BYU has limped out of their brutal non-conference schedule, ripe for the beatings being prepared by their soon to be former conference foes. Air Force already got their shots in, but up next is San Diego State. SDSU last beat the Cougars in 2005, Bronco Mendenhall’s first year as head coach of the Cougars. BYU owns a stunning majority of wins in this conference match-up, but, as with all the other games on the Cougars’ schedule this year, this may be the year for the Aztecs to exact some lasting revenge.
Well, San Diego State hasn’t had a winning record since 1998. Apparently, their scheduling department finally figured out how to get some wins, as the Aztecs have won games this year against Nicholl’s State, New Mexico State, and Utah State. Their lone loss came from Missouri of the Big 12, a close loss at 27-24. So the Aztecs are sitting pretty at 3-1, having enjoyed a few cupcakes, and a bye week to get ready for the Cougars. SDSU is top 15 in the country in points for, points against, and passing yards. Because of recent games played, SDSU is better than USC. Follow the flow of college football. SDSU > Utah St. > BYU > Washington > USC.
BYU is off to its worst start since 1973. If they don’t pull out a win against the Aztecs this week, they’re off to Fort Worth to visit TCU the next week, so they could very easily be 1-6 in two more weeks. Bronco Mendenhall fired defensive coordinator Jaime Hill this week, citing differences in leadership. Mendenhall has resumed his DC duties in addition to HC, as he operated at the beginning of his tenure. My favorite remark regarding the change came from Vic So’oto, when he said the practices under Mendenhall would be “scary.” I hope they are. The last two days, the Cougars have had longer than normal practices, and Bronco has indicated that if he continues to have as much fun as he’s had the last two days, he’ll continue being the DC next season as well.
Keys to the game
Jake Heaps and the Receivers. Heaps continues to complete around 50% of his passes (more than 50 attempts last week), but that is not translating to the generous amounts of yards you would expect (less than 300), or touchdowns (none last week). How many times will we see the football hit the receivers in the hands and fall to the ground? Dropped passes have had a huge impact. In the last game alone, as many as 13 passes were dropped, and could have accounted for as many as 200 yards passing, and 3 touchdowns. Read David Noriega’s article about it here.
The Rush Attack. Special thanks to Greg Wrubell for sharing these tidbits on Twitter. BYU has had three consecutive games where they’ve rushed for fewer than 100 yards. The last time that happened was in games 3-5 of 2005. In the Bronco Mendenhall era, BYU is 43-8 when rushing for 100+ yards, and 7-11 when not. Honestly, 100 yards rushing isn’t that much, and it’s not a magic number, but it is enough to keep the defense honest – where they have to respect the run threat, and that alleviates some pressure on your passing game. When each aspect is working, it supports the other. When neither works, you lose games. BYU has the running backs that it needs to get this job done. 100 yards per game is key to this offense being able to perform well as a whole.
Team Identity. This team is still trying to find itself. Bronco was asked if this were the low-point of his career. He responded by saying that he had been fired from Oregon State. There’s perspective for you. This season is not over, but we all know that our Cougars don’t do well playing from behind. Since 2005, the Cougars only have two comebacks from 10 points or more. Hopefully, the Cougars haven’t given up on this season yet. They’re down by several more games than usual.
It’s all about the D. Bronco is back on defense. The head coach/defensive coordinator had slowly given up more and more of the defensive coaching duties over the years, and now, with the firing of Jaime Hill, it’s time to put the Bronco back in defense. Mendenhall said you may not see a difference in their play this week, but that the change is starting with the culture. Practices have been longer and more difficult. I certainly hope they have involved a lot of tackling. Newsflash to the Cougar D: most athletes don’t just fall down when you bump into them, especially if they’re expecting the bump. Thanks to @jasonpbyu for sharing this link on CougarBoard, which shows the gradually weakening defense as Bronco gradually released control. Average loss each season was 11, 5, 9, 16, 28, and this season 21 points. I agree that this is not purely a measure of defense, but the correlation is there.
The last time BYU lost four games in a row (1993), they came out of it with a 45-44 win over San Diego State. In my season preview, I chose BYU over San Diego State, 24-7. I’m going to respect both schools for what they’ve accomplished this year, and, while still awarding the win to BYU, I’ll call it 24-21. Remarkably, that would be the best the Cougars have done on offense all season, and the second best defensive performance.