Kristan Murphy, Deseret News
It’s always hard to determine what will happen during the first game of any season. As BYU travels to Oxford, Miss., optimism is high on both ends as is the case for every team entering the season.
So who has the greater reason to be optimistic about what Saturday’s result will actually be? How do the teams match up with one another, and which of those match-ups will give a decided edge?
BYU rushing offense vs. Ole Miss
Almost nothing has changed with BYU’s rushing attack save the availability of fullback Zed Mendenhall, who is battling a sprained ankle. The Cougars will present the same three-man rotation of senior JJ Di Luigi, 5-9, 185, and Bryan Kariya, 6-0, 217, and sophomore Joshua Quezada, 5-11, 202.
Overall, this trio combined to rush for 1,959 of the team’s total 2,185 net yards on the ground a season ago. That stat should be similar this season.
“We have a good group,” said Di Luigi. “We have Bryan, who runs great between the tackles and is great in short-yardage situations. You have Josh, who really played well as a sophomore and will be even better this year, and then there’s me. I was happy with what I did last season and hopefully can improve upon that this year.”
Ole Miss has a defense that will stack the line frequently in order to stop the run. From what the team has seen on film, it will forgo its 4-3 base defense and present five down linemen frequently throughout the course of a game.
“It’s called the bear claw, after the Chicago Bears who sort of invented it,” said Di Luigi about the five down linemen the Rebels will use. “It’s obviously a formation that is very tough to run on with them stacking the front. If they go to that a lot, then I guess it will mean we’re doing a decent job of running the football.”
The Rebel defensive front is largely considered to be the team’s strength on that side of the football.
They’ll be led by senior defensive end Kentrell Lockett, 6-5, 255. Lockett tore his ACL early last season but is back as an all-SEC preseason candidate and is currently the active leader in the conference in tackles-for-loss with 23.5 on his career.
At the other end position, they return senior Wayne Dorsey, 6-6, 270. In the middle, they’ll field senior Justin Smith, 6-3, 301, along with junior college transfer Uriah Grant, 6-0, 300.
At linebacker, the Rebels will have to replace a lot of starting experience from a season ago. The lone return ring player with starting experience is junior Joel Knight, 5-9, 226, who will be starting at Sam linebacker.
Overall, the Rebels gave up a decent 152.8 yards per game a season ago.
“They’re a team that focuses on stopping the run first,” observed offensive lineman Braden Hansen. “They’re a lot like our defense in that way. They have some studs up front from what I’ve seen on film, and they’ll be a challenge. They’re a big and physical front with some great defensive ends. I’m excited to go against them.”
BYU should have some good success on the ground as it returns a very experienced offensive front along with its experienced running backs. The Cougars rushed for an average of 168 yards per game last year and will do well to match that number come Saturday.
The key match-up will be BYU stud left tackle Matt Reynolds, 6-6, 305, going up against Lockett, who is generally considered the Rebels' best defensive player.
BYU passing attack vs. Ole Miss
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