Fundamentally Sound BYU Expects To Challenge West Virginia On Both Sides

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - The traditional traits of the Brigham Young program are of a fundamentally sound, schematically well-executed plan on both sides. That the team often has older players helps as well.

And while the Cougars are showing such characteristics on both offense and defense, the former is stuck struggling under first-year coordinator Ty Detmer. A Heisman Trophy winner at BYU in 1990, Detmer played in the NFL from 1992-2005, then served as a high school head coach from 2009-15 before being named OC in Provo under new head coach Kalani Sitake. Detmer has tried to instill a bit more running to the traditionally pass-heavy BYU offense, but that's resulted in stagnation as quarterback Taysom Hill has been unable to exploit height advantages for his wideouts down the field.

The junior has completed 68-of-116 passes (58.6 percent) for 628 yards and two scores, but been intercepted four times. Hill, once known for his movement in the pocket and ability to extend plays, has slowed a bit following a ligament tear in his right foot that ended his season last September. He returned for his senior year, but hasn't found the rhythm he once possessed in an offense which ranks 105th in the NCAA at just 338.7 yards per game. The Cougs' have scored just 17 points per game, ranking 119th, and are perhaps most shockingly are just 78th in passing offense (212.3 ypg) and 119th in efficiency rating (101.7). 

The running attack that Detmer wanted to supplement the pass hasn't fared much better. Back Jamal Williams, who ranks fourth all-time on the school's career rushing list, has managed 248 yards over four games, but has scored just once as BYU has been held to 126.3 yards per game. It's kept Brigham Young behind the sticks, allowed foes to anticipate the pass on long third downs, and thus led to just a 40 percent conversion rate.

All are areas that should point to advantages for a West Virginia defense which has held opponents to 16 points per game on average, good for 20th nationally. The biggest question is if the WVU secondary can contain BYU's wideouts, which measure 6-6 and 6-4 on the outside with Nick Kurtz and Moroni Laulu-Pututau. Kurtz posted a season-best 83 receiving yards in the 17-14 loss to UCLA, along with a career-best eight receptions. The senior torched Nebraska for 123 yards last season, and is a match-up problem for the Mountaineers. Laulu-Pututau doesn't run as well, but is dangerous when high-pointing the ball and on fade routes down the sideline. It will be a significant test for a secondary which hasn't matched up well against opposing passing games at times, and one which routinely played off and allowed Youngstown State open slant routes early.

This should be the most polished passing game WVU has thus far played, and it will be a harbinger of things to come in the Big 12. Coordinator Tony Gibson, above, details some of the issues faced by Brigham Young, and why it has struggled, before breaking down the match-up and the play of Hill and reserve quarterback Tanner Mangum, who is more of a pure pocket passer.

On the flip side, West Virginia's offense will try to match firepower with a defense that has held teams to just 17.7 points and 111 rushing yards per game. The Mountaineers lacked patience in the run game against Youngstown State at times, and that's been a focus during the bye week in getting Justin Crawford to simply take the yardage available instead of pressing for big plays. Quarterback Skyler Howard, who suffered a rib injury in the opener, is also at or near 100 percent after taking last week off, then showing good velocity in practice on Sunday.

Howard has been able to work both the intermediate and deep routes, and expects to have to utilize the full arsenal against a unit which will stand up as many as nine players on a given snap, and try and confuse within the box in terms of pressures and run fits. It has worked thus far for Sitake, a defensive-minded head coach whose largely even look front is likely to play more odd man against the Mountaineers. Against similar - though not identical - offenses, BYU has held teams to 238 average yards passing and recorded five sacks, to go with an average of five negative plays per game. It's strength versus strength, as the Mountaineers have yet to allow a sack, and were not forced into a negative play in their last outing. 

BYU will also move its safeties around, but hesitates to play man. That's a smart move, especially on the outside as West Virginia flashes a significant speed advantage on the edge, especially with Shelton Gibson. The Mountaineers have thrown for 321 yards per game, rushed for 238, and averaged 32 points. The 559 average total yards ranks seventh in the NCAA, while the passing offense is 18th.


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