Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
When BYU's schedule first game out, most fans probably didn't think much of its matchup against San Jose State. Despite the Cougars' early struggles, some still may chalk this up as an easy win.
Nothing has come easy for this BYU team so far this season, however. Despite their lack of luster as a program, the Spartans could well pose a very good challenge.
In regarding an opponent, many play the game of who-beat-who. BYU players have certainly done this in estimating what type of team San Jose State is.
"You saw them beat Colorado State, who beat Utah State," said defensive lineman Jordan Richardson. "Utah State gave us all that we could handle, so we fully expect that to be the case this week."
BYU running game vs. San Jose State
The Cougar ground attack finally looked like what most were anticipating preseason last week against Utah State. Granted, the Aggie rush defense wasn't the stiffest challenge going in, but BYU accounting for 200 yards rushing is very much a positive.
JJ Di Luigi, Bryan Kariya and Joshua Quezada combined for 32 rushes and 133 yards and will look to do the same this week. The leading rusher, however, was quarterback Riley Nelson, who ran the ball 11 times for 62 yards.
It isn't set in stone that Nelson will be starting at quarterback at this late juncture, but most signs point to him being under center come Saturday. The overall Cougar ground attack will be boosted as a result.
The Spartans come in with stats that show that they can be had on the ground. They've yielded 186 yards per game on a 4.7 yards per carry average to opponents so far this season.
They are coming off a very good performance against Colorado State, however, which saw them only give up 71 yards on a 2.7 yards per carry average.
"They're tough up front," observed tight end Marcus Mathews. "It's not really my area and not really what I've been watching on film because of where I play, but they did well in defending Colorado State last week and came out with a win."
The Spartans operate out of a 4-3 base defense led by outside linebacker Keith Smith, 6-1, 228, who was the WAC freshman of the year last season. Smith leads the Spartan defense in total tackles.
Their other two leaders in tackles are their two safeties, senior Duke Ihenacho, 6-1, 210, and junior James Orth, 6-2, 203. It's generally an expression of how poor a defense is in defending the run when two defensive backs are among the top three tacklers on the team.
Look for the Cougars to run the ball a lot come Saturday night. Regardless of who is under center, fans can expect between 30 and 40 run attempts against what looks to be an exploitable Spartan run defense.
You can't run the ball that many times unless it's seeing some success, but that success should come. The Cougar offensive front has been making strides and they should help provide similar running stats as they did last week.
BYU passing game vs. San Jose State
This is where it gets tricky. Will it be Nelson or Heaps throwing the ball around come Saturday?
Should it be Nelson, fans can look for more shotgun formations, but, ironically, less passing. Should it be Heaps, then the Cougar offense should be going under center more often with a bit more throwing of the football.
The difference shouldn't be all that great, however, with coaches looking to grind it out going forward.
They'll be facing a San Jose pass defense that presents a lot of zone coverage.
"They play softer coverages and they don't blitz very much," observed Mathews. "They like to just drop a lot of guys back and make you find a lot of holes there and make you be patient."
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