I am happy to announce that game week is finally upon us! No longer do we have to spend our days talking about “football related items”, we can just talk some real football! First up this season, the BYU Cougars play host to the newly christened Pirate Cougars of Washington State.
Washington State has been one of the worst, if not the worst BCS team for the last several years. Last year they did manage to put together four wins under now former head coach Paul Wulff, but in the previous three seasons, the win totals were 2, 1, and 2. It was time for a change, and change came in a big way. Mike Leach was hired out of his Craig and Adam James-induced retirement, and I think it’s an absolutely inspired hire. Pullman, though much smaller than Lubbock, represents a similar scenario, one which Leach knows how to manage very well. WSU has been playing second fiddle to UW for years, and the crimson Cougars need a little more ability to pull in talented players. Mike Leach will do that for your program. I read his book, Swing Your Sword, this summer, and I highly recommend it. He’s an interesting guy and a great football coach.
We don’t really know what to expect from WSU. You have Paul Wulff’s players implementing a Mike Leach system, which will probably look something like it did at Texas Tech. Leach took a lot of components from the Lavell Edwards BYU teams, and he throws the ball all over the field. Like a throwing version of the wishbone, the style of play is meant to get the ball into as many hands as possible, and players are given the freedom to adjust on the fly. It’s an explosive, fun-to-watch offense that will keep any defense on its toes. The question is, how much has Leach been able to do with this team? I guess we’ll find out on Thursday.
Well, we’re in the second year of independence, and we have Riley Nelson as our starting quarterback. Last year at this time, I think we’d have projected this to be Heaps’ first Heisman campaign…but things don’t always turn out how you’d hope. In the end, the transformation of this team under Riley Nelson was incredible. The team developed some fire and a will to win games…something that’s been lacking since Max Hall walked out the door. I can’t tell you how happy I am that he’s been back spending time with our boys as an assistant. BYU returned a ton of seniors this year, and expectations are justifiably high. Here are a few things to watch for from the blue Cougars on Thursday.
Keys to the game
Riley Juice. Riley Nelson is the heart of this offense. He led the team in rushing yards last year, and finds a way to convert third downs. He has a tendency to throw the ball down field when he should probably throw it away, but more often than not, these throws end up in the hands of one of his watchful receivers. Riley will not give up on a play or the game, and the team feeds off of his energy. Cody Hoffman and Ross Apo are both nice big targets for Nelson, and both are good at getting open.
The Rush Attack. JJ DiLuigi, Bryan Kariya, and Josh Quezada are all distant memories now, but Michael Alisa had won the starting RB job by the end of last season, finishing just behind DiLuigi in rushing yards. Alisa will have some support from Riley Nelson, Zed Mendenhall, and Iona Pritchard. If Alisa stays healthy, he could break the 1,000 yard mark this season, a feat that hasn’t been seen at BYU since Harvey Unga last did it in 2009. Alisa and Nelson should both be key rushers against WSU, helping to open up the receivers down field.
Special Teams. Special teams had some highs and some lows last year, and decided a couple of games for BYU (in the W and L columns). Hopefully ‘consistent’ is the word we’ll be using to describe the special teams this season. They could definitely be the difference in this game. Hoffman and Falslev are both hungry for the endzone as they returned a kickoff and a punt (respectively) for touchdowns last year.
Bronco D. I am really excited to see our linebackers get out there and eat up some crimson Cougars. Kaveinga, Ogletree, and Van Noy make up one of the top LB groups in the country, and Kyle Van Noy is absolutely the player to watch this season. He started last season by single-handedly winning the Ole Miss game by causing a fumble, recovering said fumble, and returning it for a touchdown. We’ve got a solid defensive line and secondary, but the stars of this squad are the linebackers, and hopefully they will be driving Leach’s offense crazy.
WSU is a big-bad BCS team…well they technically are a BCS team. Who knows what Leach has been able to do with them? What I do know is BYU, and BYU is very good in season openers under Bronco Mendenhall. I think the Bronco D will give WSU fits, and the BYU offense will have some highlights and lowlights en route to a blue Cougar victory. My pick: BYU 27, WSU 20.