BYU Cougars vs. Washington State Cougars: The matchups

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

“We can’t expect them to be passing every time they line up,” said Hadley. “It’s important to just remember our keys and stay with our assignments, and we should be fine.”

Outlook

Expect WSU to run the ball more than what is largely expected, due to the process of settling down a relatively new quarterback running a brand-new offense. As mentioned, WSU most likely won’t be mounting a traditional attack from its backfield, so the key will be not to be taken by surprise with anything the team runs at the BYU front.

BYU pass defense vs. WSU

BYU looks to field an untypically strong pass defense that features three returning starters (Preston Hadley, 6-0, 190; Daniel Sorensen, 6-2, 206; and Joe Sampson, 5-10, 203) and a very promising first-year starter in Jordan Johnson (5-10, 185). BYU fared well in running out of a nickel formation last season, albeit against subpar passing attacks.

WSU lists four wide receivers on its depth chart with no tight end and a single running back, in case you needed more evidence of Leach’s proclivity to pass the football.

The passing attack is headlined by wide receiver Marquess Wilson (6-4, 195, junior) who will be as good as any receiver BYU faces all year.

“He’s pretty tall and I’m just 5-10, so he’ll have some inches on me,” said Johnson, who should be matched up with Wilson quite a bit. “I hope I can make up for some of that with my vertical, so it should be fun. I’m excited to play him straight up, and he’s the type of test you want as a new player.”

It’s not just Wilson, however. BYU will have to watch everything in WSU’s arsenal including some shifty slot receivers.

“They’ll throw a wide variety of passes at us, especially that smoke screen to the slot,” said Hadley. “I expect that I’ll be playing off the line quite a bit in coverage, and hopefully we can work well in containing a lot of those short screens that we think they’ll be throwing.”

WSU has not named a starter, but should go with senior Jeff Tuel (6-3, 221).

Cougar question marks

BYU should be going with a 2-4-5 alignment throughout the game, but how affective they’ll be in defending a wide-open attack is certainly a question mark.

Another question mark surrounds the team’s ability to rush the quarterback. BYU doesn’t present a proven pass rusher, but should look to blitz more often than usual. Fans have been anticipating Ezekial “Ziggy” Ansah emerging as a pass rush threat, and we’ll see how he fares soon enough.

Key quote

“I feel very confident in our defensive backs,” said Hadley. “We have smart and athletic guys back there, so I’m not worried about them at all. We like our nickel a lot, and I think if we come out and just execute our responsibilities, our gap assignments and everything else that we’ll be fine. I believe in our game plan and now it’s just up to us to get it done.”

Outlook

WSU would be the type of offense that would give most BYU defenses fits, but this isn’t your normal BYU defense. It’s a defense experienced in running a nickel package with some argument to be made that it’s the team's best package. Quality play from the outside linebacker position is key in defending a Leach offense and BYU has one of the best in the nation in Kyle Van Noy.

Look for WSU to struggle with its consistent throwing game, with BYU proving better able in defending the flats it has most years.

Prediction

BYU typically doesn’t put a lot of points on the board during its first game under coach Bronco Mendenhall. Save for the 2008 year, against Northern Iowa, the BYU offense rarely scores over 20 points, with its highest total being the 23 points it put up against Washington in 2010.

BYU should have much more identity on offense this season, however, and coupled with what looks to be a subpar WSU defense, predicting north of 30 points doesn’t seem unreasonable.

Defensively BYU should prove more apt in defending a spread offense than it ever has. WSU will put up some yards and Wilson should be able to make some plays, but look for BYU to limit the WSU with its experience and its effectiveness in running a nickel defense.

Final Score: BYU 34, WSU 20

Email: bgurney@desnews.com

Twitter: @BrandonCGurney

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