BYU will be on the road again this week as they head to Florida State, to complete the series started last year in Provo. If you’ll remember, expectations were high for the Cougars last year heading into that game; they had begun the season by knocking off #3 Oklahoma, and followed that with a trouncing of Tulane. BYU was ranked #7 that week, and I know I wasn’t alone in thinking that if we had made it past Oklahoma on the road (a “neutral” site), that FSU at home should be an expected win.
You don’t need reminded that FSU dominated that game, but here are a few stats that maybe you blocked out. BYU had 5 turnovers in the game, compared to Florida State’s 0. Three of those were Max Hall interceptions. Florida St. held the ball for nearly 40 minutes – so yeah, twice as much as BYU. FSU racked up over 300 yards rushing and nearly 200 in passing. To add further insult, FSU ended up having a mediocre season, limping into a bowl game with a 6-6 record.
What we know about FSU
So far this season, the Seminoles have a big win (59-6) over FCS Samford (5-6 last year), and a big loss (47-17) to then #10 Oklahoma (yeah, remember them?). So how good are they? Somewhere in between a middle-of-the-road FCS team and a team that could win the national championship.
What we know about BYU
As speculated, the two-QB system came under fire with its first loss. Statements coming out of recent media days have said that Riley Nelson will get the first snap at Florida State, but that does not mean he will get the most playing time. Coaches have said that the QB changes will become more situational, and that Jake Heaps has talents that will work well against FSU. All of this leads me to believe that we are heading toward what many expected in the beginning: Heaps will get most of the reps, with Nelson brought in for running situations, or to change things up.
We also know that early season losses are not necessarily indicators of the rest of the season. In both 2006 and 2007, Bronco coached the Cougars from 1-2 starts to 11-2 records. Don’t count the Cougars out.
Keys to the game
BYU will have to stop Christian Ponder. Last year, Christian Ponder ran for 77 yards and threw for 195 in the win over the Cougars. BYU did a good job containing Jake Locker in week one. If they can find a way to similarly contain Christian Ponder, they will have a better chance of winning the game.
Ball control. In the contest last year, BYU gave up 5 turnovers and FSU none. BYU will have to take advantage of their possessions, and when they don’t score, at least win the field position battle.
Special Teams. Great special teams helped BYU beat Washington. Poor special teams were a symptom seen in the loss at Air Force last week. BYU must be able to rely on Riley Stephenson to punt the ball well when called upon. Having to punt is one thing, but having those punts go for as little as 1 yard? Horrible.
Team Identity. The loss last week should have made for a great teaching moment. A game on the road at FSU may not be the week that those lessons will shine, but BYU needs to establish what kind of team they’ll be, and they need to do it in a hurry. Bronco leads teams that are defined by execution and team play. This team wasn’t there last week.
I think BYU will put up more of a fight than last year, but FSU should have more than enough weapons to put BYU away early and cruise to victory. The call, from my season preview: Florida St. 35, BYU 17.