PROVO - BYU will play New Mexico State for the first time in its history Saturday night in the final game of the season at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
Kick off is set for 8:15 p.m. MT, and there is snow in the forecast.
Like its match up against Idaho last week, the Cougars will be expected to dominate this one, but will they? After looking at the match ups close up, here is a prognostication of what will happen.
BYU rushing attack vs. New Mexico State
Everything worked last week against Idaho, although BYU did struggle at times with its short-yardage run packages. JJ Di Luigi and Michael Alisa led the Cougars, but with senior Bryan Kariya getting the call often, responding with two touchdowns.
New Mexico State, which is giving up 207.7 rushing yards per game, can be had on the ground. The Aggies will present a base 4-3 defensive system that is nothing new to the Cougars.
“We’re very familiar with their coach DeWayne Walker, who coached here, but also coached at UCLA when we played them,” said Di Luigi. “The concepts are things we’ve all seen before, but they’re good concepts, so they’ll be a challenge.”
There haven’t been many defensive alignments that Di Luigi hasn’t seen as he looks to wrap up his final season as a Cougar. He’s learned a lot of lessons during his time, one of which is not to overlook anyone, among other things.
“It’s like any game where we’re focusing more on what we do, and our execution more than anything,” he said. “We’re looking to improve with every game, and you can’t do that, over-looking your opponent.”
New Mexico State’s two leading tacklers are its two safeties, which is hardly a good sign for any defense because it shows that opposing teams consistently getting into the defensive backfield.
Fans can expect the bulk of the running back duties to go to Di Luigi and Kariya with it being their final game in LaVell Edwards Stadium. The Aggies don’t look to have much that will stand in the way of BYU gaining well over 200 yards in this game.
BYU passing attack vs. New Mexico State
With Jake Heaps under center, the Cougar passing game will change. Against Idaho, fans saw more straight drop-backs and less play-action and can look for the same against the Aggies.
The Aggies give up 258.6 yards per game through the air, and they'll be looking to defend the Cougars with both zone- and man-coverages while blitzing on occasion.
“We expect them to be blitzing a lot, trying to through off our timing,” said Di Luigi. “They’re a solid defense that will try and throw a lot of different looks at us.”
This is a big game for Heaps. With a dominant performance, he could shake things up at the quarterback position, perhaps giving coaches second-thoughts on running with Riley Nelson into next season. This looks to be the perfect matchup for him, with the Aggies stopping almost no one with their defense throughout the year.
BYU rush defense vs. New Mexico State
Save for an 82-yard touchdown run by Idaho late in the game, the Cougar rush defense was completely dominant last week. This week they’ll be facing a much different ground attack from the Aggies.
While Idaho ran it straight ahead from tight formations, New Mexico State prefers to spread the field.
“They’re sort of like Idaho State (University) offensive, but they’re better and more capable,” said BYU safety Travis Uale. “They’ll use multiple receiver sets and try and spread the field.”
New Mexico State is a team that can beat a team offensively and look to be much more potent offensively than it is defensively. While the Aggies are generally a pass-first offense, they will run it, averaging 122 yards per game on the ground.
“It’s all about stopping the run first,” said Uale. “Yes, they like to spread the field, but that doesn’t mean they’re always passing. You always have to stop the run first, and that will be our focus this week.”
New Mexico State’s top running back is junior Kenny Turner, 5-foot-10, 184 pounds, who averages 79.9 yards per game on an impressive 5.0 yards per carry average. On film he shows good speed with the ability to beat a defense on the edges.
Their second-leading rusher is quarterback Matt Christian (6-3, 223). On the year he averages 37.1 yards per game on a 3.9 yards per carry average.
BYU’s 2-4-5 defensive alignment was very effective last week against Idaho, and should prove effective again this week. With converted safety Joe Sampson playing more like a linebacker than a safety, they should do well in limiting New Mexico State on the ground and hold them below their season average on the ground.
BYU pass defense vs. New Mexico State
As good as the Cougars were in defending the run last week, they were better in defending the pass. Granted that Idaho didn’t have much in regards to a passing attack, but they were dominant nonetheless.
This week, they’ll be facing a much more potent passing game. The Aggies average 302.1 yards per game through the air and a very impressive 15.2 yards per catch.
“They have some guys that can beat you down the field for sure,” said Uale. “No. 1 (Taveon Rogers, 6-0, 180, senior) on offense is really good from what I’ve seen on film. They like to throw it to him a lot and he can get down the field. He’s not the only one-they like to throw it around to a lot of guys.”
One of the players they like to throw to a lot is Turner out of the backfield. Turner is the second-leading receiver on the team.
“They have a lot of different weapons, more than the teams we’ve faced recently,” said Uale. “We’ll have to be watching for everything because they’ll throw a lot different stuff at us. They’ll be a good challenge.
The 2-4-5 nickel formation worked like a charm last week and though it wasn’t exactly the type of defense needed to defend Idaho, it appears to be exactly the type of defense the Cougars will want in defending the Aggies. Given the success of the formation and the defense overall last week, fans can expect the Cougar defense to hold New Mexico State under its average on the year.
Prediction: BYU 45 New Mexico State 21
BYU should jump on New Mexico State early and cruise to an easy victory. Given Bronco Mendenhall’s tendency toward soft coverages when his team has a lead, the Aggies should be able to move the ball late and score some points.
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