BYU Cougars vs. Washington State Cougars: The matchups

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 29 2012 1:02 p.m. MDT

BYU's QB Riley Nelson (left) practices in Provo on Thursday, August 9, 2012. In this photo taken Aug. 2, 2012, Washington State quarterback Jeff Tuel (right) warms up before the start of the opening day of NCAA college football practice at Rogers Field in Pullman, Wash.

Dean Hare, AP

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PROVO — It’s Cougars taking on Cougars Thursday night, with BYU welcoming Washington State to LaVell Edwards stadium to kick off the season. Offensive guru Mike Leach has taken the reigns of the WSU program while Bronco Mendenhall enters his eighth year at BYU.

WSU enters the game with a lot of enthusiasm, but with at least an equal amount of question marks. BYU, meanwhile, looks to field one of its best defenses in history while providing its share of question marks on the offensive end.

So how will the teams and what can fans expect as an outcome? We looked at how each position groups match up to give you the best look possible into tomorrow night’s game.

BYU rushing attack vs. WSU

BYU’s early season struggles on offense last season directly correlate to its inability to establish much of a threat running the football. That all changed once Riley Nelson took over at quarterback and Michael Alisa took over primary ball-carrying duties, albeit against subpar defensive units down the stretch last season.

Michael Alisa (6-1, 220) looks to reprise that role this season and is coming off a very promising fall practice session. Iona Pritchard (6-0, 244) is back after injury and should play a major role in the backfield along with David Foote (5-11, 200), who finally looks to warrant a lot of field time entering his senior season.

WSU will present a new 3-4 front that features Travis Long (6-4, 245, senior) as its assumed primary play-maker from his Buck linebacker position. It’s a defense that is very familiar to the same 3-4 formation that BYU runs.

“(Long) is a bit of a hybrid guy when looking at him on film and when studying my game notes,” said offensive lineman Houston Reynolds. “He’ll line up like a defensive end a lot and give us a front that looks like a 4-3 a lot of the time. It’s similar to what our defense does in situations. They have some good guys up front that are very aggressive off the ball and they’re going to be a challenge to run it against, but I think we’ll be up to that challenge.”

Cougar question marks

BYU Cougar question marks, that is. Due to a string of injuries to expected starters throughout the off-season, there are a lot of question marks surrounding the BYU offensive front. It’s a group that underperformed early last season, and without the named starters seeing many reps together as a unit, it could affect their overall symmetry adversely.

There is a lot of intrigue surrounding the use of freshmen Adam Hine (6-1, 202) and Jamaal Williams (6-0, 190). Both players provided exciting play throughout the fall practice session.

Key quote

“There needs to be a feeling of unity and trust that we’re all going to complete our assignments and be at our best,” said Reynolds. “I really feel that it’s all mental for us, as an offensive line, and for the entire offense. If we can learn to trust others and just worry about doing our own thing and completing our own assignments, then we could be a dominant in our run-blocking and in other areas.”

Outlook

BYU will not be providing the anemic ground attack it showed last season early on. Look for offensive coordinator Brandon Doman to be much more creative in how he attacks teams on the ground leading to a rushing attack that will gain well over 100 yards against WSU.

BYU passing attack vs. WSU

BYU presents a passing arsenal that is largely intact from last season. Returning its top quarterback, Riley Nelson (6-0, 199) and top receiver, Cody Hoffman (6-4, 215), is a big thing that should lead to some good success through the air.

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