When a team plays against the same offense week after week, it should know how to stop it.
That is the premise No. 4 BYU will rely on today as it faces San Diego State at 1 p.m. in Cougar Stadium. In terms of offensive scheme, the Aztecs are practically identical to Washington State and Miami, the Cougars' most recent foes."This makes three straight weeks that we'll face the same offense," said BYU Coach LaVell Edwards. "It's a one-back set, and they spread it out all over the field. And they've got a great quarterback who can really throw."
"I always told myself that if I ever became a head coach, I would run the one-back, quick-pass offense that (Miami Coach) Dennis Erickson developed," Aztec Coach Al Luginbill said. "It gave me more trouble stopping it that any system I faced as a defensive coach. It extends the field vertically and horizontally, which allows you to be balanced throwing and running the football."
BYU wasn't entirely successful at stopping the WSU and Miami offenses, although they did it well enough to win. Especially when it counted. But Edwards knows you can't let a high-powered offense get rolling.
"Hopefully, we'll figure out something to slow their offense down," he said. "It will be important for us to get a good start defensively."
BYU knows from personal experience what an offensive unit with momentum can accomplish. The Cougar offense scored five touchdowns in five possessions in the fourth quarter of last week's game. It was a spectacular comeback and underscored the fact that BYU seems able to score on anyone when it doesn't make mistakes - penalties, interceptions, fumbles.
BYU's offense has stopped itself more than any opponent's defense has, by giving the ball away 11 times in three games. Quarterback Ty Detmer has thrown five interceptions, but that's not an alarming number. He's averaging one interception every 30 pass attempts this season, and that's better than his average of one interception every 27.5 passes last year. But the six fumbles have hurt, especially when compared to the four total takeaways - interceptions made and fumbles recovered - made by the BYU defense.
Sooner or later, one gets the feeling BYU is going to get more turnovers than it gives, cut down on penalties, play four quarters of steamroller offense and blow some team out of the stadium.
Luginbill, of course, hopes that doesn't happen against his team, which has never won in Provo and has never beaten a Top 10 team. He says the Oregon game, which the Aztecs lost, 42-21, has helped them prepare for BYU.
"Fortunately, we've seen a Ty Detmer-type quarterback already this season," Luginbill said, referring to Oregon QB Bill Musgrave. They not only saw him, they got shredded by him. Musgrave completed 31 of 47 passes for 443 yards, no interceptions and three TDs against the Aztecs.
Detmer had a similarly successful game against SDSU in the regular-season finale last year, completing 23 of 33 passes for 327 yards, one interception and three TDs.
Luginbill says what really killed his team in last year's matchup was BYU's home-run plays. "The big plays killed us against BYU last year," he said. "Our goal is not to allow that to happen this time."
Among BYU's big plays were a 67-yard touchdown catch by Jeff Frandsen and Stacey Corley runs of 57 and 49 yards.
Still, SDSU led in the first quarter of that game, 14-7, even though 6-foot-8 quarterback Dan McGwire had been injured on his team's first touchdown. With McGwire out, however, BYU scored 28 straight points to take a 35-14 halftime lead. McGwire was back in the second half, and the Aztecs scored 10 points to make it 35-24, then were about to take possession again on a BYU punt. But the Aztec punt returner fumbled the fair catch and BYU recovered at SDSU's 19, then went on to score. The final was BYU 48, SDSU 27.
"The positive thing about last season is that I feel we got our credibility back," Luginbill said. "People now feel they have to buckle up their chin straps the whole game against San Diego State."
A matchup to watch for this game will be BYU's defensive secondary against the San Diego State wide receivers. "I don't know anyone in the league with the speed we have at wide receiver," Luginbill said. The Aztecs field fifth-year seniors Dennis Arey and Jimmy Raye at flanker and halfback, respectively, and fleet Patrick Rowe at split end. Arey and Rowe are both averaging beter than 20 yards per catch, so expect them to test the Cougars' deep coverage.