affect me any. Everyone plays a little differently, and some guys take longer to shake off the rust from not playing than others. But I've played games with the guys who are rotating in so I am used to it and who I'm playing with. That plays a critical role in any offense, having guys who have played. They know what to expect.
"(We) put a redshirt freshman in there and he does well. Last year we weren't very good in pass protection, giving up 30 sacks, which is terrible. Then we go into this season having worked on pass pro and through two games, no sacks. We came close to a few and we have to fix that and communication errors on our part. That's something we have to address."
Add in that West Virginia has had just seven negative plays - especially balanced with Howard's 57, 54 and 53 yard touchdown passes, among others - and the offensive line's offseason emphasis on pocket protection is starting to pay dividends.
"I'm probably more happy with the lack of negative plays than I am the pass protection aspect of it," WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen said. "I give Skyler a ton of credit for what we have done in the passing game as far as getting the ball out of his hands. We haven't been holding on to it. He has been making things happen. I thought we played OK up front."
Howard and Orlosky both scouted the defensive alignments in the same ways over the first two contests. The relay of information between the two, and the largely seamless ability to match blocking schemes to play calls has helped the Mountaineers average 559 yards of total offense, including 5.1 yards per carry. Howard has completed 43-of-68 passes (63.2 percent) for 642 yards and five scores against two interceptions and hasn't been sacked over 164 plays. If the Mountaineers can continue that kind of production, including throws over the top, it will help negate the fundamental play of BYU's front.
"I think the teams see us as a run-first team," Orlosky said after the win over Youngstown State in which West Virginia racked up 624 yards - the 13th-most in school history. "We obviously have great running backs with (Rushel) Shell and (Justin) Crawford back there and they are worried about stopping the run, so you are able to bring down the linebackers and safeties down. And that opens a lot in the play action game. We've had a few communication breakdowns we have to address, but for the most part I thought we got good movement and were able to work up the 'backer and open holes in the middle."
"Our receivers are doing a good job on the go routes and catching the ball and getting in the end zone. The tackles are calling their protections and other things, and we are basing what we do inside off them. They are the only two guys on the line who are usually in a two-point stance. There are times they can read the safeties and I can't, so I have to rely on them. Overall, I think you can be pretty satisfied with what we are doing, but there's always room for improvement. There's a lot of things we can fix. Offensively, we talk about finishing and we haven't done that at times. We've come out flat, then had to pick it up. We have to consistently be energetic and go out and compete and respect our opponent.