We sent five questions to Weber State beat reporter Roy Burton of the Ogden Standard-Examiner to gain some insight into BYU's opponent this Saturday.
1. What is the feeling around the team and students about playing BYU? How big of a game is this for the program?
The fans and the players are excited about playing an in-state game in Provo. Saturday’s crowd could be the largest a Wildcats football team has ever played in front of in Weber State’s 50 years as a Division I program.
WSU coach Jody Sears says he’ll use the game as a gauge to measure the Wildcats’ toughness.
An upset would be a game-changer for the Wildcats — “Monumental,” in Sears’ words. It would set Weber State up as a force to be reckoned with in the Football Championship Subdivision, but history is not on the Wildcats’ side. Weber State is 3-47 all-time against Football Bowl Subdivision teams, with the last win coming in 1993. BYU hasn’t lost to a Big Sky team since 1959, and WSU’s football, men’s and women’s basketball, soccer and volleyball teams are a combined 1-75 in games played against the Cougars in Provo.
2. How has Jody Sears done since taking the reigns of the program? What type of coach is he and what changes has he brought to the program?
Sears has been a steady influence since WSU coach John L. Smith left the team suddenly in April to take the Arkansas job. As interim coach, he hasn’t changed course much from the blueprint Smith’s staff established when Sears was brought on as defensive coordinator. He’s a very different personality from Smith, but that’s probably what the Wildcats needed in the uncertainty caused by Smith’s sudden departure.
3. Who are some of the key players for Weber State offensively? What type of offense will it present on Saturday?
It starts with quarterback Mike Hoke, who BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall compared to Riley Nelson earlier this week. Hoke is a senior leader who is capable of making plays with his feet as well as his arm. He’s not quite as unpredictable as Nelson, but he’s an efficient passer and usually takes care of the ball.
Running back C.J. Tuckett, a great-nephew of former BYU athletics director Glen Tuckett, didn’t rush for many yards against Fresno State in Week 1, but he capped last season with two of the best individual rushing and all-purpose games in Weber State history. The Wildcats will have to establish some kind of running game to get any traction Saturday against the Cougars.
Hoke has a great connection with receiver Shaydon Kehano, and receiver Jordan Clemente is a new top target after he matched his nine total catches for last season in the Wildcats’ season-opener last week.
4. Who are some of the key players for Weber State on defense? What type of defense will it present on Saturday?
Two of Weber State’s best defensive players, senior defensive tackle Trevor Pletcher and junior linebacker Anthony Morales, both team captains, missed last week’s game with Fresno State because of injury. Both are expected to play Saturday, though Pletcher may be limited.
Sears is implementing a new 4-2-5 defense this season to better line up with Weber State's personnel.
5. What are the expectations for Weber State entering Saturday's game?
Weber State was picked sixth by league coaches and seventh by the media in the Big Sky Conference’s preseason polls.
The realistic expectation is for this to be a very tough game for the Wildcats to come out with an upset. They’ll try to ignore the history and focus on the fundamentals, treating it like any other game, but they’ll need to do that plus come up with some momentum-changing plays to top the heavily favored Cougars.
In the long run, I don’t think an expected loss to BYU would have any bearing on Sears’ chances of having the interim head coach tag removed from his name. Sears and his staff will be judged on how they fare against Big Sky Conference and FCS competition, and this year, probably more on whether they’ve made some positive forward movement and brought stability in the face of an unusual transition than strictly on wins and losses.
Beat BYU and they may as well write Sears a long-term contract before the Wildcats’ bus gets back from Provo.
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