Vai's View: Vai's View: Breaking down the Cougars-Longhorns game
Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images
A typical start of most game-plan meetings begins with this statement: "We MUST eliminate so-and-so and force so-and-so to beat us."
As BYU prepares to meet Texas on Saturday, who do you suppose the Longhorns will attempt to eliminate in their game plan based on the Ole Miss game? Who will they dare to beat them? In my mind, they are certain to double-team Kyle Van Noy, given his heroic effort last week. They'll test and probe other areas of the defense, but it's likely they've identified Van Noy as the defender they'll "game plan" around.
Offensively, I think they'll regard JJ DiLuigi as the most dangerous weapon on the team. He's the most experienced skill player on offense and is someone who can single-handedly control a game because he's a threat in the run and passing game. I believe they respect quarterback Jake Heaps but don't see him as a "game changer." Not yet. In Mississippi, Jake was good but not great. He's got tremendous upside, he's still young and prone to make mistakes — sometimes in key moments. He does have an advantage that his predecessors haven't had: starting 10 games as a true freshman. That's a remarkable feat at BYU.
However, one play stands out to me. The interception.
I know Jake audibled out of the play sent in by offensive coordinator Brandon Doman. I know he should should've gotten the ball out sooner. He shouldn't have bird-dogged the receiver (stared at him the entire way). Frankly, I'm not bothered by any of that. It happens to seasoned NFL quarterbacks. I'm certain they've looked at it on film from 100 different angles and he'll learn from it. But I also hope Jake watched his performance AFTER the pick.
Once it's picked, no use in pouting over it — GO MAKE THE TACKLE! Jim McMahon, Steve Young, Robbie Bosco, Ty Detmer, John Beck ... they all took it as a personal affront when someone intercepted THEIR ball. As the leader of the team, a quarterback communicates a lot to his teammates by what he does or doesn't do after picks.
I'm told Bronco Mendenhall doesn't spare anyone, not even the superstars, from being embarrassed by their poor effort when reviewing film.
LaVell used to employ this method: After we beat third-ranked Pitt to open the 1984 season, he showed us one simple play to highlight one player's phenomenal personal effort. Bosco had thrown a pass that was intercepted and returned for a TD in the second half. LaVell focused our attention on halfback Kelly Smith, who was away from the play on the opposite sideline, yet gave chase across the field for 80 yards as if his pants were on fire. As the play was replayed over and over, it soon became apparent that in watching Kelly's all-out effort, we were also seeing who was dogging it. It was an effective way to learn a valuable lesson that served us well the rest of that year. Every interception thrown thereafter was a race to see who could decapitate the offending pick-pocket.
The sooner Jake gets comfortable in Doman's system with his protection, blitz reads and receivers' routes, the sooner we'll see him exploit mismatches his weapons give him. And I love his weapons.
Ross Apo will be anxious to play well in his home state and against the school he spurned. Same with McKay Jacobson. Exploit that.
When you look at Texas, they're an extraordinarily young team. I think 17 or 18 freshman played last week, among them their best back, their deep threat wide receiver and their center.
The Longhorns' junior quarterback, Garrett Gilbert — who's father Gale was an NFL quarterback in my era — has been a disappointment in Texas. I suspect Bronco will eliminate their biggest offensive threat, freshman back Malcolm Brown and force Gilbert to beat them. He won't. Not by himself. They may have to resort to gimmick plays, which their new offensive coordinator is known for, to beat BYU.
Defensively, the Longhorns look similar to BYU. Speedy, NFL-caliber linebackers and a secondary that seems solid, but hasn't been tested. They are also susceptible to runs between the tackle. I'd pound them inside with Bryan Kariya, Juice and DiLuigi. I'd also negate their speed at the edges by running directly at their linebackers at the point of attack. Speedy linebackers are more dangerous when you run away from them because they chase down plays.
Finally, special teams can't be a liability. A long punt return, missed field goal and shanked punt nearly lost the game last week.
On one single play, Kyle Van Noy bailed out a host of people. I wouldn't want to rely on No. 3 to do it again this weekend.
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