PROVO — Just when you thought that you had a handle on this BYU team, last Saturday happens. A lot of what fans thought they knew about the Cougars two games into the season has to be reassessed after the 54-10 drubbing at the hands of the University of Utah.
The team is marching on, however, and looking at the short week of practice in preparation for Friday night’s game as a good thing.
“We definitely want to get there as fast as we can and redeem ourselves,” said cornerback Corby Eason. “We don’t believe that what happened on Saturday was us. Getting to play earlier, that’s a good thing is how we’re looking at it. The sooner the better.”
They’ll face a 2-1 Central Florida that is coming off of a disappointing 17-10 loss at the hands of Florida International. So how does BYU match up against a very unfamiliar opponent?
BYU rushing attack vs. Central Florida
To label the Cougar ground attack as being anemic through three games would be an understatement. So far they’ve averaged a paltry 48.3 rushing yards per game and a shocking 1.9 yards per carry.
“We have to get better in running the football,” said quarterback Jake Heaps. “I have a lot of confidence in our guys to make it happen and I believe that it will happen. We have a great offensive line and great running backs and they’re going to get it done. I don’t have any doubt about that.”
Central Florida comes in with a defense that has been very good at defending the run. They’ll present a very good front seven and operate out of a 4-3 base alignment.
Teams have averaged just 72.3 yards per game on the ground against them so far this season.
“Defensively they’re a lot like us in that their defense is focused on stopping the run first,” said wide receiver McKay Jacobson. “They have a lot of good athletes on defense. They’re strong and athletic, and they’ll be a challenge for us.”
Their front seven is led by senior middle linebacker Josh Linam, 6-3, 237, and by converted running back Jonathan Davis, 5-9, 199, who has been in the opposing backfield all season in recording six tackles for losses through three games.
The vocal leader of their defense is defensive end Troy Davis, 6-2, 256. They’ll also feature a very aggressive and productive free safety named Kemal Ishmael, who will creep up to the line in run support.
Teams haven’t had to stack the box to defend the Cougar ground game, and look for Central Florida to play its safeties and even its linebackers considerably behind the line of scrimmage. Subsequently, the Cougars should again have chances to establish a power running attack.
A lot of the problems with the Cougar ground game has been up the middle where starting guards Braden Hansen and Houston Reynolds have battled through injuries. Reynolds isn’t expected to play as result, with Marco Thorson and Walter Kahaialii looking to pick up the slack at left guard.
Look for offensive coordinator Brandon Doman to revert back to more spread formations and a pass-to-set-up-the-run approach come Friday. BYU’s best running back has been JJ Di Luigi, and he operates best out of shotgun spread formation given his athletic makeup.
BYU passing attack vs. Central Florida
The passing attack saw some life last week against Utah before stalling in the second half of play. Heaps was able to throw for over 300 yards while wide receiver Cody Hoffman found some life, which should help the offense going forward.
Heaps has had good success when going to his tight ends and should be looking their way again come Friday night.
Central Florida comes in having defended the pass at least as well as it has defended against the run. It is ranked first nationally in pass defense in giving up just 93.7 yards per game through the air.
It will be led by junior cornerback Josh Robinson, 5-10, 192, and the aforementioned Ishmael, who will be starting at free safety.
“They’ll be as good at corner as any team we’ve seen so far,” said Jacobson. “They’re fast, athletic, and they’ve shut down teams that have tried to throw against them so far. They’ll be a huge challenge, but I think we’ll be up to that challenge.”
Up front, Central Florida has only accounted for three sacks on the year, but it has two potent pass rushers in the aforementioned Davis and defensive end Darius Nall, 6-3, 246.
While Central Florida has been stingy against the pass, it has yet to face a productive passing attack. BYU’s passing attack couldn’t quite be labeled as “productive” so far this season, but it will be sure to mount the best Central Florida has seen so far this season.
There were some pass protection issues last week, but look for those to be cleaned up. The key will be to get the ground game going, and for that to happen look for Doman to attempt to put the Knight defense on its heels and spread out in hopes of finding their stride on the ground.
BYU rush defense vs. Central Florida
It’s been the tale of two halves during the last two games for the Cougar ground defense. After very good performances against both Texas and Utah during the first half, it gave up huge chunks of yardage during the second.
The Knights come in having run the ball very well so far this season to the tune of 223.3 yards per game. Their featured running back is senior Ronnie Weaver, 6-0, 210, but the player that may be causing the most problems for the defense is sophomore quarterback Jeff Godfrey, 5-11, 182.
“Their quarterback is their offense from what we’ve seen,” said Eason. “It all starts with him. He can throw it, but he can also run it real well. We think that if we can stop him then we can stop their offense.”
Central Florida will focus on the run and use an H-back a lot of the time in presenting some challenges that the Cougar defense is yet to see this season.
“It’s definitely new this year, but we saw a lot of what they do last year,” said Eason. “Running quarterbacks is something that we learned to defend against last year and coaches are doing a great job of preparing for this one.”
The Cougar defense will have to contain Godfrey in having any success this Friday. The Cougar outside linebackers will play a huge role here, and Kyle Van Noy, an ailing Jordan Pendleton and Jameson Frazier should all be up to the task.
BYU pass defense vs. Central Florida
The Cougar pass defense has been very good for the most part this season. They had some blown coverages against Utah that they’ll look to fix this week.
“We had too many mental errors,” said Eason. “We did some things that we shouldn’t do, but we’re confident and we’ll get better.”
One big problem has been their inability to mount an effective pass rush. They didn’t account for even one sack last week and will be looking to change that this week.
Central Florida gave up six sacks a week ago to Florida International, so BYU could see some success in this area.
The Knights used a balanced offensive approach and average 204 yards passing per game.
“They like to run it and beat you with that, but they also have some good players at receiver that will challenge us,” said Eason. “We need to be tighter in our coverages and not allow them to beat us deep. If we do that, then it should be good.”
UCF’s leading receiver is junior Quincy McDuffie, 5-10, 175. He’ll be joined by senior AJ Guyton, 5-11, 198, at the wide receiver position.
“They’re fast, they’re quick and they can beat you down the field,” said Eason. “They have a lot of good athletes on their team and we’ll have to make sure they don’t have any good plays.”
It’s easy to like BYU here as it has done well in defending the pass through most of the season. UCF doesn’t look to present all that much difficulty although it does present some big-play potential.
Look for BYU to hold the Knights well below their average of 204 yards through the air on Friday.
Prediction: BYU 24, Central Florida 16
This game is shaping up to be another low-scoring game. The Utah game shaped up in the same way on paper, but a rash of turnovers among other problems led to 54 points given up.
BYU’s defense should rebound nicely and the offense should see some big improvements on holding on to the football. This team is senior-laden with a lot of good experience that should allow it to rebound from last week’s humiliating defeat.