Stuart Johnson, Deseret News
Fact or fiction: BYU's running game is on the move.
Bryan Kariya crashes into the San Diego State defense and bulls his way for yards after contact, dragging tacklers with him time and time again. JJ Di Luigi breaks loose and sprints downfield for a 46-yard gain. BYU's offense line bullies Aztec defenders, pushing, shoving and pancaking tacklers.
Is this a true picture of BYU's run game, a much-needed tool in the development of quarterback Jake Heaps? Or was it just more of the same thing BYU has done to the Aztecs in recent years?
The Cougars gained 271 yards on the ground last Saturday and controlled the ball a MWC-record 45 minutes. It was impressive if not astounding. But was it SDSU's matador defense or an up-and-coming BYU run attack, led by more physical play up front?
TCU will clearly answer that question this Saturday. The Cougars are 29-point underdogs to the Frogs in Fort Worth and Gary Patterson's defense ranks No. 15 in rushing defense, allowing 96 yards per game.
The Frogs are also No. 1 in total defense, No. 2 in scoring defense and pass defense. Lofty figures, indeed.
Of course, SDSU came to Provo ranked 15th in the NCAA in rush defense, allowing just 99.2 yards per game and the Cougars were 94th in rushing offense, averaging just 119 a game.
Do statistics lie? Sometimes.
Bronco Mendenhall told reporters on Monday he didn't do anything different with BYU's offensive line leading up to the 271-yard day, but the Cougar front line did have confidence in the historic fact they'd pushed around the Aztecs in past games and they eagerly prepared and looked forward to doing it again.
In other words, SDSU's defensive front had been pussy cats for a couple of years and BYU's older men were going to play bulldog. BYU ran 62 times against SDSU, the most since the Cotton Bowl team of 1996 in a 37-17 win at Utah.
Last year in San Diego, BYU rushed for 166 yards with Harvey Unga gaining 81 on 26 carries. I'd say this is a better SDSU defense than a year ago under Rocky Long and that's what makes Di Luigi's total and Kariya's effort all that more impressive.
But still, can BYU muscle like that against TCU or Utah when it couldn't do it against Utah State? Probably not.
If attitude, execution and effort, all Mendenhall mantras, have anything to do with BYU's massive offensive line, then such things might make a measurable difference of some kind.
The best thing SDSU and TCU players could do to help BYU in preparation is look at the Cougar game film against USU.
Who'd respect BYU's offense after looking at that?
Saturday, it did change — for a week at least.
Offensive coordinator Robert Anae said it was all the mindset of the players.
"I don't know how to describe it, but there was a culture shift in our team. I was very excited to see that culture shift spread to the offense.
Added Anae: "I was very excited to have a game like that, excited to be a part of. You know, the mindset, and I can't describe it any better than the culture change.
"We do feed off the emotion of our team and we've kind of flat-lined the last couple of weeks. To see them dig in and become gritty and tough and rise to the challenge — I was honored to be a part of it and watch the game."
While Di Luigi said coaches asked for greater effort and for backs to stop dancing around and get downhill, BYU's emotion was a big part of it last weekend.
"It is an emotional game," said Anae. That's the idea right now."
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