Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
PROVO — The BYU football team takes on 10th-ranked Oregon State on Saturday in what looks to be a very competitive matchup. Both teams come in licking some wounds, however, due to significant losses at quarterback.
Oregon State will have to make due without starter Sean Mannion while BYU hopes Riley Nelson will be able to regain his preinjury form in the wake of Taysom Hill’s season-ending injury. So how does each team matchup up beyond the quarterback position? We looked at the matchups and talked to BYU coaches and players to give better insight on what should happen come Saturday afternoon.
BYU rushing attack vs. Oregon State
The Cougars had a somewhat pedestrian rushing effort against Utah State last week, although coach Bronco Mendenhall saw some good strides. The team had 145 yards rushing last week, but only managed a 3.2 yards per run average. Jamaal Williams did well handling the primary running back responsibilities, with 71 yards on 17 carries.
Oregon State presents a very good run defense that yields just 67.2 yards per game and 3.1 yards per rush. It operates out of a 4-3 base defense that will shift its front on occasion. Its two standouts are sophomore defensive ends Scott Crichton (6-3, 263) and Dylan Wynn (6-2, 260) and its leading tackler is cornerback Rashaad Reynolds (5-11, 188, junior)
Cougar question mark
Jamaal Williams should continue to do well in the lead role, but who will back him up? Coaches opted for Paul Lasike, but gave way to senior David Foote after Lasike fumbled on his second carry last week against the Aggies. Also, will the maligned Cougar offensive front, which now features Manaaki Vaitai and Solomone Kafu at guard along with Braden Hansen at center, continue with its progression against what looks to be a stiff Beaver defensive front.
“We just need to be confident in our assignments and trust each other,” said center Braden Hansen. “Oregon State has a very good defense, but I think we have a very good offensive line that is improving every week. I think we’ll continue to improve this week.”
The Cougar running backs fared decently against a good Utah State front, and that should continue against Oregon State. For the first time this year, the Cougar offensive front looks to have some continuity, and that should benefit the overall run production for the rest of the season if they can stay intact.
BYU passing attack vs. Oregon State
The Cougar passing game has been very inconsistent throughout the year in large part due to Riley Nelson’s injured back and Taysom Hill seeing his first reps as a collegiate quarterback. Taysom Hill is out for the rest of the year, but Nelson is back, although there are many question marks surrounding how effective he’ll prove to be after returning from injury.
Cody Hoffman has once again established himself as BYU’s go-to option on the passing tree, and that should only be punctuated with the return of Nelson. After a promising start, the Cougar tight ends have gone relatively quiet over the past few weeks.
The Beavers have given up big chunks of yardage through the air this season, most notably against Arizona two weeks ago. It’s a pass defense that relies on a mix of man and zone coverage and some press-man coverage to throw opposing offense’s timing off.
Cougar question mark
The glaring question mark is how will Riley Nelson fare in his first game back since being pulled against Boise State. Nelson’s back troubles were glaringly apparent in that game, but coaches claim he’s healthy and back to normal after sitting out for two weeks.
It will be interesting to see how Nelson reacts to his first hit and it’s very questionable whether he’ll have enough to finish the game. James Lark will get the nod if Nelson gets pulled with a chance to finally lead the offense as a fifth-year senior.
“We just need to focus on what we do and get the ball to our play-makers,” said Nelson. “I’m excited to be back, and hopefully our offense can get back to where it needs to be. We haven’t performed like we needed to, but Oregon State is a team we played well against last year, and although they’re certainly better this year, we have a lot of confidence going up against them this week.”
It’s tough and almost impossible to prescribe what type of passing attack BYU will be able to mount come Saturday and it’s entirely due to not knowing how Nelson’s back will hold up. Coaches have been very mum concerning the exact nature of Nelson’s injury, but seem confident that he’ll return to form and that his back troubles are behind him.
Should Nelson prove fully recovered, then BYU should have its chances through the air.
BYU rush defense vs. Oregon State
The Cougar rush defense was nothing short of stellar against Utah State last week and have been stellar every week this season. The run defense yielded just 41 yards on the ground last week on a 1.7 yards per carry average. All parts are clicking along the Cougar front seven even with the losses of Eathyn Manumaleuna and Ian Dulan to injury.
Oregon State averages 120 yards rushing per game, which is only 105th nationally. The ground game is led by freshman Storm Woods (6-0, 202), who averages just over 86 yards per game.
Most of Oregon State’s meager rushing numbers are a result of a focus on throwing the football rather than an ineffective rushing attack. Woods has been able to average 4.7 yards per carry, giving testament to how effective he can be when called upon.
Cougar question mark
There really aren’t any question marks surrounding BYU’s ability in stopping the run. Lack of depth could be a factor along the defensive front, but given that Oregon State likes to beat a defense through the air, it’s doubtful that the depth will be tested this Saturday.
Look for BYU to prove stellar against the ground game once again against Oregon State. Given that they’ll be breaking in a new starter at quarterback, the Beavers may attempt more runs, but they’ll largely be met with some very tough resistance. Look for BYU to hold Oregon State to well below 100 yards rushing.
BYU pass defense vs. Oregon State
BYU gave up 202 yards passing last week to Utah State, but only allowed a 5.3 yards per attempt average. The Cougars are providing aggressive coverages and a good pass rush which is somewhat unusual for a BYU defense.
Oregon State has been very prolific through the air so far this season, averaging 339.5 yards per game — but all of that has been with Sean Mannion in command. The team will have to rely on Cody Vaz, who while experienced, is very much an unknown commodity as a starting quarterback.
The Beaver’s leading receivers are Markus Wheaton (6-1, 182, senior) and Brandin Cooks (5-10, 179, senior) Wheaton leads the team in receptions (36), yards (498) and in touchdowns (4). It’s an offense that runs out of a pro-style formation, but will spread it out with three and four wide receiver sets throughout the game.
Cougar question mark
While the pass defense has been very good, the Cougars are yet to face a passing attack as prolific and as potent as Oregon State’s. There have been some lapses in deep coverage over the past few weeks, but no team has been able to capitalize on those lapses. The Beavers could very well prove to be the team that can capitalize on any lapses in BYU’s coverages.
Backup quarterbacks seem to perform well against BYU for whatever reason, and Oregon State coaches have expressed a lot of confidence in Vaz’s ability to step in. Look for BYU to be tested like it hasn’t been so far this season, but the Cougars should be able to hold the Beavers to below their averages through the air regardless.
All signs point to another defensive struggle come Saturday. The BYU defense is riding high, while the offense has been unable to provide much scoring when faced with a good opponent, and Oregon State looks to be the best opponent BYU has faced so far this season. It’s easy to be confident in BYU’s defense and look for it to hold Oregon State in check and below 20 points. Meanwhile, the BYU offense will do very well to score over 20 points itself.
Score: BYU 17, Oregon State 14
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